Sixty years later…

For some months I have acted as a senior classroom assistant – one morning per week – in the fourth class (mainly 10-year olds) of the little village school where I live. What a shock for an old man like me!

The printed T-shirts and hotpants, alternating with fashionable tops and ripped jeans were no surprise. But what had happened to the uniform? Even the teacher was casually dressed.

From my point of view the seating arrangement was rather imaginative – no straight rows facing forward. And what threw me as I tried to learn the 21 names was that the kids periodically swapped places. But they accepted me without hesitation: “Herr Steiner!” A boy raises his hand. “What is a mortar?” I was pleased to see that the boys and girls teased each other, squabbled and cooperated freely with no apparent inhibitions. They’re still kids!

My next surprise was to discover that in most lessons the children worked at their own pace on different tasks and often stood up to fetch ear muffs, sharpen a pencil or show their work to the teacher. Neighbours chatted and discussed the questions – or other things! – and the noise level rose. However, a single tap on the chime bar was usually enough to restore silence and order. What if someone really misbehaved? They were sent out for the rest of the lesson. No caning, like I used to fear!

Lessons were very interactive. The children were encouraged to contribute with their ideas or questions, or to hold a short presentation in high German – a foreign language for Swiss kids! Sometimes they sat on the floor in groups for a particular activity or around a lit candle to celebrate someone’s birthday; then each one expressed a wish to the star of the day.

A projector was used to show videos from the internet or an enlarged image of a document and the class was equipped with a set of iPads, which the children learned to handle. Homework was limited to 30 or 40 minutes per day; too bad if you hadn’t completed the work.

Times have changed! And, what with the school manager and secretary, specialised staff for particular subjects and remedial teachers who pop in and out to check on children with learning difficulties, the personnel requirements are vastly higher than in my day. But my impression is that today’s children develop well, both socially and academically, and learn to cope in the modern highly technical world very effectively.

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