28th March 2008 at 00:00
Teachers from all over the world are working in Scottish schools. Henry Hepburn speaks to eight foreign teachers and discovers how our education system compares to their own



Jacques Chezeaud, 55, headteacher at

St Joseph's College, Dumfries

A big difference here is school uniforms - people are quite agog in France when I say girls wear ties.

Children in Scotland are more nurtured, even mothered, and looked upon as children, whereas in France they are independent and free-thinking. Young French people are more politically aware; if there's something counter to their educational interests they'll be the first to do something, even strike action.

There's more of an academic aspect in France. Within the Curriculum for Excellence it's all about skills; everything has to be functional and utilitarian. There seems to be an obvious neglect of academic values.

There is a more diverse approach in France. I have a 14-year-old nephew who is not interested in academic subjects but is passionate about gardening; he has been directed to a school for gardening. In Scotland it is a single-track approach, and the CfE will not provide a diversity of provision - it's great in that it offers aspirational thinking, but the structures and finances are not there.

We say we have a broad curriculum in Scotland, but that's because we only compare ourselves to England. It's restrictive compared to many countries - look at the baccalaureate in France.



Maren Speckels, 28, P4-5 teacher at Monymusk Primary, Aberdeenshire

They've just started introducing composite classes for P1-2 in Germany. Before, there were no composite classes like in Scotland, even in small schools. It makes life easier in terms of planning.

School finishes at lunchtime in Germany. It's nice to have the afternoon for marking and planning. I'm getting quicker now, but I find it very tiring to come home and start work again at about six o'clock.

There are a lot more exams and tests in Germany, so children are under a lot more pressure. There are three different levels of secondary school, and at the age of 10 it's decided which one they'll go to. It's a big moment in their lives.

I find children here a lot more confident, and they have different skills. German children are so drilled into performing well in exams and writing and spelling, but here children are more advanced in expressive arts, drama and social skills.

Scottish children do a lot more group work and work with ICT - the equipment here is really good. Even a village school like Monymusk has a lot of laptops, computers and smartboards - a lot more than in German schools.



Hassan Hassan, 52, head of English as an additional language at St Roch's Secondary, Glasgow

I've been teaching in Scotland since 1997 and I trained here.

The main difference is in the availability of things like labs for science and technical subjects. I think it's an issue of government priorities and lack of resources. There is no practical work in Iraq as there is here.

On the other hand, discipline was much better in Iraq. I think it's to do with cultural differences. Pupils are more respectful of teachers, and parents are always on the teacher's side.

Another thing that comes to mind is that there was no dress code - you wore a uniform to university, not school.

But there has been a huge decline in education in Iraq, particularly in the last five years - it's really terrible. It was very high on the agenda in the 1970s and the early 1980s.

At that time it was compulsory, but lots of children don't go to school now, because they're worried about safety or because their parents are crippled - or they don't have parents - so they are forced to work instead.

I think if more children here knew about the conditions in Iraq, they might appreciate more the education they get here.

We have asylum-seekers at school. One Iraqi girl lost her father and two brothers. She is very keen to learn.



Melany-Lu Lin, 28, head of Chinese at St George's School, Edinburgh

There is a lot of competition in China and students are very motivated. You can have 60 or 70 students in a classroom without anyone to tell them to get on with their work.

Entrance exams for places in the key grammar schools are very tough. Where I came from in the north-east, the Liaoning province, there were 100,000 students competing for 800 places. At exam times, children can be working from 7am-10pm - that can be the difference between wearing straw shoes or leather shoes. You don't have extra-curricular activities as in Scotland. It's all about academic achievement and there's no alternative to working hard.

In Scotland, children are encouraged to be very creative. If you ask a child what a dot represents, they might say a bird's eye; if you ask a Chinese child, they would say it's the centre of a circle.

Chinese students aren't good at research when they first come to universities - they're used to being told what to do, spoon-fed.

Students have to learn English in China and it's happening at a younger and younger age, so nursery children are learning it at the same time as their own language.

I don't agree that Scottish children are not keen on languages. They are eager to learn about Chinese culture and language.



Ian Holder, 40, maths teacher at Kirkwall Grammar, Orkney

It's just the weather that's vastly different. I never leave home here without my jacket; in Barbados, people leave home without even their shirt sometimes - you really shouldn't pull that one here.

Other than that, there are not quite so many differences as you'd think. People are basically the same wherever you go: schools have students who want to learn and students who don't; they have students who misbehave and students who behave. Even the food is similar - I like the school dinners very much - except that you have haddock whereas we have flying fish.

Barbados is about the same size as Orkney, but the population is much larger. There are two secondary schools in Orkney, but 23 in Barbados.

Here, you go to the closest school, but in Barbados there is an entrance exam for children aged between 10 and 12. In Orkney, you can have a class of 12-year-olds where some are capable of work for children two years older and others are at the level of six-year-olds. In Barbados, you have to earn your promotion up a year, whereas here, no matter what happens, everyone goes up from S1-2.

I also think there is more paperwork here, and Kirkwall Grammar is much more computerised than my school in Barbados - although other Barbados schools do have a lot of computers.



Letizia Congiu, 27, biology and science teacher at Shawlands Academy, Glasgow

One big difference is that, after the equivalent of Standard grade, Italian children choose a broad skill - so you might choose scientific skills rather than specific science subjects.

In Italy there weren't a lot of opportunities for practical work, whereas there are here. It was a little frustrating as a biology pupil not being able to handle a microscope.

They don't have work experience either - I was surprised that Scottish children were able to enter the world of work.

Italian schools don't have as many holidays during the year, but they break up at the end of May and don't start again until September.

Exams here are written and externally assessed, whereas in Italy, apart from the final ones, a huge element is internally assessed, and you might stand next to a teacher and tell them orally about a process.

I've noticed that Scottish boys tend to stay next to other boys during practical activities, whereas in Italy it's more mixed and children come out of that comfort zone.

When I was at school in Sardinia, everyone went home for lunch. But that's changing now, especially in the north of Italy, because it's becoming more common for both parents to work.



Becky Frank, 45, teacher at Netherlee Primary, East Renfrewshire

I haven't taught in the United States for a few years - I worked in Florida and Texas - but I think one of the biggest differences is that you can still have a presence of the Christian faith at Christmas in Scotland.

In the US you cannot do that. You can talk about other religions, but not about Christmas - whereas here you can talk about all religions.

Also, having weekly assemblies is different - you never did this in the States. They're a great way to get children involved, whether it's enterprise, presentations, hearing about their achievements, or even building relationships between pupils and staff.

And inclusion of special needs kids was nothing like here, but this may have changed. You'd have special needs classrooms and these children would spend most of their time there, whereas here it is the opposite - they are included in the classroom and every aspect of school life. That's very positive.

Something I think they've done well in the States is the gifted student programme, where children spend time together in another school. Able students are allowed to advance in Scotland, but from what I've seen - this is only my third year teaching in Scotland - there isn't an equivalent programme here.



Lydia Zimunya, 37, home economics teacher at Greenwood Academy, Irvine

I've been in Scotland for six years and, to begin with, it was a culture shock walking into a classroom. We are used to 40 or 45 children in a class, but even though classes are huge, children are well-disciplined. The teacher is the source of all information - you have to do a lot of reading at home, because children really want information from you.

Here, classes are smaller and there is the library, the internet and other modern technology. You have to get to know the children here and make things interesting for them - they already know a lot of things from telly and the internet.

In my country, education is regarded as a bridge to a better future. In Scotland, it looks as if it doesn't make a difference - you can still work and have a good life with or without an education, whereas in Zimbabwe you must have a good education.

Things are really, really difficult in Zimbabwe just now. People are deciding to face up to things that are more important than going to school, and teachers are demoralised.

Teachers are seen as part of the elite, and if they say something to children about what the government is doing, that is going to be taken very seriously. Some teachers have been in prison. Some have been killed.

Most teachers have left to go to other countries - they just can't carry on. It was really difficult for me. I had risen to some position of influence in the community, but the government wouldn't take that very well. I felt like I had abandoned my career.

I am starting to settle in Scotland now. People have been very welcoming - in the community, and also colleagues and pupils - and I am very, very grateful. The children in Scotland are very supportive and curious. They often ask me what things are like in Zimbabwe.

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