A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!
Oh, yes, believe it or not, teachers also have homework, and yes, it is homework they mostly give themselves after getting inspiration from their students. My homework today is, as the title hints, a matter of taste, and I would like to start with one of the five, namely the sweet taste. This post comes with a warning for all of you out there with a sweet tooth.
It all started from the innocent little word chew, plural chews, the category of sweets which includes candy like Toffee and the traditionally American Saltwater Taffy. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew with my topic, so I’ll reveal the red thread that led me to the “candy store online archives”, on the world wide web.
“Lifelong learning” is almost always greeted with acclamation.
However, what do statistics really say about it?
Read the article below, published today, on the EurActiv site and
take a closer look at the education goals Poland has set for 2020.
Poland is one of the leading member states when it comes to the EU’s 2020 education goals and has set itself high targets. Yet it is lagging behind in other areas, such as kindergarten attendance rates and lifelong learning for adults.
Both education targets in the new ‘Europe 2020’ strategy – reducing the share of early school leavers to below 10% and increasing the proportion of youngsters with tertiary education qualifications to at least 40% by 2020 – have been welcomed by Poland.
Yet the country’s education authorities want to go even further and have set themselves more ambitious targets.
The current share of early school leavers in Poland is just 5% of the student population and there are plans to reduce it by a further half percentage point.
As for tertiary education, it wants to attain a higher rate than the EU-wide goal – i.e. 45% instead of 40% of citizens with a higher education degree by 2020.
According to data for 2008, 29.7% of 30-34-year old Poles hold a higher education qualification.
However, there are EU education benchmarks outside of the Europe 2020 strategy – set by the European Commission – where Poland falls below the member state average.
For example, the proportion of children between the age of three and five who attend kindergarten (early childhood education) has increased from 44% to 60% over the past three years, but the EU average is over 90%. Poland has a lot to do if it is to reach this threshold.
Another problem is lifelong learning among adults aged between 25 and 64. The EU average is 9.5%, while in Poland it is only 4.7%. The Commission aims for an average figure of 15% by 2020. For Poland, this area constitutes another extremely difficult challenge.
The Polish System
Since changes to the system in 2009, education in Poland begins at the age of five or six for the ‘0’ class (kindergarten) and six or seven for the first year of primary school. Children must complete one year of formal education before entering primary school.
On leaving primary school, pupils take a compulsory exam to determine which lower secondary school they can attend. After three years, they sit another exam to determine their upper secondary school. The most common higher education choices are three years in a liceum (high school) or four years in a technikum (vocational secondary school).
In Poland, education is free of charge until university. State universities are also free. Before 1990, there were only state higher education institutions in Poland, with the exception of the Catholic University of Lublin. The ‘Higher Education Act’ then enabled the creation of non-state institutions. When the ‘Schools of Higher Professional Education Act’ came into force in 1997, courses for professional higher education were established.
There are 131 state-owned higher education institutions in Poland and 326 private ones. The total number of students in tertiary education is 1.92 million, of which 612,000 study in private institutions.
According to experts, the most significant problem in the Polish system is the huge proportion of extramural and evening students – they constitute more than 50% of the total number. This is the major reason for the low quality of Polish higher education, they say.
Alexandra, a Romanian short movie by Radu Jude, starts with the title character walking back home from the city with her father. As we follow them, we come across various malfunctions. First, we see a broken tram, then the girl’s bike stops working. Not even the lift in the block of flats where Alexandra lives can be used, either. When the girl and her father return home, we learn about something else that is damaged in a more serious way: the relationships in Alexandra’s family.
Not only are her parents divorced, but also they still do not get along well. Tavi, the father, accuses his ex-wife of trying to separate him from his daughter. Not without reasons, as Julia arranged piano lessons for the girl right at the time of her meeting with father. What is more upsetting for Tavi is that Alexandra insists on calling him by name instead of “daddy”. However, the woman considers him crazy and his accusations evidence of obsession. This leads to constant arguments between the two. Not even Itza, Julia’s mother, who loves both her daughter and her former son-in-law, is able to stop them from fighting. What is more, although Julia is the one who raises Alexandra, she does not show her love to her daughter as openly as Tavi, and does not seem to have a good relationship with her.
The movie shows us that many things and mechanisms are far from being ideal. They are prone to get broken. This applies both to inanimate objects and to society, but the latter is much harder to get repaired. To fix a machine one needs only appropriate knowledge and tools. In the case of relationships, however, the most important thing is whether the people in question are willing to reconcile, and whether or not they are able to change themselves. Without that, anybody else cannot do much to improve the situation. Alexandra’s parents are a good example: each of them thinks he or she is right and the other one is wrong, and neither want to give in. Even Itza, despite her efforts, can only wish to be able to help.
Repairing is even harder when the flaws are in the system itself. Fixing such ‘malfunctions’ is possible only by complex rebuilding, which means changing habits people had for years (if not centuries), habits which they do not want to give up. Hence such changes usually take a long time, even if they are successful. Furthermore, man-made systems are never completely free of flaws – the new ones could subsequently appear to have as many flaws as the old ones. Electing the government by vote seems better than, for example, members of government inheriting their power, but what if inappropriate people were elected? And if that happened, then who has the right to judge and take the power from them?
As we see, some flaws in a system can only be predicted on close examination. They cannot be completely avoided, but we could try to minimize them by certain modifications of the system. However, constant changes in the world can reveal some weaknesses one could not think about before. In many cultures people tend to have as many children as possible. This used to make sense in the past, when many children died at a very young age. But now, when the mortality was reduced due to development in medicine, maintaining the tradition of such large families may lead to overpopulation.
Nothing in our world is ideal. There will always be mistakes in our society, and we are not able either to predict of correct them all. It does not mean, however, that we should not try to repair at least some of them. Although it is often tough, we can fix broken relationships between one another if we really want to.
In this respect I am optimistic. I think we can fix pretty much anything.[…]
It all depends on our attitude and the amount of love we have inside. If the fire in our hearts becomes extinguished, we are always able to re-ignite it.
What is the fuel that helps our society move on and progress?
This fuel is, of course, love. It signifies the oil which helps to propel the mechanism that is society. There are, nevertheless, other fuels, such as faith, trust, or the desire to do good or to make things work.
“Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned.”(Swami Nirmalananda)
Radu Jude, a Romanian film director, showsin his short movie, “Alexandra,” how complicated and difficult family relationships in today’s world are. Society today is certainly dealing with a number of problems. However, can we say that it is “broken”? Can anything be done to “have it fixed”?
Some may say that the most serious problem of today’s Western society is family crisis. People tend to postpone marriage – informal relationships are getting more and more common. Fewer and fewer children are being born. The divorce rate is growing rapidly. However, is this really a crisis, or does it just mean that the concept of “family” being redefined? Many people find it more suitable to get married around thirty instead of eighteen and have one instead of more children. It seems to me that this is a natural consequence of our civilisation’s development.We should not assume that what was considered to be right 100 years ago, is just as “right” nowadays. The evolution of social roles and family models does not necessary have to “break” the society.
Moreover, conservatists complain that traditional values are being lost and forgotten by the society today. Such virtues as religiousness, patriotism and national pride seem to be disregarded by young people. Modern youth is sometimes juxtaposed to the youth of World War II, just to prove that the first is indolent, consumption-oriented, indifferent and spoiled. We cannot forget that the age of peace we are living in is dramatically different from the reality of war. Patriotism today does not mean dying for the country, but living for the country. It is not setting up barricades, but learning how to maintain peaceful contacts with other nations. A contemporary patriot is not sacrificing his life to shatter the enemy’s army, but is working for the development of his country in various aspects – economy, science, culture.
Another issue that fits into the term of “broken society” is crime. Let me refer it particularly to Poland. It is usually thought that Poland is not a safe country. The myth of car-stealing Poles is still alive, not only in the Western European countries, but also in their homeland. It can be often heard that we are living in dangerous times, and several decades ago it used to be much safer. However, official statistics show something different. Some kinds of crime are committed less and less frequently each year. For example, in 2008 there were 10,5% less manslaughters, 12,4% less burglaries, 11,1% less thefts and 11,8% less rapes than the previous year. The general number of crimes has been steadily falling since 2002. Interestingly, the general detectability of crimes since 1990 has risen from 40% up to 65,9% in 2008 – which could mean we actually should feel safer, as the Police are working more efficiently.
All things considered, society nowadays may seem to be broken. Family crisis, the loss of traditional values, crime and various other issues are undoubtedly some of the problems of the modern world. But upon a closer analysis we may notice that society today is just as “broken” as it always used to be – because it is formed by imperfect people. This conclusion is in fact an optimistic one. If it is us who make up the society, therefore we can do whatever we can to make it better. A single person will not change global trends, but by forming healthy and sincere relationships, living safely and wisely, and giving other people a positive example, every one of us can make the part of society around him a little less broken. This is how we can try to “fix” it.
During this week of mourning I chose to publish some of my Polish students’ essays in an attempt to spread their light of wisdom and compassion in the current context of commiseration.The essay below was written by Agnieszka Pytel.
Is society today affected by certain flaws or broken relationships?
Nothing and no one today is flaw free. Society today is also affected by some flaws. Nothing is ideal. Every epoch, every time has its own rules and its own defects. There is no such thing like an ideal, harmonious, and fully friendly society.
I think that one of the biggest flaws in society nowadays is the fact that people have moved their lives to the Internet. There are so many social networks helping people to get in touch, to share their life and experiences with others, but only via Internet. As a result, unfortunately, we have less time to spend with our families and friends in real life. We are forced to spend more and more time working and learning new skills. There is no time for lazy evenings with friends, as there is always something to do. I am generalizing a little bit, but I think that this state of spending all our free time on the Internet and not having time for our families is alarming.
When I started studying in Cracow I felt quite lonely in this city. At the beginning I did not have any friends, apart from my friend from high school who was sharing a room in a student flat with me. But she was always busy. Of course I wasn’t angry; I had a lot of things to do too. Once we were sitting in our room in front of our computers and I noticed that she wasn’t learning. I suggested a small talk, but she answered she was very busy and didn’t have time. A few minutes later I saw she was “available” on “Gadu-Gadu” – a very popular instant messenger in Poland. I sent her a few words. I was extremely amazed when she replied and we started chatting… I couldn’t believe it! We were sitting next to each other talking via the Internet. Moreover, she was talking with several people at the same time. She got used to having contact with others in such an unnatural way that she preferred this way of communication to real talk.
Unfortunately people love to keep in touch with each other via the Internet. Maybe the reason is that they have the possibility to recreate themselves in a completely new way. Shy people can pretend to be crazy and very sociable, etc. When I saw some of my friends on a very popular social network, I was wondering – do I know these people? They do not act and behave like people I used to know. And the question is: which personality is the real one? Is it the one I know or the one created over there?
I do not want to act like the biggest opponent of the Internet. Because of that I will write about very interesting article I read a few days ago. The article was about our society. The author, a psychologist, claimed that people were becoming more and more envious. Our generation is more envious than our parents’, and our children’s will be even more envious than ours. The author suggested that the reason is our material or financial situation. In highly developed countries people can afford more and more expensive things and become very successful. In a society in which everybody can achieve more and more and some can’t, the latter become envious. The worst thing about this is that the feeling of envy is inevitable. People cannot get rid of it easily because it is connected with the modern way of life. Of course I do not have to emphasize how destructive envy is in any relationship.
And last but not least: in our times, like never before, people are encouraged to be more selfish. They are convinced that being egotists is normal and even healthy for your psyche. Sometimes it truly is. However, being egoistic is a very bad vice. More and more children are being brought up with the conviction that they deserve everything they want without any effort or any sacrifice from their side and the result of such upbringing can be terrible, as it creates a generation of fully egoistic people.
To sum up, it is impossible to enumerate the main flaws that affect people’s relationships today, as in any other time. We can say that our society is broken but we should also remember that we are “only people,” and there never was a flaw-free society.
Presented with the opportunity, what questions would you like a sociologist to answer about the possible consequences of the tragic event last weekend on Poland and the European society at large?
Here are some questions already formulated by some of you at our classes this week. Some are very general, others more specific. If you would like to add more questions to this list, you are invited to do so by leaving comments to this post. I will use a selection of these questions for an upcoming interview for my radio show, “Cultural me, Cultural you,” so if you would like to get an answer to a particular question you have, let it be known!
How will the Polish society react to the tragic event on April, 10?
How will the radio, television and other media present the tragedy and the atmosphere of the upcoming days?
Are we going to witness any significant changes in Polish people’s attitudes?
Will the mourning unite the Poles? If so, for how long?
Are we, the Poles, a country that can be united only in times of crisis?
When something so terrible and shocking happens all countries seem to react and manifest their feelings in the same way. These last few days we could observe a unity of attitude in most people. Is it possible to say that we are evolving towards a “world society,” in which similar behavioural patterns imprinted in everyone’s subconscious influence our actions in a similar way?
Could you compare last Saturday’s catastrophe with the death of Pope John Paul II, 5 years ago?
Do you believe that more people will become interested in politics and its mechanisms?
Will the Polish political culture improve after the tragedy?
Will the Polish economy and the zloty be affected by the event?
How will the gambling community work without Zbigniew Wasserman?
In what way is this tragic event going to influence the relations between Poland and Russia?
Will both Poland and Russia be able to put the past behind them?
Will the Russian attitude toward the Katyn events change?
Is this catastrophe going to raise the awareness of people from other countries on the tragic events in Katyn, in 1940?
In the book “The Little Town Where Time Stood Still,” written by Bohumil Hrabal, the head of the family spends most of his time disassembling and reassembling the engine of his beloved motorbike. What is more, he wants everyone without exception to take part in the dismemberment and in the process of making it work again. He does not give up even when he sees how uneager and uninvolved his helpers get.
The broken engine can be a metaphor for our society. It consists of many small pieces and each one is crucial for its mechanism. If we want to improve our society we should start by improving ourselves.
“You can’t change the world
But you can change the facts
And when you change the facts
You change points of view
If you change points of view
You may change a vote
And when you change a vote
You may change the world.”
Fragment from Martin Lee Gore’s song,“New Dress,” quoted by Lukasz Grembowiec
What Would You Like to Change in Your Society?
Someone asked me this question when I was in Junior high school. I have to admit that my opinion has not changed much since that time. To make things clear I have to state one thing: I am completely apolitical. I haven`t got the vaguest idea what is going on in politics. I always felt abomination towards it. My opinions are based on my day-to-day life, and sometimes, my journeys.
I like Cracovian pigeons. They are so beautiful and sweet; when I walk through the town I admire their coquettish grace. But then often another thought crosses my mind: there are people who live like pigeons.
During my second year I had free time between classes. In the Planty park near the buss station next to Bagatela theatre there often was a homeless person who fed pigeons. They were completely fearless; however, they behaved in different way than they usually do near the Market Square. They stayed for a long time with the man, even if there was no more food. I saw that scene almost every day. Birds sat on the man, picking at the dry bread that he held in his half open mouth. He permitted this. He looked almost happy.
I know what pigeons give me. But what do they give him? Distraction? Company?
The system that ignores people living in poverty is not befitting a country that is supposed to be civilised.
I hate people talking about the homeless in such terms:
“They take drugs, that is the cause of their situation,”
“They are alcoholic,”
“It’s their business what they do with their lives,” or
“I owe nothing to other people. All I achieved I achieved with my own hands.”
There is such a small step that divides us from their situation. Imagine losing your health, your business or your home…
What would I like to change in my society?
Nearly everything could be changed, but the most important changes should be done in people`s minds.
There is an old TV show called Star Trek (the one aired in the 60’s, not the newer series). It advocates the worthiness of knowledge and exploration. The Earth, called Terra, is presented as a beautiful garden without poverty, wars and hunger. Another name for it is the United Earth. The institution created for deep space exploration and scientific cooperation with other races is called the Federation of the United Planets. It represents equality of all races regardless of the world they come from. The economic system takes into consideration the worth of the individual, as well as the diversity of cultures. The main characters present a high level of morality and personal culture. The relationships among them are based on deep friendship, tolerance and understanding.
This is the way I would like to see our country and the world, in general.
“Infinite diversity in infinite combination creates understanding and beauty”.
Diplomacy as a life style seems easy. However, it is far from that. True diplomacy springs from a conscious effort towards curbing instinctive first replies, from endless dress rehearsals, and from a self-taught desire to take a step back before taking a step forward in order to deal with breakable things even before they get broken.
During this week of mourning I chose to publish some of my Polish students’ essays in an attempt to spread their light of wisdom and compassion in the current context of commiseration.
Broken People, Broken Lives, Broken Societies…
Do We Live in a Broken World?
by Katarzyna Cieszyńska
Many people say that life sucks. They might have been hurt in life in different ways – the death of a close friend, a divorce, a broken heart, loneliness. There are many reasons why some may claim that life is painful. What is more, societies in the whole world are often destroyed because of various problems – alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, crime… Every year 8 million people die of extreme poverty. Here, in Europe, we are lucky to have something to eat every day. Just think about all those people living in Africa or South-East Asia suffering of hunger. They don’t deserve such a life! Rich countries should help the poorest ones as much as they can!
Let’s take a look at the problem connected with wars. Is war something we can deal with? I don’t think so. As long as we live on this planet, wars will exist. It’s sad, but true. How I wish there was peace on Earth! ‘’Hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme, so what is worth this peace on Earth?’’ sings Bono from U2.
Today a lot of couples get divorced. This problem is exemplified by the movie called ‘’Alexandra,” as well.
Alexandra is a little girl whose parents, Tavi and Iulia, are no longer in love with each other. After spending some time with his daughter on Sunday, Tavi brings her back to Iulia’s flat. While fixing Alexandra’s bike, the two quarrel and shout at each other. Yes, the girl’s bicycle is broken, but it’s not the only broken thing we can identify in this short Romanian film. An elevator could be another example. All these things are metaphors of the broken Romanian society which needs to be fixed, just like other societies do.
What is the oil that keeps the mechanism of our society running? Well, in my opinion this fuel is love. ‘’Love is the end of history, the enemy of misery,” as Bono sings. In addition, if we want to live in a better world, we have to trust and understand each other. We ought to stop hurting each other. There’s no use in causing pain! If you desire to change the world, start with yourself – that’s the rule. As Michael Jackson sang, ‘’Heal the world! Make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race.”
Let love rule our world!
January 25, 2010
What could we change in our society?
Not everything at once.
We can change everything we want, but with a lot of patience.
We should start with simple, small things like kindness, for example.
How polite can we be to the people we meet in the street, on the tram or on the bus, while shopping or rushing from home to work and then back every day?
We should begin the process of change ourselves, with small things; every day we can be a little bit kinder and politer to others than we were the day before.
Imagine you are waiting on a platform for your train, along with many other people. Suddenly, the train enters the platform. The doors open, and what do we do?
Of course we don`t leave the passengers get off; we are eager to barge in first. It is terrible how important we are for ourselves!
Where is our kindness at such times?
We can observe similar situations on the bus, at tram stops, at the entrance of shops, in offices, cinemas, cafes – all examples of places where people seem to avoid being kind.
We seem to put our pleasure before anyone else`s.
I hope we should start changing our world by manifesting more kindness and politeness to anyone around us, no matter where we are.
For the next 7 days I chose to publish some of my Polish students’ essays that were the result of a written assignment on the topic of problem solving in the case of systemic breakdowns, in an attempt to spread their light of wisdom and compassion in the current context of commiseration.
Before reading this essay I feel I should explain a couple of things that occurred during the process of writing it. First of all, I usually write as if I was involved in a conversation during which I answer questions and ask new ones while simultaneously writing down the whole process. I tend to use backslashes quite often, which should be treated as good old plain brackets. I guess that’s enough of blabbering, so, as it was sung in that lovely old musical, we’re off to see the wizard…
The gray-tape theory
Any one who has had something to do with repairing things like pipes, cars and so on, is aware of the hammer and the gray-tape /also known as the duct-tape/ theory, which states that whenever a particular object has suffered a malfunction or was damaged in any way, repairing it is possible as long as you have enough hammers and gray-tape in stock. /Usually this is just a temporary measure, to prevent an item from getting more damaged, but, still, it is quite often used./ Certainly, this method or theory is mostly used for material things like pipes, sofas, shoes and so on. However, I would like to apply this theory to a field such as sociology, and to other everyday “things” that aren’t really things in the “itemish” way of looking at the world. /”Itemish” is a new word that I really needed and, therefore, created/. Nevertheless, I’m quite sure that it is even possible to apply this theory to human behaviour and relationships.
The whole thought process on this topic began after watching a film at an English lesson /which the reader is probably aware of already/,but still I felt that it was a thing of honour to write it on a piece of virtual paper. Now, leaving all digressions behind, and going back to the main subject, this film, which in some way inspired me, was directed by Radu Jude. It is entitled “Alexandra.” The plot could be considered an excellent starting point for a discussion about damaged “things.”
As you probably know, my dear reader, objects such as bikes, lifts, refrigerators etc., can be repaired if one has developed certain skills allowing that process. However, if your bike is beyond your repairing abilities, thou should not despair, because if you take an ordinary telephone book /such a handy thing which unfortunately is pushed back by the Internet nowadays/, you can find a whole plethora of numbers directing you to various repair experts.
Unfortunately, a great percent of these repair shops are part of the great conspiracy of the major companies whose evil plan is to make humble and ordinary people either buy new products or give authorisation to change certain parts on items that they already own. In each and every device that surrounds us there is a hidden little “time bomb” that ticks and tacks as we speak, in order to attack in the moment you need that device the most. I guess I demonised the problem a little bit, because if you were in those companies and their associates’ boots, you would see that strategies like these are the only way o increase the longevity of those companies. The perfect product with no possibility of malfunctioning could mean that after producing a certain amount of items, the manufacturer could be shut down. That, of course, means reducing employment in the factories and so on. Nevertheless, I’m still not quite sure that I should pay to keep this great merchant machine working, but I can’t think of anything that could be done in this matter.
I’m not the gadget-type of person. I live by the motto that “the old times were good times,” meaning I don’t buy all the new fancy, “must-have” items. Well, to be frank, I hate buying things, especially new ones. I have found it quite interesting that older things could be divided into two general categories: first, the things that will last, /and by that I mean a really long time; for example, a hundred-year-old pocket watch I got from my grandfather, which still works perfectly fine, and which, if I should trust my granddad’s memory, it was so from the day it was bought/, and second, the things you know will most certainly not last. With this in mind, you should easily cope with anything. Going back to the repairing stuff , I learned from my father /and this is now my curse, actually/ that calling the repairman should always be considered the last thing that could help you.
As I stated in the beginning, there is another category of “things” that can be fixed which includes human interactions. Here you will find “things” that are the easiest to destroy by the smallest mistakes and those that are sometimes beyond any hope of repair. I can bet that anyone who would be asked about their relationships, friendships etc. could think of a moment when the smallest detail has ended an eight-month-long relationship, for example. Probably the saddest of such cases are those connected to family matters, where, for example, a son does not talk to his father for thirty years, and when asked about the reason for this situation he cannot remember either how or why it all started. Such events are most often irreparable due to the human stubbornness factor. When a quarrel takes place, the usual aftermath of it is “I won’t talk to him/ her unless he/ she apologises first,” and since both sides of the conflict have the same attitude, there is no way this situation can end in a good way. Another thing is that after those more severe arguments, even if the truce is finally signed, there are always some scars left which are a real obstacle on the road to making things work as they did before the war. Apart from the long-term relationships, there are other, less important, everyday interactions or relationships such as meeting people on the bus, in a queue inside a shop, in the streets, etc, that can be damaged or mended in a matter of seconds. Have you ever considered that simple things such as a smile could make a day for someone? It costs nothing when someone smiles to you, but I guess you always feel a little bit happier, and since every little bit of happiness helps, this could have enormous effects.
To summarize, it is a well-known fact that breaking a thing is much easier than repairing it, but, still, even after succeeding in repairing it, despite the tremendous amount of effort you have put into the process, I really believe that you would feel happy. After all, there are things in life that cannot be replaced with new ones.