About education in Lithuania, Denmark and India
This week I skipped the Wednesday post to work on this post right here.
I’ve finished school in Lithuania, been studying in Denmark for two years and now I’ve spent almost three months workin g and living in Kolkata, where I talked about education with the locals every time I had the chance. This is a summary of what I’ve found out education in all of those countries by experience, asking and reading along with some (bias) personal opinions of mine so if you want to learn something about the differences of the systems in each country, East to West, then read on.
In a true Engineering fashion let me get the technical details out of the way before we discuss the more important things.
For starters, the duration of lessons and breaks are very much the same and vary only between schools. The summer holidays seem to be shortest in India and longest in Lithuania, the range being 1-3 months. The grading systems are different, Denmark having the most different one of all.
In India the scale is 1-100 and 40 is required to pass. In Lithuania we have a scale of 1 to 10 and 4 is required to pass in school and 5 is required to pass in the university. In Denmark the scale is -3 to 12 (-3, 0, 2, 4, 7, 10, 12) and 2 is required to pass in both schools and higher education institutions.
Examinations in India and Lithuania are mostly written, while oral exams are graded either pass/fail or are a part of a written exam. In my university, in Denmark, the vast majority of exams are taken orally. (Let me just add my personal opinion here by saying that oral exams are better in a way that it’s much harder to cheat on them and as far as I know there are too few university students who haven’t cheated in a written exam).
Vacations in Denmark and Lithuania are similar due to the same religious holiday periods like Christmas and Easter, while Indians have Puja holidays at different times. Where the differences start to appear is the cost of education.
In India school is government funded until the child is 14 years old. After that you have to pay a monthly fee of at least 50 INR for a public school and the cost can go up to 1200 INR per month for private schools. Even though people in villages can send their children to a public school, a lot of them still choose a private school, because the private institutions seem to operate better.
On the other hand, colleges in India are quite cheap ranging from 60 to 110 INR per month for a public and up to 3500 INR per month for a private college (unless you’re studying for an MBA and in that case the prices are almost like for the top colleges). Bet the top ones, like IIM, cost 1 000 000 INR to 2 000 000 INR for two years.
Lithuanian schools are always government funded, but compulsory for everyone only until the tenth grade. After that you can either go to a gymnasium (like yours truly) or a vocational training school where you can get a specialization such as an electrician, plumber or hairdresser. I’ve heard rumors that in some of those you might also get a scholarship of up to a 1000 INR per month. The only time when it gets more difficult is when you want to get a higher education.
If your grades are not good enough, but you want to study in a particular university then you’ll have to pay and prices vary from 50 000 INR to 500 000 INR per year depending on whether it is a popular field of study or whether or not. Sometimes the governments needs specialists of a particular field, so that year it is easier to get a funded spot in that branch (hopefully the government knows what is best).
To top it all of, if they perform well, they might get a scholarship which most of the time doesn’t cover their living expenses, which doesn’t add up to the motivation to study so a lot of people work while their studying and in the end if the job pays well, they decide to quit studies.
The cost of higher education in Denmark ranges from 435 000 INR to 1 150 000 INR, but only if you’re a student form outside of Europe. Danes and other Scandinavians, get their education for free and if you are a citizen of a country which is part of the European union, you don’t have to pay (of course, you have to be accepted by a university first).
In addition to free education, all Danish students enrolled in a higher education receive a scholarship, the reason being that “students shouldn’t be working if they’re studying” and the amount of it depends from whether or not you’re living with your parents, but in the latter case it covers your living expenses most of the time.
Now that you know what are the costs of education in the countries that I’ve lived in, let me tell you what “bang for the buck” you are getting.
In India, on the last classes you have three directions: science, commerce and humanitarian studies. To apply for a college or a university you have to pass a general CAT exam. Every year there’s huge competition between people wanting to get into the top colleges even though the spots are always paid. Also, because of the pressure from parents, some students choose to take away their life rather than come back home with the bad news.
Some, who are more positive, apply for the top universities every year, hoping that they’ll be accepted and between the attempts they look for a job. The reason why people try to get into the top (most expensive) colleges is because the salary that you get after you graduate from those universities is supposed to cover all of your study costs in a couple of years.
I remember schools in Lithuania had three directions, but that was when I was too young to distinguish between those categories. In my last years of school (a young gymnasium) I was able to choose what do I want to pick. The only boundary is that you must have at least one subject from each of the three categories, while the native language and maths are compulsory for all. Also, you can choose difficulty levels of the subjects and take additional subjects as long as it fits into the standards of minimum and maximum academic hours per week.
Even though Lithuania boasts of having government funded higher education, for most students, the field of study is largely decided for them by their exam results in the last class. Depending on how well they performed when compared to others they might or might not get in to the university they want to be in and might or might not get a funded spot. Since the latter being is common situation for a lot of people, they choose to go to any university or any field of study in which they can get a funded spot. As a result we have a lot of people studying for free, but not the subjects that they would actually like to study or not in the universities that they would like to study in (of course, this might be a result of not thinking about their future while still in school to motivate themselves to perform better, but that is not talked about enough).
When I asked my Danish classmate about the situation he said that you get to decide on things in sixth grade already and your choices stay throughout the school years if you wish, meaning there is a lot of freedom. Like in Lithuania, on the last years of study you can switch to a vocational training school to get a specialization.
Higher education in Denmark is a breeze when compared to Lithuania. If you’re a Dane or a citizen of a country which belongs to the European union, the spot is always government funded. If you really want to get into a particular university, but you don’t live up to the standards, you can take an admission course in that university and it will prepare you for the program you wish to enroll in.
This is where things start to get really interesting.
Indian author, Chetan Bhagat, in his book “What Young India Wants” claims that “India has one of the best education systems in the world” and I’ve actually heard an Indian person say that it is like that, because they took a lot of things from the British. Even though some schools might be up to these descriptions, from asking people about their education and the info here, it seems that the situation is a bit different.
India, being a country with a big population, has thousands of schools and colleges. Mostly public, some private, each varying in quality. The quality of a teachers work is supposed to be assured by an appointed committee, but often fails to do so. The case with quality education seems to be more prevalent in government funded schools, because the teachers have to take care of other things beside teaching and because of the job security they don’t need to worry about their performance much. (I think it’s funny how quickly a doctor or a lawyer can lose their license for malpractice, while to a teacher this can happen only if he commits a criminal offence, such as child abuse).
In Lithuania, we have plenty of good public schools, so private schools are not that popular. Although, even if a school is considered to be good it doesn’t always mean that the teaching quality is good. I remember teachers who were abusing their job security and seeming to really care about their work only when they had supervision from a committee responsible for raising their qualifications.
Sometimes, students choose to enroll in a particular school, because it is recognized by a particular higher education institution in which they want to study. While this might be a good way to get into an institution you want, most of them when enrolled in a recognized school, are spending so much time studying that they have to forget all of their hobbies, leisure activities and sometimes even friends.
Higher education seems to be an even bigger mess. There, the lecturers who seem to feel even more relaxed about their performance and leave all the work to the students. I know a few students who go to their university only on exam dates, because spending time in class seems like a waste of time. They rather spend that time working and start studying a couple of weeks before an exam. Also, I think every Lithuanian student knows Speros.lt, a website where you can download academic works done by others for a small fee. I the mere existence of a website like this, tells something about the how the system works in Lithuania.
In Denmark, I’ve had the experience of learning from not only university lecturers, but also Danish language teachers. Although some lecturers seem to have felt too safe about their job, for the most part the lessons are very good. Theory and practice are well balanced and the examples that we have to work with are either relevant or fun. In my university, most lecturers have a lot of experience in the field they are teaching and (although sometimes you’d wish they had more experience as teachers) they tend to avoid unnecessary topics focusing on the important and difficult parts of the subject, leaving the details for you to find out, which is refreshing.
Even better are the teachers at the Danish language schools. There, the teachers try to apply innovate teaching strategies teaching students how to learn better. Some make you study a lot in class while others make the lessons fun which in turn motivates you to study more at home. Sometimes it seems that the teachers are having just as much fun as the students.
How students see it
This might come as a surprise, but Indians don’t complain about their education as much as Lithuanians.
So far, from what I’ve heard in India, children think school is interesting. Students in a seminary school went even so far os to claim that being in school is better than staying at home, because they associate school with fun and play and home reminds them of homework and studying. Although, even they admitted that they would like to have some more freedom in choosing a direction in their last years of school.
As for Lithuania, I probably wouldn’t be lying if I would say that the majority of Lithuanians don’t like school. The mood of competition is felt all over. I remember it being enforced by the teachers when reading everyone’s test scores out loud and bullying is still a problem.
I don’t know many Danes who really hate school and I don’t think they really have a reason for that. From what I’ve heard, in literature lessons they have to read “Harry Potter” while in Lithuanian schools remind me of old and depressing literary works like “Stiklo Salis”.
In my university results are kept private to reduce the emotional load which can come from getting a bad score and to minimize bullying. You don’t get to know the scores of anyone unless they tell it to you themselves.
Each country has its own definitions of what is quality education and I don’t know if I’m being optimistic by saying that things are getting better in each country.
Of course it will take time, but I can see a world where education will be without the problems Sir Ken Robinson described in 2006 or even without the ones he described in 2010. I see a class where teachers apply techniques from Colin Rose’s book Accelerated Learning (ignore the quality of the website) and the newest findings in the field of neuroscience are applied quickly in practice. I see a world where students are as happy as the teachers, but this image will not become reality if we will continue to tolerate poor performance and accept it as a natural thing.
Change won’t happen any time soon if students accept the shortcomings of their institutions as a norm. As Donald K. Burleson said “intolerance is a good thing, a crucial mechanism for teaching social norms and mores” so I urge students to not just sit there nodding, but demand the education that they deserve. Honestly, sometimes no education is better than education which leaves you hating and fearful of the process of learning for the rest of your life.
In my last school I was the only one in the class room who was against writing interpretations of old Lithuanian poetry and other artistic works. I received quite a few bad grades in the process, but I spent that time doing whatever I really wanted outside of the class room (sometimes even studying for subjects more important to me). And wouldn’t you know it, everything played out fine: I got into a university that I wanted in Denmark and the interpretation part is going to be removed from the national exams next year. Next time when I’ll be in Lithuania I’ll be sure to pay my Lithuanian teacher a visit.
Nevertheless, don’t take my story as a motive to start a revolution (but if you really want to, here’s some fire-woood for that fire). There really are some good, honest and hard working teachers out there and not all of them deserve to be treated badly. But next time your teacher comes into the class room late and/or chewing bubble gum and gives the class a task to read something while he/she goes out to get a coffee, know that you are not alone and you have a right to be angry.
Special thanks to: Aditya, Brian, Suhbam, Souvik and Zygimantas for their input.