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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dream jobs (Εργασία όνειρο)

It's exam time for school students, and I was back in the examination centre, assessing Greek teenagers' spoken English skills. The topics were relatively interesting, although it did admittedly get boring repeating the same questions over and over again to the students, most of whom knew them off by heart anyway; as soon as one student left the examination room, s/he would tell the other student what was being asked. And since we work according to a script provided by Edexcel, who don't provide alternatives (not even on different days, despite complaints), we can't change the topics.

After the first few interviews, you could say I began to work on autopilot:
"Hi, Xxxxx, nice to meet you. Let's start with the first question: What is your 'dream job' and why?"
I alternated between the 'dream job' and 'perfect day' questions: most teenagers' "dreem tzob" was "to be a titsa, be-cows ai laav tsill-dren".
I never lose hope that there will be some children in the 150 or so that I assessed over the weekend, who would have some original ideas: we spoke to the third best male teenage swimmer in Greece, a 13-year-old girl who has been playing piano since she was 3 and would like to become a concert pianist, and a boy who hopes one day to become a professional boxer.

Most kids weren't that creative: they stated that they wanted "to be a titsa, be-cows ai laav tsill-dren". My transliteration is not intended to make fun of Greek children's English pronunciation. It is intended to show what the Greek education system has led us to - few kids are being guided to think outside the box, let alone break out of the mould. Their parents are not the right people to do this: they may have seen their dream of turning their kids into public servants crumble right in front of their eyes, but they still haven't got to grips with life post-δημόσιο. The teachers are in the same position - no one knows what to turn to now instead, as we have not been given many other options. Except emigration - run away, leave the problems, and go somewhere else. 

Do Greek kids lack dreams, perhaps? I doubt this. I think they do have dreams, but unfortunately, their dreams are not realistic. In the present case of my English students, one can argue that they are too yong to have decided on what they will be doing in the future. But they are still being influenced by the mistaken beliefs of their parents, who still think that you choose one job for life, and you do it forever. I would argue that most readers of this blog know how unsound and highly unsustainable that is. 

I mustn't be too harsh on my students - a good few were able to argue successfully for the rather alternative idea that the Olympic Games should be changed so that athletes can compete individually rather than for their countries (this was a C2-CEFR question).
Greek kids still have the idea that having the secure lifestyle their parents once had is the end of the dream. That is what they remember - few of them realise that this past security was actually an unsustainable one that will never come back; and even fewer realise that the crisis will stay with them forever - unless they become more progressive thinkers. And they won't become progressive thinkers if they aren't taught to be - but education starts in the home and continues at school, and if parents and teachers aren't able to offer better choices, then children will continue to be misguided. 

"What if the weather's bad?" I asked them (it doesn't sound quite grammatical to me to say "What if it's bad weather?" as the Edexcel script suggested). "Oh, it's a summer festival," they answered systematically,"the weather is always good here." (The tests are written in the UK - they always feature at least one typical London scene, eg this year, a drawn picture showed a double-decker bus, with students queuing in the rain waiting to board it, and a man running to catch it, waving a ticket in his hand, presumably an Oyster card).

Since I have children myself, the vicious circle of education - studying to get a degree in a jobless world - is a question I often think about. I want my kids to dream beyond the tried and tested, which isn't really working for anyone these days, as Arianna Huffington pointed out to Smith graduates:
"Don’t buy society’s definition of success," she said. "Because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It's only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure."
She pressed those graduates to look for other ways in "asking the big questions and worrying about the little things, and solving the cosmic riddles":
"I've learned about Smithies writing honors theses on subjects that I not only don't understand but can't even pronounce. Like Lisa Stephanie Cunden's thesis on entropy and enthalpy contributions to the chelate effect -- I wanted to give you the gift of hearing that said in a Greek accent," she said.

I had to look up entropyenthalpy and chelate, even though I knew damn well that all the words were derived from the Greek language. It left me thinking that the Greeks invented everything, and yet they continue to give it away, because we don't know what to do with it ourselves.

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