I was not a competitive student as a child. That metamorphosis didn't take place until college, and it wasn't pretty - just ask any classmate who ever asked to borrow my notes and got his or her head bitten off. I don't recall any serious exams or competitions that we had in elementary or even high school - excluding my driving exam at 16 which was pretty memorable. Kids in Polish schools today have the opportunity to take part in a lot of academic competitions, really, a lot. There are notices on the bulletin boards outside the classrooms. Posters for various competitions, often called Olympics, are taped to the glass doors. Kids bring home flyers from their teachers and sometimes from the organizers of the competitions. Announcements are made on the school webpage and on the electronic gradebook. We get direct e-mails from the teachers requesting our children's participation.
Participation is voluntary. There are those children who cannot wait to show off their skills and knowledge and are glad to have the opportunity to do so. Other children could not care less. They are not interested in sitting a test or preparing with the "team". Some kids do it to get a higher grade out of their teacher at the end of the semester or at the insistence of a parent. Some kids cannot be persuaded by any form of force or bribery, not even as practice for the "real" exams they will take in the future. That's all good. I don't have any problem with that.
I just have something to say to the parents who think it is unfair that my child competed in the English Olympics grades 1-3.
Firstly, this particular English Olympics is run by a company, not the Department of Education. It is a crap test given for a fee intended to justify all those Helen Doron courses parents spend money on.
Secondly, my kids are Polish. They were born in Poland. They go to a Polish school. They had a Polish nanny when they were little. Yes, they have American passports as well, but they have been to America twice for short trips. Maybe you parents have been on vacation to America or Great Britain or Australia for a week or two. Did your kids manage to learn enough English to give them an "unfair advantage"? No? Neither did mine.
Thirdly, the fact that my children speak English at all is a miracle. Well, it is not really miraculous at all. It is pure work. My children speak Polish all day long. They learn in Polish. They read in Polish. They watch TV in Polish. They fight in Polish. They dream in Polish. How many hours a day do you spend with your children? I, as many parents unfortunately, spend very few as I work evenings. Of those hours you spend with your children, how many of them are actual meaningful engagement between you. One? Two? Less than that?
My kids have English at school, the same as your children 2x45 minutes per week. Last year Lizzie had 6 different teachers - 6. Rosie's teacher pronounced birthday as bearzday. They were not covering any material that they should. I had a lot of calls from parents wanting me to teach their children privately - parents who on the most part could speak English and definitely on a level high enough to teach their own 8-year-old.
I force my children to read in English, to watch TV in English, to learn new words in English. This is what I recommend to all parents when they ask me what they should do and to all my students who are parents. It is not something you have to be American to do. Yes, I speak to them in English. They answer me in Polish. When they speak English, they say things like "drinked", "goed", "don't can", "sanged". Not to mention saying a sentence in English with all nouns in Polish - Today Pani gived us karteczka to take do domu. We have to kolorować the karteczka and give it back to Pani jutro. If we don't gived it jutro, we gets jedynka in the książka. Very English, wouldn't you agree?
Believe me parents, if you put as much effort into your child's English as I do, your child would speak English almost as well as mine. I do it for them, but I do it for me too. Can you imagine not sharing a language with your children? As a mother, not speaking to your baby in your own language? I don't do it to spite you. I don't do it so my kids will come out on top in the English exams. Lizzie has never participated in those exams because she is not interested at all. Her philosophy is that she is awesome, no need to prove it. Rosie participated last year at the insistence of her teacher, and this year declared she's not interested. Again at the insistence of her teacher, she signed up, and we paid the fees. Last year Rosie didn't even catch on that is was an English exam. The first question, read aloud by the instructor, was - "What color is a hippo?" with choices of pink, green, grey, and purple. Rosie said, "Who doesn't know what color a hippo is?" "It was an English exam, Rosie." "Ooooohhhh," says Rosie.
So parents, zip it. When my child doesn't want to sing Silent Night at the school show, it's because she doesn't know it, not any more than your child. And when my child gets a good score on the English exam, congratulate her - a lot of hard work stands behind that success.