Written by Maria Vizdoaga
Education saves people. It opens doors and creates new opportunities for development and change. Education changes mentalities and shapes patterns. These are the main conclusions I can draw after experiencing two different educational systems: one in Moldova and the second one in the Netherlands.
During the last year of my Bachelor in Economic Law at the Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova, along with preparing for the state exams, I was applying for Master programs in the European Union countries. This personal initiative resulted not only from the fact that I did not feel ready to embrace the Moldovan working class yet, but also I somehow knew that I needed to study more, but this time in a different educational system. After half a year of writing and submitting applications, followed by rejections and partially being accepted, the University of Leiden offered me the Platinum Excellence Scholarship. This grant made it possible to enroll in a Masters program in European Union Studies at one of the oldest European universities. This was one of the happiest moments of my life. Many people might find my enthusiasm naive, especially those who had the chance to study in a good educational system all their lives and cannot imagine that such methods as ‚rewriting everything the teacher says’ still exists in some countries. Even though both Moldova and the Netherlands implemented the Bologna requirements in their educational systems, in practice there are still huge differences.
From my personal experience, I identified 4 categories of differences between the post-soviet Moldovan education and the Dutch one:
1. The attitude of teachers.
In Moldova, many teachers feel like gods and demand a weird type of respect from their students. Moreover, independent thinking and confronting ideas are not welcomed in the Moldovan universities, since the teachers might perceive these actions as undermining their ‚authority’. On the other hand, a teacher in a Dutch university would feel almost offended if he or she would not get confrontation from his or her students, because this would mean that the lecture was not interesting.
2. The attitude of students.
This is a little bit tricky in the case of Moldovan students, because in my opinion, there is a huge gap between very hard-working students and very irresponsible students. Therefore, it wouldn’t be fair to have a general opinion regarding the attitude of Moldovan students towards education. In comparison to the Dutch students, the Moldovan students do not know their rights and if they do, then they are extremely humble when it comes to defending them. This attitude is based on two factors: fear from embarrassment and the lack of knowledge. I was amazed how far Dutch students would go in order to defend their rights, or to prove that they are right.
3. Corruption- tradition in Moldova and an unthinkable phenomenon in Holland.
It is widely known that many Moldovan students from the category of very irresponsible students mentioned above pay for their grades. What does that mean? Students who do not study can buy their grades from their teachers, and in many cases it is even possible to buy Bachelor Diplomas. I have heard many times my classmates talking about exam tariffs for different teachers. The more strict the teacher is, the higher the price for an exam or a test. It is a tragic situation. Some students are ignorant and they pay to maintain that status. I do not state that nepotism does not exist in Dutch universities, but from my experience at Leiden University I know that paying for your grades is not an option.
4. The quality of teaching
Most of the times in the Moldovan system: teachers are late, they lack professional attitude, classes are uninteresting, they use old-fashioned ways of teaching, and grades are easy to obtain. Most of the times in the Dutch system: there is a high level of lectures and a logistic support, teachers encourage students to think independently and good grades require a lot of studying.
Personally, when I started studying in Leiden, my biggest problem was writing academic papers, which require respecting rules regarding structure and methodology that Dutch students learn when they are in high school. The Moldovan way of writing essays involves using beautiful words and expressions without paying enough attention to content, meaning and structure. It took me a while until I learned how to write an academic paper. Writing this article, I do not intend to praise the Dutch educational system and offend the Moldovan one. It is a personal experience and these are some things I observed while studying in both environments.
I believe that we have a long way to go in terms of implementing reforms aimed at raising awareness among students, improving the teaching quality and eliminating corruption. I believe that these are the main causes for a weak and mostly inefficient educational system.
Of course, one important difference that I did not mention is the presence/lack of financial resources as it is a vital element in building a good educational system. The European Union offers a lot of technical and financial assistance to Moldova through the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument. I believe that instead of investing in less relevant areas, the Union should focus more on promoting education. Investing in education is the most long-term way to foster development and democratization in a country.
Nevertheless, if you invest in education, after one or two generations, the people will start building their country themselves. As a Chinese proverb says: „Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.