Hey there and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast – the weekly English show where we speak about everything under the sun. The major goal of this show is to help you improve your English and, of course, learn something new. My name is Katya, I’m your host, and today with me…
Is Ken from Manila, Philippines.
Benjamin form London, England.
So, before we jump into the topic of education, I have a little request to our listeners. So we here at BigAppleSchool always want to become even better and for that we need your help. So what can you do?
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So, I guess since we’re talking about education, you know, both school education and higher education, I think I need to ask you about your educational background. So, where did you study? What was your major?
Right, well, let me start by saying that actually, you know, I went to two different universities because I started off at, well, it’s called University of Santo Tomas, it’s the oldest university in Asia that was founded in 1611. So I went there and my major was…
So it’s bachelor of secondary education, major in English. And then I had history for my minor. But then again after about a year and a half I decided to transfer to another university, because I felt like, you know, I wanted to have more freedom.
And by freedom I meant like academic freedom, and the freedom to choose, you know, for example, which subjects I’d like to take, and the time as well. Like, when to you know, study them. So after that I moved to the university of the Philippines, which is a state university, contrary to the, you know, University of Santo Tomas, which is a private university.
So there I took up the same major and yeah. So that’s my background, educational background.
So you have a bachelor degree then?
Right. And then in 20… When did I start? 2011 I took up my master’s degree, so language education, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish it, because after about a year, I decided to have some adventure by you know…
And here you are, 8 years later.
Exactly. But just to give a bit of a background for those who are not familiar with me, so I was unable to finish it because at some point I felt bored and I thought I want to have some kind of experience, I want to work abroad.
And that’s, you know, this whole idea of, you know, working in another country, came to my mind. Where, of course, the rest is history. I went to Kazakhstan, worked there for nearly 5 years, and now here for more than 2 years and a half, so yeah.
Unfortunately though, I was unable to finish my master’s degree. I wish I, you know, had finished it before I left the Philippines.
So do you regret it then, not finishing?
I don’t know, it’s like 50/50. On the one hand, I sort of like regret it, because that could have been a great addition to my credentials. On the other hand, I just couldn’t wait anymore at that point. I thought to myself I gotta do it now.
Well, your master’s was supposed to be in language education, right?
And now you have more than 8 years of experience, so.
Hopefully it’s more than enough to make up for that, for not finishing my master’s degree.
Oh I think so, I think so. And as far as I know, you also constantly take courses on teaching English as a foreign language, so you have not just given up education. No, you are constantly improving as a teacher.
Well of course because I don’t wanna be left behind, and I don’t wanna be, you know, come to my classroom and like, okay, what have we got?
Open your textbook, page 5, exercise 1. Done? Exercise 2.
A typical classroom teacher.
I’m sorry, for, you know, a little bit off topic, but that was, that was what my professor of Spanish like at an American university. And I was so mad about this. You know, that was my first experience with an American university and that was like what, 5 thousand for subject per semester. I was like this is not what I expected, you know. I wish you could use this communicative approach.
Of course the textbooks are useful, of course you need them as a basic guide, but you need to be fluent with your conversation. At the end of the day you’re there to learna language and you’re there to…
So I have mastered the filling in, ah, whatever, the gaps.
The words, the gaps, yeah.
I just wanna add though that it’s not about the credentials of a person that makes a real teacher, because I believe that it’s in the passion. I don’t think that well, to be quite honest, not everyone is, let’s say, made to become a teacher.
You know, I don’t think this is for everyone. Because, well, there are teachers, like, professional teachers. Because I do know, like, some of my colleagues in the past. Of course they have their teaching license which qualifies them as a teacher, but as far as I’m concerned, that alone will not make you a real teacher.
Because a real teacher knows and understands, you know, what his or her students needs are and how to, you know, work on them, and to actually really care, to have the passion. Because, well, teaching is.. It’s a vocation, it’s the noblest profession.
So, Ben, what about your educational background?
So I have a bachelor’s degree, I believe I mentioned in another podcast, but I studied at the University of Bristol, that’s in the south-west of England. Got a bachelor’s degree in Russian and Italian. So, a modern languages degree. And that was a 4 year degree. I spent my third year here in Russia and in Italy. It was a great experience, and here I am now.
Before I tell about my educational background, so both of you have mentioned the word major and Ken also has a minor, and the thing is that this is not something, well, at least minor is not something that exists in Russia.
Major is what in Russian we call специальность, because very often I hear my students say specialty. It’s not, it’s major. But what is minor? How would you explain what a minor is?
You know, it is for actually, so for secondary education, supposed to be like a high school English teacher, but a minor is… I don’t know if it only exists in the Philippines, but…
It’s an American term I’d say. It’s an American and maybe Filipino, yeah.
So the thing is if you wanna be a teacher and you want to specialize in a particular subject, then definitely most of the subjects you’re gonna study at university will be focused on that.
However, it’s like a fall back in a way, so for example if you, say, for example, you get tired of teaching English, at least you still have a minor. Also at university I did study something to do with history, geography, bit of that, yeah. So I think that it explains it.
Wait, Ben, don’t you have minors in Britain? In the British system?
In Britain you actually don’t, I mean, not to my knowledge. I have never come across a major or a minor in a degree. I mean sometimes people do subjects, for instance, Spanish with law, or law with Spanish. Usually the word ‘with’ is in a degree, it’s not minor or major.
But perhaps it plays the same function as the major or minor.
So basically minor is another area you focused your studies on. And they don’t need to be related because I have two marvelous examples. One is my friend who majored in business, minored in religion. And then I have a student, a real star.
So her major is biochemistry which is a double major, which is already tough enough. But then the thing is that at universities you need to take some courses not related to your major, so that you broaden your horizons. And she decided just, you know, out of curiosity, to take a course on Russian literature.
She fell in love with Russian literature, she fell in love with Russian, so later she took an intensive course of Russian, three more semesters of Russian, and now she is majoring in biochemistry and minoring in Russian.
It is! But yeah, so she has chosen, well, two completely different areas, but that’s what she did.
I reckon that as a good choice to be honest. Maybe she could find a job in the mining industry or something like that with biochemistry and Russian. There’s a lot of minerals in Russia, so I think she’s onto something good.
Definitely, definitely. So, yeah. And speaking of my educational background, I… Well the thing is that now it’s a little bit difficult to explain sometimes, because even though now in Russia we have a bachelor and, you know, a master’s degree system, we didn’t use to have that 7 or 8 years ago.
So what we had was a specialist degree which equal to 5 years of studying. So and I majored in teaching English as a foreign language, so I spent 5 years, 10-12 hours a day learning English.
Fun times. Yeah, I better not count how many hours I spent doing that. But after that, when I need to evaluate my degree for American universities for example, some of them will take my specialist degree as a bachelor, but some would take it as a master’s degree. Because it’s not, you know, 4 years, but it’s not 6 either. So what are you? So what is it?
Now it makes sense to me, because I had a student before and he told me about his educational background. And I just couldn’t figure it out, what do you mean? Is this? What is this? Is this bachelor? Is this master’s? Oh, okay, now it makes sense.
It’s none of them basically. And if you go to another country to study or to work, it depends on how this exact place will valuate your degree. But yeah, it’s all so different. And I also know that there is this GPA, which is…
Oh the great point average you mean, the American system, yeah.
Do you have… Is there a word for it? Is there a different word for it in Britain?
In the UK, at least in England, cause Scotland has its own different system which I’m not too familiar with.
Scotland has its own everything I guess.
Yeah, it’s own everything. But at least in England and Wales and I believe in Northern Ireland too we… So the way we grade our university degrees is first class, so anything over I believe 70%. And then we have an upper second class and then a lower second class and then a third, and then a fail.
This kind of thing, yeah.
In the Philippines we call it GWA – general waited average, and I would say that the perfect mark would be a 1. And 5 is a fail.
This is very convenient, you know, if you come to Russia.
I graduated with a 5, everyone’s like ooh!
It’s the other way around Russia, isn’t it?
Yeah, so in here 5 is the highest score you can get, 4 is good grade, 3 – satisfactory, 2 – a fail, 1 does not even exist basically. So it’s just beyond fail.
So it’s called… What is it, пятерка? Is it…
Yeah, it’s the Russian for five.
So when somebody goes to the supermarket пятерочка it doesn’t mean that…
It’s so cute, a little five.
Interesting. And how do you all a person, oh my god, in the US it’s such a long word, who graduated with honors? So only excellent results for everything?
Well, if it’s… wait wait, if you get between 1 and one point… Wait, 1 and 1.25, when you graduate, definitely the Latin honors, we give it with summa cum laude. And then if it’s between 1.26 and I believe 1.5 that should be magna cum laude, and then cum laude for anything that’s higher than, like between, wait wait wait, one second, I’m not so good at math. Forgive me for this. Okay, basically not lower than 3, it’s like anything that’s higher. When I say higher it’s like 2, 1.75, that is cum laude.
Is there any special word for that?
To be honest, I’m not quite familiar with that term. I mean I have heard of cum laude, but I’m not too familiar with the ins and outs of it.
Well, it’s… It all depends on the general waited average, so the higher you get, then of course the higher the Latin honors will be.
And what did you love and hate about your studying experience?
I mean I had a fun time, it was a good degree. The first year was so much fun, I mean, the first year at university in England you don’t do as much work as you do later on. Which, I believe, as you might have said beforehand, is opposite here in Russia.
Yeah I remember we’ve mentioned this in one of our podcast, in Russia it’s absolutely opposite. So the first year is when you are the most hardworking.
And then you know, the later it is in your studying, the more relaxed and laid-back you become.
Yeah it’s the complete opposite in England. The first year is everyone…. It’s just a bunch of young people in a big hall of residence or a dormitory and its just fun 24/7. And of course you study. It’s really good if you enjoy what you’re studying. I’ve always enjoyed studying Russian. So it was just nothing but fun.
You know, we kinda have the same situation, because in your firs year basically you’re fresh.
Well that’s why they’re called the freshmen.
Well freshers is the… yeah, it’s what you call the whole experience, but freshman, yeah, that’s the first year.
And normally, if you’re a freshman, most of the subjects that we study are general, like, general education, because we still have to figure out what exactly we would like to specialize in and it’s only in our second year that we get to decide what exactly will be like our major. In my case, yeah, as I’ve said, I’ve taken up English and then minor in history.
Yeah, I love this system to be honest. I’m gonna tell you a little bit more about Russian system of higher education, but later. A little bit of intrigue.
Ken, that sounds like the American system.
Yeah, well. Basically because our system of education is highly patterned after the American’s, well, just a bit of history of course. We were colonized by the Americans and you know, it’s funny because you would think of the Philippines, well, at least, our neighbors, because I don’t think people here in Russia are really well aware of, you know, the Philippines history.
But we were colonized by the Spaniards and you would think that today we would speak Spanish. No. So we have two official languages, one is Tagalog, the other one’s English. Tagalog is basically I would say 40% of the words are borrowed from Spanish, that’s why in our language you would really hear some Spanish words, but we don’t really speak Spanish sentences.
On the other hand when the Americans came, they educated the whole country and they… It was mandatory to learn English and that’s why English became like our, like, one of our official languages.
Well your last name’s Amante, doesn’t it mean ‘lover’ in Spanish?
Exactly! How do you know?
Because it’s similar to Italian in that sense.
You know, it’s funny because when you go to the Philippines, you look at us, you see totally Asian looking, like, people with an English first name, but Spanish surname. So for example my real name by the way is not Ken, it’s Jay-R. So Jay-R Amante. Or for example my friend, his name is Michael De la Cruz, so Asian, but an English first name Michael, and De la Cruz for surname.
I think this is what makes you outstanding.
Okay, but not so Asian in a way because just what you said in terms of education it’s patterned after the Americans, and in terms of the mentality I guess we’re not so Asian in a way, unlike the Thai people, Indonesians, Malaysians. We’re, I don’t know, it’s like a mix of a little bit of Europe, a little bit of, you know, America, a little bit of Asia.
Really friendly Asians. I mean, every… Almost everyone I’ve met from the Philippines has been really friendly.
Well, I’m happy to hear thar.
Alright, and what about school? Well, school in general. Is it divided into primary school, secondary school, high school? What’s the situation like?
So in the UK it’s… there’s no such thing as high school per se, it’s a very American concept. Maybe, I’m not too sure, maybe they have in other European countries too. But in the UK you have what is called secondary education. Primary education, secondary education, then you have the 6 form which is between 16 and 18.
And in the 6th form you do, you can do several different types of qualifications. Most people do what is called an A-level, which means an advanced level. Most people do 2 or 3 A-levels, I mean, if you’re really clever, you can do 4 A-levels.
And it’s not like the American system where you… Or maybe the Russian system where you do general subjects, you choose exactly what you want to do. So I did Italian, French and art.
Does that mean that it’s optional?
Well it’s optional in a sense that… Well I believe at least in my time it was… you can choose to stop school at 16. And then yeah. So in the UK you have what’s called GCSEs, which are…
It’s like the final exam, right?
Well the GCSE is the final exam when you’re 16. So you have usually between 8 to 12 subjects, so maths, English, et cetera.
Yeah. So GCSE stands for general certificate of secondary education. And then you go on to do A-levels, which is what I did. So it’s about three subjects, sometimes 4 if you’re really clever. And yeah, so I did, as I said, art, French, and Italian.
But some people can do what is called a B-tech which means… I can’t remember what a B-tech stands for, but if you want to go into a trade, for instance, plumbing. Or if you want to do something, yeah, valuable, you wanna learn some valuable skills like that, you do a B-tech. And there’s also, Ken, you might have heard of it, an international baccalaureate.
Yeah, IB, that’s been introduced to the UK as well.
So it’s a number based system, it’s more of a well rounded upper education let’s say. Yeah, so A-levels are much more specialized, whereas IB is much more of a rounded, kind of American style of education.
Everything is so different.
It’s enlightening. You know, okay, because you mentioned about high school. Yeah, we do have that. Before there used to be two divisions when it comes to basic education, that’s elementary school and then high school.
But of course over the years we have changed everything. So now we have elementary school that is from the first grade to the sixth and then junior high school from the 7th to 10th and then 11th to 12th that’s senior high school.
So and at what age does school actually start? So, primary, or…?
Right, so, now we have what we call the K to 12 system, so K stands for kindergarten and children can go there as early as 5 years old. So in total we have 13 years of basic education. Unlike before, which used to be like what, 11 or 12. But now it’s expanded to 13 years.
Yeah, I think it’s the same in the UK, with 13 years as well, something like that.
So it’s interesting how both in the UK and in the Philippines it seems that kindergarten is included in the education.
Since it’s K to… What, K to 12 you said.
Because in Russia it’s more… It’s not usually considered as education per se. So it’s just a way to get rid of the child during the day. I’m sorry, no. You know…
Have a place where a child is looked after, cared for. But yeah, wow. Because in Russia kindergarten is optional. So for example I only went to a kindergarten at the age of 3 for like a year. But then we have primary school which starts at 7, but then you can go there at the age of 6 as I did for example.
And it’s first 4 grades. And in the past the 4th grade did not exist, so it was 1, 2, 3, 5. For some reason. I have no idea why. Yeah and then we have middle or secondary school which was from grades 5 to 9. And then 10-11 was like an equivalent of high school I would say.
But so what surprised me for example in the US is that each school, primary school, secondary school, high school - they’re all different buildings. Is that the case in your countries?
It’s just to me it’s so unusual. I think there are only several schools here in Novosibirsk which have separate building for primary school. But that’s only because you know, now there are so many kids and they physically have no space for everybody in one building. But yeah, other than that it’s usually everyone from grade 1 to grade 11 in one building.
Okay. That’s interesting. It’s kinda hard for me to imagine because, well, you know, in the Philippines just like probably in the UK it’s really separate. So primary school goes to that building and then high school another building. We don’t mix them up.
Interesting. I wonder what’s better. I think there’s no such thing as better, because it’s just different, totally different systems. But I can, I can say one thing that when you have first graders in the building, even when it’s one or two classes as it was when I was working at a school – it’s chaos during the breaks. Real chaos. Cause they’re so little and they’re so loud. So loud!
And in the primary school do kids get grades? What do they study? What do they learn? Do they have subjects?
Well I guess they get stickers, stickers and pads on the back.
But what do they learn? Do they have subjects? Okay, we now have math, now we have English, now we have art.
Yeah, you learn maths, yeah.
Basic subjects, mathematics, science, English of course. And then we have our other language, Filipino, history. I don’t know, it’s like typical. Isn’t that universal or maybe I’m just assuming that, you know, it’s the same worldwide.
I think it’s more or less the same. Well, there might be some changes.
Well I know that in Scandinavia they have a completely different system where you don’t even start school until you’re 7-8 years old. I mean, I could be wrong, but they start much later there. And they don’t really see the point of school before that age. So I’m not sure how it works there, but it’s supposed to be much more relaxed kind of education out there.
Interesting. I have heard that Scandinavian educational system is considered to be one of the best, even though they don’t have exams in the way that we, you know, we have exams. So, no exams, nothing like that. But yet.
It does, it does. There are so many interesting videos where educational experts from the US or from other countries come to Scandinavia, and they’re so shocked. They’re like how come that you don’t have exams, how do you evaluate what a student knows. And they’re like…. Apparently, they have a system, so…
I mean, I’ve seen the merit, and pass and fail, I mean, if you can do something, you can do something. Well, depends of course, cause some people… When it comes to learning languages, some people speak better than others, right. So I guess it’s kinda hard to evaluate that.
And then again if you want to apply for university later, in a different country, you need to prove that you are better than other applicants. So why do you need to be chosen an not another person? So I really wonder how they do that. But that was. Alright. And what about middle school? So what grades is it? And how many subjects do people usually study there? And do they have a choice?
Well, in the Philippines of course everything is controlled by the department of education, which is of course in charge of the basic education in the Philippines. I don’t know, they don’t have any choice. So it’s mandatory to take all the subjects.
I’m just not quite sure at the moment how many there are, since I’ve been away from school for many years now, so unfortunately I cannot provide you with exact figure. But all I can say is all subjects are… they’re fixed, so no options.
Ben, what’s the situation like in England?
So yeah, middle school, as I said before, GCSEs and that’s essentially what middle school is. So between the ages I guess form 14 to 16 you learn your GCSEs.
May I ask you a question about it? So is it… It’s an exam.
Yeah, it has various different exams, so.
Oh so you can have a GCSE in math, GCSE in..
Exactly. So some are mandatory like maths, English are kinda mandatory. Some people just don’t do it. Yeah, maths and English and at least the basic sciences are mandatory. They you also have some optional subjects such as geography and history and then perhaps art.
So and does your choice depend on what you want to study further?
Yes, it does. When you do A-levels you usually have to meet a certain criteria at your GCSE. So if you want to do maths for A-level, you need to have at least an A.
Not that there are many options that are above an A.
I mean, math is a great subject. I wish I was better at math, but I only got B in math.
I can relate. Alright. So, you know, that reminds me of the exam that we have at the end of school time, which is ЕГЭ, so it’s like a state exam. And then you can take a state exam in different subjects, but you have two subjects that are mandatory, which are Russian and math. And then math can be of two types, basic and…
Advanced, I think yeah. Something like that. So you can take advanced if you need to provide the exam results for your college. But then, for example, if you’re applying for college and you want to major in foreign languages, you don’t need advanced math.
So but it’s so… I just wonder what it’s like to take exams in your countries. Because with this state exam it’s a nightmare. In a way that… So first of all you never take it in your own school cause, you know…
Apparently they think that, you know, your own walls can help or something. So no. So the students are taken to different schools. Then you come there, you have, you know, this metal detector so you need to put all your phones in some kind of a locker or something like that, so you know, so that you’re not cheating.
But I was a teacher at some of these exams. So the thing is that when students come, they have, you know, closed envelopes on their tables. So before that starts, there are cameras in every single room, so you need to show the envelope to the camera.
This is one side, this is another. We can see that it is closed. And you have to say it out loud very loudly. I am counting the number of envelopes. One, two. So you can see how many envelopes there are in the room, how many envelopes will be used by the end of the exam.
That’s really good, that’s really secure.
Very, and the thing is that a teacher is not allowed to have anything – not a book, not a notebook, not a phone. Nothing.
So that, you know, they eliminate the possibility of helping any student. And then if a student says, you know, I need another piece of paper, a draft paper, so you take a sheet of paper, show it to the camera, that it’s, you know, blank on both sides, give it to the student.
And then thing is that before they start writing, they put, you know, their passport data, so that there are no names on the blanks. And the thing is that you need to check the name on the blank, the photo and the information, but you are not allowed to touch their passports.
So you have to stand and say could you please open your passport? Thank you. And then you move to the next person. You are not allowed to touch anything.
So you have to be like Harry Houdini.
And you an imagine, if anyone is caught cheating, actually caught cheating, the results for the whole building, you know, are…
Oh voided, they’re voided.
So and I think this is too much stress. Too much stress. Although students still find ways to cheat. Couse students be students.
How do they cheat? Do you know of any methods of how students cheated? Cause this is literally like boarding an aircraft. Everything is secure.
Well I know that some people, they put some paper or cheat sheets into, well, their pockets or under their feet in their shoes, and then when they go to the bathroom they can read something. Although how can you possibly know what you might need?
Unless it’s like formulas maybe. But yeah, and you can later see all these cheat sheet papers in the bathroom on the floor. Cause when you get outside you’re like I’m clean. So yeah, it’s….
You knowm well, to be honest with you, while we’re still on this topic of cheating, I don’t know. I’m not saying that I was a perfect student back then, but I’m just saying it’s almost like impossible. It’s so hard for me to do it, because firstly I feel guilty easily, if I were to do it.
And especially in the kind of a system that you have just described to us if I were to, you know, one of them, it would be extremely difficult. If I even had, you now, any desire to do it. I would be discouraged after listening to what you’ve said, because there are cameras.
Probably you would be exposed to, easily.
Yeah. And I don’t want to be the reason for the test, for the entire test to be considered void because of me. That would be a huge embarrassment. And you know, basically I would be blamed for everything. So I don’t know how students even get the courage to even attempt to do it. Maybe out of desperation.
They have not a single bit of consciousness or anything like that, you now, Like nah. But you know, it’s interesting, since we’re still on the topic, cause I remember talking to my American students about Russian system and I said look, while I was teaching at a secondary school and at university, I was substituting my professor,
I saw people, you know, cheating in such a way you would never even think of. You know, when a student comes with, you know, this cup of coffee from a coffee shop, and then you know, he’s kinda drinking his coffee.
But then you think wait, something’s wrong here. And then you find out that actually inside of the cup it’s not coffee, but paper. And you know, on the cup in very small letters there are things written.
I had a student who, I think he had mastered the way of cheating. Even though he could have spent this time learning and, you know, masterfully passing the exam. You know how you have a watch, and you have a watch with very big round…
Yeah like the clock face.
Yeah. And them sometimes you need to wind that up for that to work. So and I could see the student was winding his clock so often and I found out that he put… So he disassembled the watch, put some paper in it, so when he was winding it up, the paper would, you know, change. Like how many hours he had to spend on this?
That is art. Like the art of cheating.
But in the US for example, in a college, if you’re caught cheating, there’s a very high chance that you’ll be expelled. They don’t, you know, it’s not a joke. So you cheat, uh-huh.
Well, speaking of cheating I’m not just talking about the achievement tests for like national level state exams. But even with, say, for example, quizzes or final exams in each level… At least in our culture in the Philippines if you’re caught by the teacher, the teacher has the right to crumple your paper and literally throw it away and ask you to leave the room.
And automatically you’re gonna get a zero for that exam. That’s how strict it is, and that’s why sometimes, okay, I don’t know if I should mention any particular country, but… Let’s just say that, well, I’ve been to one country and it just amazed me how there are so many ways of cheating, and I asked them…
Is that country Russia? Well, that sounds like Russia.
Well, no no, fortunately it’s not Russia, but never mind the country. But the thing is I was just amazed like how can you do that during the exams, like, aren’t the teacher or teachers monitoring everything? And I was told that sometimes the teacher just sits there, does something else, because I mean it’s hard for me to imagine.
Because coming from the system that I come from, well, it’s really strict, it’s almost like sometimes the teacher would tell us you know, I have ten eyes, I can see every corner of the room, so you cannot hide from me.
It’s a very Russian phrase, you know, I have eyes everywhere, even the back of my head.
Exactly. And all of us are scared to even attempt. That’s why, I don’t know…
You know, I love this strict system more. Because I think it provides a better quality of education. Cause let’s say when I was writing my thesis and let’s say, several years before that, there were no… What is it… Plagi…
Plagiarism. There was no, like, anti-plagiarism system, you know, when you put a text and you see how much of that was plagiarized, plagiarized.
Plagiarized, yeah. It’s a funny word.
Yeah, it is. It doesn’t sound right. Is that even a word? Anyhoo, but now there are these systems and people are like ugh, it becomes difficult to write a thesis. And I’m like yeah, cause you’re not supposed to copy that. So you know, you can quote certain things, but still.
So and I see this huge difference between, you know, Russian and American systems, educational systems. And I love the American one more, because it’s way more strict. And thus the students are forced to study whether they want it or not.
So I think it brings better results. So wait, but what about the Philippines and the final exams? You know, after school? How many do you have to take? Is it… Are there any mandatory ones?
Well of course apart form the one that is given by the school itself, we also have… Well’ I’ve already mentioned it earlier, the national achievement test, which is like your state exam. So basically two. So one that’s given by your school, and the other one is from the government, or from the state. And you have to pass both of them.
So do they cover like all subjects or what is it like?
Well, if we talk about the one that is made by the school, then basically all the subjects taken in your final year. And then if we talk about the state exam, the national achievement test, 5 subjects. Mathematics, science, English, history, and Filipino, which is our other language.
And then science sounds a little bit vague. So it also includes biology, chemistry, physics.
That’s too much. Too much.
I mean it sounds a bit like a torture, but it is what it is.
So and what if we move to higher education. So when you want to apply for university, so what do you need? Do you only need exam results or something else? What’s the situation like?
Well in the UK you need exam results and then if you go to Oxford or Cambridge, then you have to pass the entrance exams to that university. So before you’re even allowed to take the entrance exam at Oxbridge school, Oxford-Cambridge, you have to have excellent grades.
Most of universities, in the UK at least, you have the choice of 5 different universities to go to. And yeah, you apply to them and then you’re either accepted or you’re not.
So you just send your documents in, you don’t need to write any kind of essays, anything like that.
Only for Oxbridge, yeah, only for Oxbridge. So you get what are called conditional offers, so provided that you get the grades, you’re given the offer at the university. If you’re exceptionally intelligent, sometimes you get unconditional offers, but that’s very rare.
Well, yeah, that’ reasonable.
We kinda have a similar system, because, well, firstly there are two minimum requirements that they try to look at. The first one is of course your grades from, you know, from high school. I mean, form, you know, yeah, from high school. If you meet the minimum grade, then okay, good for you, so you’re already done with the first requirement.
The second one is of course the entrance exam. So and that’s too, I would say, for all the universities and colleges in the Philippines. And if you do very well in the entrance exam, then you could be offered some scholarship, so a 100% tuition fee that’s totally free. Or half, depending on how you performed in the entrance examination.
Speaking of, since you’ve mentioned tuition. I have two questions. So, the first one is - is education free or not free? Can you get higher education for free?
What about the Philippines? Because, yeah, is that provided by the state or would you have to pay for that?
If we talk about… which one?
Higher education, university.
Well, we have two classifications. We have of course the state colleges and universities where basically it should be free, but then you have to pay some fees for minor things, like miscellaneous things. And then you have your private colleges or universities where obviously you have to pay.
You know, the interesting thing is that I don’t know about Russia or maybe other countries, but in the Philippines we tend to take private colleges and universities more seriously, because in a lot of people’s minds we have better education if we go to private universities, except for the exceptional ones,
like the University of the Philippines, because I’s one of the top universities in my country. If you go there, wow, good for you. But if you go to just an ordinary state university like regional state university, it’s like oh, okay, good for you.
Because we have what, well, I don’t know about Russia, but in the Philippines we have what we call the big four, when you say the big four.
So I guess top 4 best universities.
Most respected prestigious universities. The first one is the University of the Philippines, which is a state university and the rest of them, from 2 to 4 are private universities.
Well I guess it also depends on what you’re studying, cause if you’re studying math and you don’t go to the best university, you’re still learning maths, it doesn’t really… I mean, it depends what you study.
It’s true, it’s true. But what I’m saying is that there is just this general perception that if you go to this university, automatically people will respect you, quote respect you. But then again there are also other universities that are not in the big 4, but they do very well in certain specializations that they think okay, you’re still good.
I actually had a question about that – about private and public universities. And that’s fascinating, because in Russia private universities are not really trusted and respected. There are very few of them and usually they do not, you know, they’re questionable.
Do they really have a license? What kind of education do they provide? So if you say that you graduated from a private university, you are less likely to find a job, for example, especially a good job. So public universities have way more trust in them.
You know, when I heard that for the first time, I was really, I was surprised like really? It kinda like destroyed my whole idea, because okay, wow. Okay, well, different country, different system I guess.
Absolutely. So and what about British education? Is it possible to get education for free? To get full…
At least, so in my father’s day, when he went to university, he got free education. He was, yeah, he was lucky. When I went to university, it cost… The tuition fee was 3,000 pounds a year. So you can get a student loan for that and then you can…
Yeah, but now it’s 9,000 pounds a year.
Okay, let me say, ah, 9,000. Just so you understand, the college where I’m teaching, it’s 80 thousand dollars a year.
80 thousand. And I wish I could say it’s just because, you know, it’s just because it’s in the top 3 and that’s where Hilary Clinton studied. No. Like, averagely it starts I think at 50 thousand per year.
Which is horrifying, you can’t… What exactly do you need to sell? Okay Google, what body organs does a human not need? To pay the tuition. But you say so it’s let’s say, 9,000 pounds per year. But is this still possible to get some kind of a scholarship or anything like that?
Yes, it is possible to get scholarships, absolutely, yeah. Which tend sometimes, I believe sometimes it constitutes up to 80% of the tuition fee, so yeah, it really depends on how much of a молодец you are.
So you say up to 80%. And then is there such a thing as assistantship? So you can cover the rest by working on campus or being an assistant?
I don’t believe so. I mean, there are a lot of students who get part-time jobs. I don’t know how they do it, they are serious people if you do a part-time job and you do a full time degree. I don’t believe there is assistantship per se.
Cause, again, I compare it not only with the Russian system, but with the American one, which I had a pleasure of working in and studying for a short amount of time. So anyway, in there it is possible to get full scholarship if you have exceptional success in sport for example, Americans love sport.
Yeah they have sport scholarships
So if you’re good at football, American football.
Absolutely, yeah. Because you can see that the price, the tuition is horribly, unbelievably high.
It is. So and they have scholarships that can cover up to 100% of your tuition. Sometimes student can get an assistantship, so you’re assisting a professor, so you’re kind of a TA, a teaching assistant, so you grade the papers, or you help with something else, you help with the research and that can cover some of your expenses.
A lot of students, a lot of students work on campus, in libraries, in dining halls, you name it. Cause you know, they still need money, to pay at least for some things. Cause you know, it’s not only the studying itself, but it’s also boarding, food. And let’s say there are a lot of colleges that are on meal plan, and you can’t say no to a meal plan, cause it’s in the rules.
There are quite a few students who live out in their cars sometimes.
That’s true, yeah, and they get gym membership to Planet Fitness, which is a huge chain cross America, so they can have a shower there. Yeah, it’s quite a common thing actually.
But in Russia it’s absolutely differne.t So of course it’s in the process of being changed, and it’s constantly changing, but when I was getting my degree in 2009 there were more public funded, let’s say, places, so it was way easier to get education for free.
So I got mine absolutely for free, I didn’t pay for anything. Only boarding, but that was like one thousand rubles per semester, which is, come on, almost nothing.
It’s nothing. And I was so happy about it. Because my family told me beforehand like we’re afraid if you don’t get this budget place as we call it, so you know, we call that бюджет, then we won’t be able to… We can’t afford it, we can’t afford the education.
So both my sister and I got our education for free. But you need to provide your exam results, so they to be above the minimum for the university and they only have a limited amount of these budget places. And every year there are fewer and fewer of them.
So the government does not fund the universities ad well, and you know, also that depends on the faculty and university. Because for example my sister majored in math. At her faculty there were 250 budget places. In mine there were 50, just 50. So you can see the difference.
Whatever’s more needed for the country has more budget places. And then so as far as I understand… In both the Philippines system and the British system you choose your major and usually you do that when you’re a sophomore, in your second year.
In Russia you have to choose that before you even apply. And that’s what I absolutely hate. Cause you can imagine you have to choose what you want to become at the age of 16. Well, yeah, because you can’t do that in your final year…
Well it is kinda like the British system. You have to choose your subjects beforehand, yeah.
But then you apply for university and you might have noticed that we have not just state university, but sometimes we have, let’s say, I studied at pedagogical university, which means that 90% of people who graduate are teachers and they have a major in teaching.
And then you also choose the faculty and the department, which means before even applying to university you need to know what you major is gonna be. And then you study 5 years, well now 4 years, studying just that.
And if you at some point understand that no, this is not what I want to do in life, which often happens, cause when you choose something at the age of 16 you are very unlikely to want to pursue that. You have… There’s no way but for you to drop out of college and start all the process all over again. So. And I don’t like it.
Well that’s unfortunate. And this is the reason why I hear a lot of like, you know, some of my students who, say, for example, they took up a particular major in college and then they end up with a different job once they graduate from university, so.
I mean I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen in the Philippines, of course it also happens. And sometimes midway, for example, in their second or even third year they, you know, like realize at some point like okay, I don’t think this is my, this is the path that I’m going to.
So they make a last minute change and that’s actually allowed. So they can shift to another kind of major so long as you meet the minimum requirements. Anyway, there are some similar subjects and then you have someone who will check everything, so that they will be credited. And then you can sort of like study again, but not the whole thing.
So you can have an additional year for example. And I love this system. Cause, let’s say, in the US, your first year – it’s just your first year. You have some subjects you think you might like, you have some mandatory ones like writing, English writing, cause, you know, students usually are not taught how to write well in schools, you know, different essays and whatnot.
And then your second year – this is the year when you have to declare your major. Then if you at some point understand this is not what you want to do, you can change your major until the end of your senior year, so your third year. But then you will have, you will most likely have to study for another year.
Yeah, do an extra year, yeah.
Actually, for those listening, so very often during my lessons I hear students struggle how to say, you know, how to express things about their years at university and they say when I was in my first... grade?
I’m like no, just to those who’s listening and struggling with that, you say in your first year, in the second year. And then there are names for each year. So first year’s a freshman, and I think it’s…
In the UK you can say in my first year, in my second year, but in the US it’s more in my freshman year, sophomore.
Freshman year. Sophomore.
Junior, senior. It took some time for me to remember junior and senior. I used to mix them all the time, but yeah, freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.
I’ve got a question actually. Is the Russian education, well, higher education system, is it based on the soviet education system? Would you know anything about that? Are there similarities between the two?
It’s pretty much the same.
But that depends on what exactly you study, cause let’s say, if it’s math, you’re most likely to even have the Soviet textbook, so nothing has changed in that. So when I was studying in 2009, oh god, that was so fun, cause we had the subject of practical grammar and the textbook we had was printed in 1986, so there were a lot of examples to translate about kolkhoz, things like that.
Collective farms. And you’re like I don’t think I’ll need that in my life, except to mention that on a podcast, you know, but that’s it. Why? No, I don’t need it. Give us something more modern. So I think that depends on a subject and on a professor as well. Because we had young professors, who used, you know, technology, who used modern textbooks. But then we have someone who is 75 who teaches with a textbook printed in 1986.
Was it all the same grading system? So was this пятерка and…?
Yeah, it’s not really changed. I know that some universities tried to implement this point system, so in order to graduate you have to collect a certain amount of points. Or 10, like, 10 grade system, so it’s not the 5 that is the highest, but the 10. But no, most of universities still have good old пятерка.
Yeah, all students do too, it’s way better than три. Way better. So and, so in the American universities there’s also this system of credit and audit? Do you have the same system in the UK an in the Philippines?
I don’t believe so. Can you expand a little more?
So credit… So the thing is that when you study in order to graduate, you have to get a certain amount of credits. But each subject…
Yeah, I think I have herd of this, yeah.
So for each subject that you take, when you take the exam, depending on your result, you’ll get a certain amount of credits. Usually from, well, it’s around 2 or 3. And in order to get a bachelor degree you need 120 credits.
So thus you can, you know, think how many subjects you can take per semester or you know, per year. It can vary. But sometimes there are some subjects that you kinda want to learn, but you don’t really want to do all the homework or, you know, you don’t wanna pass an exam or take an exam, I’m sorry.
So in this case you can take with an audit, which means you are a free listener. You can just come to lectures, listen to them, but you don’t have to do any homework and you can’t really join, you know, the discussions, you can’t join any projects. So you are there just as a little ghost. You’re just listening, remembering, but it’s not, it does not affect your degree anyhow. So.
I mean, we have such a thing like credit, but audit? I don’t think we have that, because I just remember, you know, while you were describing it to us, I was trying to remember my transcript of records. I did see the word credit, like 1, 1.5, 2. But audit? No, I don’t think we have such a thing.
I Mean we have some open lectures at university that you can go to. So for instance there was some philosophy lectures, but I’m not too sure. Perhaps it does exist, I’m just not particularly familiar.
For example, when I was an exchange student, I had to take two subjects per semester, but since my main goal in there was to be a cultural intermediary between the countries, I was assisting, I was organizing events, so studying was not my priority.
And it couldn’t be, because again, that was not the goal of the program. So and I decided audit some of the subjects. And some professors say okay, you are auditing it, I don’t want you to speak during the lectures, during the classes I’m afraid.
So you’re auditing, you’re taking the time of students who actually, you know, get this for credit. But some allowed me to, you know, join the discussion, to participate during the lessons. For example, my linguistics class. So yeah, it depends. The biggest difference is not only in the credits that you get or don’t get, it’s also the price.
So for example one subject can be, you know, 5 thousand per semester, 3 thousand per semester. Auditing is $300-400. So, you know, when you still want to learn, but you don’t want to do things, also it’s cheaper. Although, although, as again, as an exchange student, I could take 1-2 subjects, even last year.
And the thing is that my college, Wellesley College, has cross-registration with MIT, which means our students can take subjects at MIT, and MIT can take subjects at Wellesley, because these are… Wellesley is more of humanities, MIT is tech, so they have better labs and everything. And I asked them can I take a subject at MIT? I want to audit it.
Technically, since I can audit subjects at Wellesley, I’m supposed to be able to audit some subjects at MIT. So they reached out, so my department reached out to MIT and they said well, since technically she’s not enrolled in Wellesley college, she can definitely do that, for the full price. And I’m like okay, okay, how much is the full price again?
And they said $9400. 9400 for a class that meets once a week! Jesus Christ! Once a week! What kind… Can you imagine – every single lesson that you have on this subject is more than $500. You will never want to skip a lesson, ever.
I mean, not to diminish universities, but at the end of the day you can learn a lot of the stuff on Youtube. I mean, there’s some excellent maths lectures on Youtube. I mean, I’m not particularly amazing at maths, but there was a time when a couple of years ago I tried to sharpen up my maths and there’s some formidable material on.
I think it’s amazing when you have some theory that you need to learn. But if it’s practice and you need a lab, if you need something like that.
Yeah, like chemistry, or, yeah.
Yeah, and I wanted to take a course in Instructional design, and this is the area that is still developing.
What’s instructional design?
Instructional design is designing syllabi, courses, especially online courses now. So basically that’s the person who stands behind every single course at university. So what components should you have. So it’s not enough to just open the book and, yeah. So instructional designers look at that, and on different online platforms. What can work better with university or with the course.
So it’s kinda teaching mixed with psychology, mixed with…
With everything. Psychology, technology as well. Cause you have to understand how a certain program works and how it affects the learning. So it’s a relatively new area which I hope one day to get my PhD in.
But, you know. Alright, and so what about the value of education? Well, it’s not really a question for Ben, cause British education is valued everywhere. Russian is not anywhere.
It’s funny, cause it should be the other way around in my opinion.
Russia produces some really intelligent people, it produces chest masters to…
Scientists, computer specialists. And I mean, I’m not saying… I’m not trying to diminish the UK too much, but I mean… Russian education is extremely undervalued.
It’s going down the hill, that’s the problem. Cause earlier, there was a lot of funding. The professions and the professors were valued. There were more hours that students spent at university, more subjects. And now, even though now we have more opportunities for learning, they have fewer hours that they spend at university.
Fewer things, so there are fewer subjects as well, even compared to when I was learning, we had way more subjects than students have now. So and a lot of people just don’t want to work at universities anymore because it doesn’t pay. It’s not gonna, you know, cover your mortgage payment even, so. Why bother working for 15 thousand per month? So.
What about Filipino education? Is it valued around the world?
Okay, that’s an interesting question, because well, I‘ve only worked in two countries so far and they didn’t really aske from which university you come form, but you know. Okay, however, whenever we…
For example, if you want to work in the United States, we still have to meet certain standards. And you know, I just forgot the name of the system, basically the idea is they have to find certain subjects that are equivalent in the US, so they still credit it. In other words, they still accept it.
And then it’s up to their evaluation whether, you know, this candidate will still need a couple more subjects just to satisfy the minimum requirements in the US. So I would say that generally it’s still, you know, accepted, but there are still a couple more things that need to be met in order to, you know, for somebody who is a graduate from the Philippines, to be totally accepted.
But so far in my experience, nobody really questioned me, oh you are form the Philippines, you got your education there. No no no, we want you to get more qualifications. It hasn’t happened to me so far.
Okay. That’s good, that’s good. And what about… I have one last topic for us to discuss, subtopic. What about community colleges? Do you have an equivalent of that? And if so, what kind of professions can you get here?
Well it’s mostly trade skills in the UK, so.
Yeah, electrics, so yeah, become an electrician. Yeah, trades, generally speaking. I mean you can learn other skills too, for instance you can become a nurse. Or you can become a dental hygienist. There’s many different courses. They’re generally pretty good, community colleges.
We don’t refer to them as community colleges. In the Philippines they’re more like, we call them technical vocational schools, so it’s more about, again, trade. So, plumbing, you know, if you wanna be an electrician. So basically, of course you spend time there much shorter. If you wanna do like a shortcut and have a profession, then you go there. After finishing or completing your basic education. So yeah.
And what’s the attitude to them like? Cause in Russia, you know, they are not really respected. Even though you know, a profession of a plumber or an electrician or someone like that, used to be quite respected. They were like oh you do useful job.
Now in the UK things are changing very fast. Plumbers make really good money, so do electricians. It’s a really respected thing now. Whereas 20 years ago it wasn’t so much the case, whereas now if you’re a plumber, if you’re a tradesman, you’ve got a secure job.
Same in the US. Which shocked me when we had to call a plumber on a weekend, in the evening and the bill was like $450 for like 15-minute work. But in Russia it’s still, you know, this attitude which is oh, so if you are a plumber that means you have not succeeded in life. And I don’t know where that comes from.
Yeah, it’s a tough trade being a plumber, and you have to learn a lot of skills.
I was contemplating even for a long time, I mean, it’s quite… It’d be quite fun to be honest, I would enjoy it.
You would never run out of work, you know, no matter what situation is like, what crisis we’re in.
Right. But also it is interesting, because in the Philippines we have a similar thinking. We don’t really, what’s a nicer word for it. I don’t wanna say like respect, like we don’t respect, but it’s just not seen at the same level as those who really completed a degree.
Like minimum for us is 4 years. But because if you go to such, like, a community college as you call them, it’s like you only go there for like 2 years…
Yeah, 2-3 years, like that. But then again, it’s shorter than your average degree program, so.
You know that’s interesting, cause I know that in France your bachelor degree is 3 years. So you know, that depends on how you look on that.
But anyway, we’re talking about the Philippine perspective, so we don’t, again, we don’t see it in the same level as bachelor degree. And for us it’s like okay, good for you that now you can start early and you can have a job, but I don’t know, it’s just the traditional thinking I guess.
We put so much value on education, and it’s almost like we’re gonna respect you depending on the number of years that you have actually spent on your education. The shorter it is, then you’re not gonna have the same kind of like respect from the rest of us. I know it’s unfair. But I’m just saying.
It is what it is. You can’t change people overnight.
Alright, that was very fun. And I know that nowadays there are, well, there are quite a lot of people who want to pursue their education in different countries, be that the UK, Germany, Italy, the US.
And if you, dear listeners, are considering applying for your degree in Europe or the US, you can always reach out to us, BigAppleSchool, to help you with your IELTS, TOEFL or any kind of exam preparation. We are always here for you.
Alright, so that was the BigAppleSchool podcast. And today we discussed education. So we talked about our educational background, we talked about difference in educational system in the Philippines, in the UK and in Russia.
We talked about primary school, secondary school, high school, different exams that we take. Higher education and what the hell is credit/audit system, cause this is something that not many people know.
Thank you for listening and remember, if you struggle to understand our conversation, you are always welcome to our website, which is BigAppleSchool.com/podcast. You can find full scripts of each episode there, so you can listen and read and it’s very fun cause the text just pops up.
So yeah. And if you want to see more content which will help you learn English, you are always welcome to any social media, VK, Telegram, Youtube. Just search our name, which is BigAppleSchool. We have very cool profiles on each and every social media there is. So, yeah. That was Katya and my guests for today were….
Stay tuned and we’ll see you around.