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Education • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
The day had come for us to finally start teaching, which I think for all of us
came as a bit of a relief. For at least we would now have something
constructive to build our days around, and was the best excuse I could think
of to miss a party.
Not ever having done any teaching at school level I was surprised at how
easy I felt about the whole thing. Jane had piles and piles of information and
diagrams that she had done herself, which looked very impressive,
compared to my meagre efforts. Andrew and Amanda had already beaten us
to school their obvious enthusiasm must have kept them up all night. Once
assembled, Sofia joined us so as to give us all timetables, unfortunately there
seemed to be an excess of teachers, so not all of us were needed. Rather than
go home I decided to sit in on some of the classes and get the feel of things.
I had planned to spend some time with everyone but ended up for the whole
morning with Andrew, whom not only had the children spellbound but
myself also. I think that they had as much difficulty understanding his Welsh
accent as I did, but we all learnt something. Those summer classes of happy
children and enthusiastic young English teachers was to become a far and
distant memory, when after speaking with Russian teachers and students a
like, I was able to find the real truth of what goes on in the education system
of Moldova. It was good that we were ignorant as our happy free spirit
affected both teachers and children alike.
That is of course until we went home and the summer ended and the system
returned back to a sinister reality.
Our children are our future they are the people that will take our place in
society, they will make the country great or lead it into poverty and war. So
the knowledge we give them and the way their minds are molded becomes
The state system of school education in Moldova is the same as most
countries with a curriculum to be followed covering the basic learning
requirements. Discipline towards attendance is strongly enforced any missed
lessons being rewarded with a strong reprimand.
But like most other things here when you start to look under the carpet, you
find things you wish you had not. Most of the schools are old and dull
looking with broken windows which is common in schools all over the
world. But here they are not mended for months on end, if at all which just
adds to the overall gloom of the place. Classrooms are reminiscent of our
own forty years ago, with the equipment being of about the same age. New
books arrive on a regular basis about once a year, but they seem to be at
least twenty years old. In some schools it is only possible to have lights on
in a few rooms due to the cost. Heating is yet another luxury, with winters
producing temperatures as low as minus twenty-five, most pupils have to
wear gloves so that they can write and also spend all day in their coats.
There are radiators, but even if they worked few can afford to have then on.
Some modern equipment has started to creep into the system. Computer
studies have become a very popular subject mainly I am sure because of the
games but it does give the children a link with the modern world. Of coarse
not many schools have them and those that do are fighting a continuous
battle to keep them working. Most computers are too old for Western people
to bother with, and when they break it’s almost impossible to get the parts
that are by now long out of date.
Other equipment that we take for granted are obvious by there absence. If a
school possesses a typewriter it’s their pride and joy, a photocopier is
impossible to find, though I did hear rumours that there was one in the
Peace Corps head quarters but no-one was allowed to use it in case it broke.
The repairman would have to travel from Moscow, which was a two-day
journey for him by train. Sports equipment consisted of a few balls and
limited indoor facilities for those cold winter months. It never ceased to
amaze me how a country so backward has been able to produce the greatest
athletes the world has seen. This could of course be a result of the
determination of the people to raise above all their daily problems and not
because of the support of others. The teacher pupil relationship is one that is
becoming more difficult each day. Not only are the teachers using the same
methods of teaching that they did thirty years ago, but they still have deeply
in bedded in their minds the socialist system that they themselves grew up
The children that are now in the classrooms are not only a new generation
but also one that is growing up in a free society.
One that is almost impossible for the adults to understand. The conflicts are
there for all to see and the frustration is written on everyone’s faces. Most of
the time the lessons might as well be spoken in a foreign language for there
is no understanding between the generations. Children listen to Walkmans in
class and smoke in the playground in full view of everyone, but nothing is
done. The communication gap is just to great, teachers still believe that their
pupils should respect them just because of their position, but the children
have other ideas.
The lessons are boring for all with out of date material and out of date
teachers teachers who have lost the joyful atmosphere that seem to follow
the young. The children of today learn far to young what their future holds
which does nothing to improve their attitude for they know that most of
them haven’t got one. Of course a good education in any society will see one
go far, it will open doors that otherwise stay firmly closed.
They are an intelligent people for its not unusual for a child to know four
languages with English being the most important of course. Their
knowledge is in a way a contradiction to the system they learn in. The
children crave for homework, their greed for learning lasting well into there
Most of the time their intelligence does not come from the school, but the
need to have a future. There is nothing else to do; television is limited to
very poor quality programs though it is possible to see some films that have
only just been released at the cinemas from the West. These films will be
shown accompanied by the warning that they are not for public use and
anyone seeing it should ring the appropriate number. No one does for
without these pirate videos there would not be anything to watch. The same
is done with CDs; they are all copied in a small booth in the department
store and sold for a few dollars on the street corners. A video machine would
cost over a years wages but you can’t find films to watch.
Computer games do not exist; neither do Discos and clubs, so the free time
of the children stay very much free. Without the distraction of a Western life
they throw themselves into their studies soaking up as much information as
possible. For them it becomes a competition to become the best student. The
rewards for this is few, but once a year a competition is run by the American
organisation called Freedom Support.
The winners go to the U.S.A. for one year of studies. A prize to excite all.
The tests are in English and hard even for a native speaker, but without fail
each year the fortunate ones pack their bags and say their goodbyes for one
year of Western life and freedom. In the best will in the world Freedom
Support and the people of America have done their best to help even to the
extent of paying all the expenses and then providing pocket money.
The implications though for the winners on their return home are something
that has not been considered, for some of them the results are devastating.
All will have an American accent and be as Western as is possible to be.
They will be wearing the clothes that will make them stand out in a crowd
and will have even started to change their own culture to a mixture of both
countries. One year away is long enough for a teenager to become
American. Their future becomes a continuous battle with their own system
that they no longer wish to be part of but are trapped forever without hope of
ever being able to return to the West. Living with the knowledge of the
wonders that the west holds life becomes hard for them becoming an outcast
amongst their own people and disillusioned with the future. Drugs and drink
becomes the only escape left to a lot of them. Some resist the temptations
and simply leave Moldova for Russia where at least there is some signs of
The commitment to the school system of education by the adults is one that I
find very confusing and almost impossible to understand. On one hand the
parents will find whatever spare money they have to pay for extra lessons
which is the only way a teacher can increase their meagre income.
On average they teach for twenty-five lessons per week and receive twenty
pence for each lesson, but it is possible to earn as much as £1.50 an hour for
The teacher’s commitment is one that is so intense that it can become almost
suicidal. This could be because a bad teacher will get dismissed if their
results fall below the required standard. A pupil can complain about a
teacher if they feel that they are not learning enough. This results in a
meeting between parents, school officials and of course the offending
teacher. There will then follow a lengthy assessment and study done on the
pupils from the same year that are taught in different classes to find out how
intelligent they are compared to the pupil in the offending teachers class.
So the yardstick is taken from the knowledge of the best students. This of
course does not seem fair but it certainly makes the teachers work hard. To
top this at least four times a year a large meeting is held for all the teachers
which they have to attend and can go on as long as six hours. The whole
purpose of this meeting is to inform everyone how each other is doing so the
head of the school will systematically go through the list of teachers praising
one and then criticising the next to the point sometimes that the poor soul
whose results are low leaves the room in tears. It proves to be a very
successful method of motivation for standards are soon raised. This in my
opinion reeks of socialism that is reinforced when the meeting is opened
with ‘Hello comrades’
But in total contrast we have the next phase of the education ladder
In our own system, money is one of the most important things but it has not
got to the stage where people have lost sight of life’s other values. Maybe
it’s because money is not that hard to get so we have time to spend on moral
issues. To be in a system where the possibility to have a normal standard of
living is rare you will find every person in a position of power uses it to
make as much money as possible. In a way it can be understood as there are
so few chances that it’s a case of grab everything you can, when you can.
This idealism goes beyond a joke when you find out who is getting paid,
how much, and by whom.
The whole of the university system is based on money and blackmail which
is controlled most of the time by the governing body. Each student receives
a grant based on his or her performance of around £5 per month. This
meagre sum can be completely withdrawn if their results from various
exams fall below the required level. I have met some of these unfortunate
students who do not receive this money. One young girl had been
downgraded in English, which had made her average mark 7.4. The required
level was 7.5.
This I found most surprising due to her ability to hold a conversation with
me. I persuaded her to do some English tests, which I had with me. Her 92%
was four above my own. O.K. my grammar was never that good but I should
be able to beat a foreigner.
She had been down graded not because of her knowledge of my language
but because she had not shown a proper respect to her teacher in the form of
gifts. The result of her stubbornness was starvation for the next six months.
There are other ways to improve ones marks, sometimes far beyond what
they should be, this time one did not have to give money, just ones body!
The harassment for sexual favours would start in the first academic year and
if you were unfortunate enough to be attractive it would continue until you
left or the pressure became so great that you was forced to give in or leave.
Not all university professors would lower themselves to this level of
deprivation, those that did pursue their lust with a vengeance. The methods
were simple and to the point, ‘sleep with me and you get good marks and an
easy time, don’t, and life will be very hard for you'.
This would be done by filling in bad reports of attendance and low marks for
course work and exams which could result in dismissal. One particular
teacher who was renowned for this behaviour was once caught in a sexual
act with a seventeen year old in a classroom that he had failed to lock behind
him. Within a few hours it was all around the campus.
The poor girl was teased to the point that she committed suicide. Five years
later the teacher is still in the same job committing the same acts.
The opportunity for blackmail goes far beyond this and does not simply stop
at teacher level. When the government decided that there were not enough
English teachers in the country it came to the simple conclusion that it
would be best to send all the fifth year students to fill the shortages. Of
coarse Moldova has had this lack of teachers for years, most who have
found it impossible to even survive on the wages paid to them, have simply
packed their bags and left for Russia in the hope of finding work as
translators. It just took a long time for the government to get round to
figuring it out.
So on a Wednesday morning it was announced that by Friday all the
students were to return, packed and ready to go. We are not just talking
about the inconvenience of being taken out of education but a complete
move. In some cases as far as 300 miles from home. Those with babies and
husbands were given no leeway what so ever, with the threat of instant
dismissal the twenty young boys and girls duly obliged. Spending the next
day packing and saying their fond farewells to their loved ones before they
were to be dispatched to God knows where. No one was given any money
and even the scholarships had not been paid for three months, and no one
had even bothered to find them accommodations this was something that
they would have to do when they arrived. The implications of their refusal
were not just dismissal. If a person does not hold a diploma they can’t get a
job or a pension that their family may receive for having children in
education would be suspended.
This in most cases was not just a nice bit of extra money but the only form
of income that they had.
As the students gathered on the Friday morning their numbers had been
somewhat reduced to around twelve. It had been obvious from the start that
not all of them would go; some families had been able to pay the correct
amount of money to the right person so that their child would be able to stay
at home. For those less fortunate, or should I say those without any money,
such as one twenty year old girl who had a four month old baby, had to kiss
it goodbye as it lay in a hospital ward and leave it in whose ever hands she
could for the next year. All this for a diploma that would give them a job
earning £10 a month for the first ten years only rising to £18 when they had
served their apprenticeship.
The sting in the tail comes when a value is put on the diploma, £300 when I
last looked, a sum that for some who earn their money in dubious ways can
be raised. It is then passed to the correct person and not only have they got
their education but an immediate future. I have spoken to a holder of such a
diploma who was an English teacher at one of the local schools. My own
Russian has always been of a very low standard but without my interpreter I
had to speak it, as it would have been impossible for her to understand my
English It took us over an hour to have a simple chat using the most basic
words that we knew of each other’s language.
As I said my goodbyes and left the teacher to her class my mind was full of
confusion as to how a society can on the one hand be so caring, and on the
other so cruel to those who had nothing.
I met the same teacher some months later her English had improved, but my
Russian by then was more advanced and far better then the foreign language
she was meant to be teaching We spoke for a short while before she had to
leave for her next lesson. I still think of her today teaching English to her
class of six year old's whose only knowledge of my language would come
from the television or other people because a system allowed one to buy an
education and then a job. The sad thing is that everyone knows right down to
not only the first year students but the young pupils at school who are still
waiting their turn to enter the higher education system that it is corrupt.
They know that even if they pass all the examinations to enter it may still
not be possible for them to do so as all places may be taken by those able to
afford to pay.
Their motivation never changes for they know that even though their
chances are becoming less each year due to the possibility for more pupils
who have jumped the on to the capitalism systems back to earn the required
fee. It is still the only chance they have.
One of the sad things is that I strongly believe that all of them, if it were
possible to acquire a position of power would do the same. When the person
who is meant to be the figurehead at ones University is making money hand
over fist and is running the place like a concentration camp it just seems like
normality to every one else.
The Dean who is one of the most devious people I have ever had the
misfortune to meet has also one of the most polite and reassuring manners
one could wish for. On my first meeting, he made me feel genuinely
welcome and could only be described as being over helpful. But behind this
mask lies a man who would have been employed as a mass executioner in
the Second World War. There wasn’t any room for compassion in his tiny
little mind, which I was to witness on more than one occasion.
When a student was ill they would have to seek his permission so as to be
excused from lessons, and go home. They would always be sent back to the
classroom with the warning that the University was not the place for
personal problems, and if they did not want to learn they could always go
home for good.
One such girl dragged herself back to lessons and spent the rest of the day
having a miscarriage. When she finally finished her studies and went to a
hospital she was really ill, and the next day found her in a ward having a
blood transfusion. On her return to the University she was dismissed.
Other students who had dared not to turn up would be dragged in front of the
whole class and severely reprimanded which usually reduced them to tears,
and then they would be downgraded which meant that there wouldn’t be any
money for them or their family for six months.
The Dean would keep these students who reacted in this way at university
for as long as he could because he got sadistic pleasure out of seeing them
become a gibbering wreck when ever he glanced their way.
More of the young are doing their best to stand up for their rights and are
taking the step of ducking the whole education system, a drastic step to take
just for a point, but at the moment it seems to be the only way. For most
their future will be one of total frustration but at least they can go through
life knowing that they made a stand for justice. Even this decision is one that
has its dangers, for a non-student has to do Military Service for two years,
which can and most of the time is a very harrowing experience. So again
they find themselves trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.
As it is the government that has control over the payments of grants and
teachers wages, most of the time it is very much in the lap of the Gods as to
when anyone gets paid. Due to the financial and economic problems of this
country sometimes it’s not for months. The effects on everyone’s life is
obvious but for those who have to live in the University hostel it becomes
unbearable. These students are from families who live in the villages and for
most it is a forced separation, as transport is just not suitable to get them into
the city in time for lessons each day, even though some live only thirty miles
away. They are forced into these hostels for up to five years. I did meet a
young lad who travelled each day and had done so for the last two years; he
looked tired and thin, never seeming to be very interested in what was going
on around him. Not surprising when he gets up each morning to catch the
four a.m train.
Without this meagre sum they have no way of supporting themselves what
so ever. It is possible to get food from the villages but hard to fetch it on a
regular basis. Some just starve and become very ill. Others turn to
prostitution, which though at first is just to survive, later becomes a way of
The conditions of these hostels are just unbelievable. Most are able to
maintain a good standard within their own rooms, which are designed to
sleep four in the most basic manner.
But once they step outside of their little domain to use the shared facilities
they are quickly thrown back into the reality of their situation.
The kitchen consists of just a very basic cooker and a few pots and pans
which are used daily by at least fifty other people. Most of the time there
isn’t any running water or bins to dispose of the rubbish, so everything
becomes infested with flies and cockroaches. Rats have now become so
common that no one seems surprised when they see one.
The smell of course becomes unbearable, from food that has been discarded
for weeks before someone gets around to cleaning it up, by this time the
pungent smell has spread throughout the whole building.
Most of the students keep their food in their rooms but find it difficult to
prevent the rats from finding it. Yet again the sanitation is the area that is
just beyond belief. It is so hard to believe that the people that use these seem
so normal when seen walking around the University. The holes in the
ground are still there, but they have had a small seat placed on the top that
would make it impossible to use unless the user sat with legs outstretched.
The urinals have gone that’s because the toilets are now shared. The holes in
the ground have long been blocked and the water doesn’t work, so it now
consists of a room with piles and piles of faces and discarded used paper.
Everyone at first used the walls to lean on for support, but soon there wasn’t
any space left so people use whatever method that they could. An old school
chair without its wooden seat seemed to be the most favoured way because it
offered the user some support when sitting and of course was also mobile.
The odour hits one before even entering the building and stays long after one
Every now and then the caretaker woman who sat around every day not
doing anything but drinking would don her protective clothing and wade
through all the excrement shovelling it into buckets. By this time the waste
would have seeped into the floor and in some cases through the ceiling of
the room below. The smell just never goes away, and it doesn’t take long
before the room is full again.
The students though obviously intelligent when it comes to knowledge,
seem somewhat subdued when it comes to the rest of life as if the reality of
their situation goes beyond comprehension. Whenever living conditions
were mentioned or a direct question was asked about the sanitation, it was
always met with the same smile followed by an invitation to visit them. This
I can only assume is done in defence to show that they live the best that they
can with what they have.