I remember in my high school back in Taiwan we once had an English composition contest. The subject was “Do you think education is more like the filling of a water bucket or the ignition of a fire?”. Students had to choose a side and elaborate on why they think it’s better.
I chose the ignition of a fire. I didn’t win the competition.
The winner chose the filling of a water bucket, which most likely favored the opinion of the teachers. How hilarious it would be if even the teachers disagreed with the education system.
I attended a bilingual program in elementary school in Shanghai and writing persuasive essays was as normal as having lunch. We were trained to express our own ideas and back them up with facts and examples since a young age. This type of education was pretty essential for our future. I aced essays and also took part in debates later on. But all that came to a stop when I moved to Taiwan.
We don’t have “short answer” sections on our test papers, where we write a few sentences to respond to questions. Most of the time we didn’t have essay sections either. We only have “very short answers”, better known as multiple choice. All we need to do is choose the right answer. So how do we prepare for exams like this? We read the texts again and again to memorize the information. That’s what’s called “the filling of a water bucket”- our brains are like buckets and we just keep dumping information inside until there’s not enough space anymore. But the water filling doesn’t stop. To remember all the new stuff, we simply forget the old ones. Frankly, memorizing information is just for getting a good note on the test, and when it’s over, we let the water slosh out of the bucket.
At first I found this system absurd. I still do, but I’m already used to it. I’m also obliged to get used to it because we’re just doing it for the big exams that get us to university.
Before indulging myself into the French education system I’d almost completely forgotten what it was like to write long compositions on a daily basis. But yes, we do compose essays in Taiwan, but mostly in Chinese and it’s always more like storytelling. In English, we’re only asked to write 200 words. For the fire-igniting education, 200 words is just a paragraph.
It was up until I came to France did I realize how much skills I’ve lost. In French schools we are often given a subject to elaborate on, accompanied with several documents as reference. Every student turns in pages of writings explaining their opinions, and most importantly, why they have these opinions. I knew I had to improve myself again, not just to survive in the French education system, but also to prepare myself for the near future, where I should be taking the SATs. Which is also one of the reasons I started blogging – Even if it was just writing about everyday life, at least I was writing something and having ideas thread through my mind.
I really do prefer the education systems that are like the ignition of a fire – they give you the basic information, but it’s up to you to fully understand and give some reflections. I will be turning back towards the bucket-filling system, but if I continue blogging here and there, I’d have my own fire burning too.