Education in England

Features Issue 95 Jul, 2010

When people think of studying abroad they think of change, oppor-tunity and a better life. I started that experience at the age of five, and being in a new place with new faces can be daunting to any adult let alone a child. This wasn’t a change of school, but a change of location, culture and even lifestyle. Everything is different, I went from Nepal where I was surrounded by family, friends and living in a large house to a home in England with just my mother, father and I. We lived in a one bedroom apartment over a restaurant. I no longer had my cousins or friends to play with, I had to make a new set of friends; all my toys and most of my clothes were left behind. It was colder than Nepal, less sunny and the locals spoke a totally different language – English.

I remember my first day at school in the UK. It was very different to what I was used to in Nepal. Firstly, we weren’t made to recite lines; instead of learning to memorize information we were taught to understand it. Then there was the teacher – so nice and considerate that I felt very comfortable. That’s not to say that I wasn’t thankful for my Nepalese education. In Nepal we were taught English form the first class so I was able to understand what was happening around me in England, at least to a certain extent. And, unlike Nepal, we didn’t have to carry heavy bags full of books that were too much to bear; and there were no uniform checks, either.

Classes were very different. There was no fear of getting hit for making mistakes, and we were not scolded unless we misbehaved. The teacher would sit us down and go through the questions that we didn’t understand, where we went wrong. There were so many different ethnicities in the classroom that there was no issue of being left out or picked on. We were accepted as new and were helped when we didn’t understand. I felt very alone at first, as the only Nepali in a British classroom; it was not what I was used to. Back in Nepal all the children in my class were Nepali, and so were the teachers. Nonetheless, I was able to adapt, as there was no other choice.

The classroom was also very different from what I was used to in Nepal, the walls were covered in colorful artwork, and instead of rows of desks there ware tables and an area carpeted out. On one wall there was a large book case filled with many books, each a different shape and very colorful.

One thing about studying in England, especially in London, is that students are able to soak up a diverse range of cultures and people. You get to know many different kinds of people from different areas of the world.

My primary school experience wasn’t always so wonderful, however. Sure, I made friends and the teachers were helpful, but not everyone was nice. I was eight or nine years old the first time I was bullied by a boy my age but much taller. We sat at the same table and he taunted me, getting me into trouble for the things that he did. The other children at the table would say nothing. Maybe they were scared that he’d pick on them, but I remember going home and crying several times.

My mother tried to coax me into telling her what was wrong but I couldn’t tell her   I felt embarrassed, ashamed. In the end, I think she figured out why I was upset, because the next thing I knew I was going to another school, somewhere closer to our home. My mother said it was because she was starting work now and it would be easier for her to pick me up form this school. I believed her then, but looking back it seems to have been too much of a coincidence.

On my first glimpse of high school I remember thinking WOW! The school was huge compared to my primary school. Each subject had its own building and there were so many people, each of whom looked like a giant to me, towering over us ten year olds. Touring the school was like going through a maze – so many corridors, stairs and floors. Every subject had several teachers, which was very different from primary school where one teacher taught all the subjects. During the first few weeks in high school I felt like a rat in a maze as I tried to find my classrooms. There were also sets in Math, English and Science, which meant that we were put into classes based on skill, though not with my form class, which had students of mixed skill levels in it. I had to learn German – so different from English, with its strange sounding words (to my ears). It was so harsh the first time I heard my teacher speak, but she was very easygoing and made the subject fun and interesting. It wasn’t long until I was looking forward to German class. In fact, all the teachers made an effort to make classes fun and practical so that the students were not merely stuck in class going through worksheets. The teachers had studied in universities and had experience in their subjects. They also took annual training workshops to better understand and improve their teaching.

There was also a class for the most gifted and talented students. In that class, I had to take Latin instead of literacy lessons like the rest of the children. I remember that Latin was always after physical education, ‘PE’ for short, so everyone was tired when we got to class. Most of the time it was a chore to stay awake or pay attention; but, thankfully, Latin was only compulsory till Year 9, and then it was optional, and I opted out.

High school was a great time in my education. I learned so much and had such fun, going on history trips to see castles, for example, and learning about medieval England and the Black Death, visiting museums, soaking up different cultures, and learning about various types of art. There were also trips abroad, to Belgium, Germany and Spain, experiencing their history, culture and art.

For my A-Levels, I continued at the same school, in the college section also known as Sixth Form. Compared to high school the standard of work and workloads for A-Levels are greater, harder, but so much more in-depth. Now students must put everything they have learned to the test. If you want to get into a good university you have to give it 110 percent.

Though I was still surrounded by the same friends and teachers the ambiance was different. It was no longer what I had learned in class that counted, it was that I now had to take the initiative to do serious research; that is, to learn. There were tests every five months, and a long examination at the end of the term. At the same time, however, I felt more freedom – I only had three or four subjects to learn; thus, more time to enjoy myself. I soon discovered, however, that with freedom comes the responsibility and discipline to use my time wisely.

I remember spending of my free periods out on the field behind the school, hanging out with friends, copying each other’s work, and just having fun. Though most people think that the UK is always rainy and cold, it’s not. During summer, from May to October, the weather is pretty good. Sometimes in the peak of summer it was as hot as in Nepal. During those times our classes met outside instead of in the hot, stuffy classrooms. This was the nicest time of the school year. Since there was hardly any rain we could also play outdoor sports.

As for university in the UK, I chose the University for the Creative Arts. I experienced even more change when I moved up to the university level. The feel of university life was much more diverse than high school. At first, there were no familiar faces, but the new environment was exciting – the people, the teachers and the place. The hustle and bustle of university life revolved around deadlines, workshops, essays and partying.

We had several teachers who specialized in aspects of graphics, such as animation, typography, editorial design, and the like. Their styles of teaching were new to me. I was there because I wanted to learn. No one made me attend. There was no leniency about deadlines, however, and if I missed a class I had to have a valid reason submitted in writing with proof. It was rigorous, but I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

I have recently finished my first year of university. I am now looking forward to the next three years of study and what they have in store for me. I wonder what I might achieve in the future. Meanwhile, looking back and contemplating the past I am thankful to my parents for the chance they have given me, and to all the people who have helped in my journey thus far. For what is life but a journey, and education the accumulation of knowledge and skills to improve on it?