Students of the world relate their educational experiences

September 30, 2015 — by Caitlin Ju

Many ambitious high schoolers travel far and wide in search of the cultural exposure that is so valued by elite universities. Others need not bother. Because of changes to their fathers’ careers, several students at Saratoga have already attended both international and local schools across the world and become culturally conversant in the two education systems.

Many ambitious high schoolers travel far and wide in search of the cultural exposure that is so valued by elite universities. Others need not bother.

Because of changes to their fathers’ careers, several students at Saratoga have already attended both international and local schools across the world and become culturally conversant in the two education systems.

The distinct attributes of schools in different countries also provide insight into each country’s values. Some such aspects include expected decorum, learning environment and course options across the education systems of France, England, Sweden, India and Spain.


Gaia Kakkar, 9 (Spain, India)


Freshman Gaia Kakkar, who was born in England, is a nomad in her own right: In her younger years, she moved frequently because of her father’s work obligations. She first attended the British School of Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, for five years; then Indus International School in Bangalore, India, for three years; and finally The Olive Tree School in Barcelona for one year. She then returned to the British School of Barcelona for her last year of middle school. All were international schools.

Unlike local schools, international schools cater mostly to students living in a country temporarily, often the children of embassy or international business people.

According to The International Educator, “a larger emphasis is placed [by international schools] on international education (with such programs as the IB [International Baccalaureate]) and global citizenship.” English is usually the language of instruction, as it is the first language of most students.

At her private international school in Barcelona, Kakkar found that because teachers taught multiple subjects, they paid less attention to the details within a subject.

“[My physical education and Catalan language teacher] would give us work from the book without teaching it, and we wouldn’t know what to do,” Kakkar said. “It was clear he didn’t enjoy teaching Catalan.”

In India, Kakkar found that the classes were “more intense” and math was strongly emphasized. Since she was unused to the rigorous workload and the STEM-based curriculum, math became a “major struggle” for her.

According to BBC News, compared to the education system in South Asia, which often has a “survival of the fittest” mentality, the education system in Europe is less competitive but forces students to maintain a strict decorum in class, which includes calling teachers “Sir” or “Madam.”

Kakkar, who experienced both these education systems, then moved from Bangalore back to Spain for her last two years of middle school.

In June, Kakkar learned she would be moving from Barcelona to Saratoga because her father had been recruited as the next CEO of Armetheon, a Bay Area-based biopharmaceutical company. It was her first time in America.

“My first impression [of America] was [that] I loved it,” Kakkar said. “When I was little, I watched TV shows about America, and it turned out to be exactly as I imagined.”

What Kakkar imagined she would find in America was an independent high school. Kakkar’s school in Spain, in contrast, had combined elementary, middle and high school.

Kakkar also saw other key differences in the educational environments in Spain and Saratoga.

“[In Spain,] to pass a grade, you didn’t have to pass all your classes. There were fewer tests, fewer projects — you would study the whole term and have a final exam,” Kakkar said.


Charles Debling, 9 (England) and Miguel Tenant de la Tour, 9 (France)

Two years ago, due to a change in his father’s job, freshman Charles Debling moved to Saratoga from Bury St. Edmunds, England, where he had attended St. Luis Middle School. Debling was surprised by the academic competitiveness at Saratoga High but said the teachers are also friendlier here.

Freshman Miguel Tenant de la Tour, who has lived in France for most of his life, has had a similar experience. Tenant de la Tour attended Collège Lycée Prépa Assomption in Rennes, France, until the sixth grade before moving to Saratoga due to his father’s work.

Like Debling, Tenant de la Tour noticed that his school in France was more traditional, both in its courses and in its classroom atmosphere. His school, for instance, lacked courses such as Introduction to Engineering and Drama, which are now offered at SHS. The school also kept students at school from 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., though allotted them a long 90-minute lunch break. During school hours, students studied under the watchful eyes of stern teachers.

“Every time a teacher got into class, everyone would have to stand up and go down only when the teacher told us we could,” Tenant de la Tour said.

According to an article by The Telegraph, French schools are known to be challenging and conservative to “discourage interaction” between students. Furthermore, despite France’s remarkable architectural and artistic feats, French schools have few classes promoting creativity. In France, there is also a greater focus on core subjects than in England, and instead of concentrating on the meaning of poems and texts, French students must focus on memorization.

Journalist Peter Gumbel, the main source of the The Telegraph article, even said the reason students in France are anxious is because they are taught to “sit down and shut up.”

Tenant de la Tour points out that this anxiety perhaps fostered a selfish attitude among French students.

“[My classmates] just thought about their own grades, and no one else,” Tenant de la Tour said.


Melissa Hoffman, 12 (Sweden)

Senior Melissa Hoffman moved to Saratoga in July after her father switched jobs from Strängnäs, Sweden. In Strängnäs, Hoffman attended a Swedish school called Europaskolan.

Unlike the education systems in France and England, the Swedish School Plan strongly encourages “an individualistic education” that allows students to choose the books they read for school and their preferred learning style, which either emphasizes practice or theory.

Swedish schools also have an elective course called “Elevens Val.” Hoffman chose drama not only because it was a new class, but also because it was something she had always wanted to try.

Hoffman fondly recalled the long school days in Sweden, which her drama elective only extended.

“Some days I would [be at school until] 7 p.m. because of my drama class,” Hoffman said. “Imagine going home in complete darkness in the winter; when spring and light would come, that was practically the definition of euphoria!”

Hoffman said that in Sweden, the teachers never assigned homework but instead required students to complete projects that forced them to do outside research.

The teachers were fairly lenient and cherished their subjects. She remembers one instance in which her French teacher, who was “so passionate about her subject, came into class dancing.”

“Suddenly she started playing 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ [and] sang along to the lyrics, [of which she] knew every word,” Hoffman said. “It was totally unexpected.”

Worlds apart

As the international students have pointed out, even within Europe and South Asia, there are differences in the education systems of various countries, as well as between international and local schools. French and English schools tend to be stricter, Indian schools focus more on math, European school days are usually longer and international schools teach students who primarily speak English.

However, Kakkar believes there is simply no way to compare all the education systems she has experienced.

“I prefer it here, but the systems are so different everywhere,” Kakkar said. “They all have their goods and bads, but in the end, they’re just so different.”


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