A scene of stark choices, tough objectives and ideas for a new way forward were presented last week to the European Educational Research Association in Slovenia. David Budge went along with 600 researchers to find food for thought.
Slovenia is picturesque, more prosperous than its Balkan neighbours and relatively unscathed by war. But its teenagers, or rather its grammar school students, do not appear to be happy.
In fact, 75 per cent of parents believe their children are constantly depressed about their schoolwork, and 33 per cent of grammar school pupils are said to take days off because of psycho-physical ailments such as headaches, anxiety and stomach ache.
Excessive workload is a large part of the problem, according to a study presented to the conference. Nearly 30 per cent of parents questioned by researcher Mojca Pusnik said that their 15 to 19-year-olds spent more than four hours a night on homework. And 70 per cent of teachers acknowledged that the workload was too heavy.
But students also complained about the large number of unannounced oral examinations and said that some courses were unreasonably difficult. Mathematics, Slovene, chemistry and physics were feared the most.
Monotonous, didactic teaching methods that obliged students to remain passive were another cause for complaint.
Parents, however, believe that Slovenia's grammar schools must do more than merely reduce the demands on their children. They also feel that they must offer them more warmth, praise and acknowledgement.
"Workload on grammar school students", by Mojca Pusnik, National Education Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia.