Our Children Deserve Better
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Our Children Deserve Better

Children are the future of a nation.

I would like you to look around and tell me what you see in schools, in classrooms, in children change rooms and toilets, in the schoolyards. Everywhere where our children spend time. What do you see at your work places?

When I look around, it concerns me what we teach to our children. It concerns me what our schools, our classrooms look like. I am deeply concerned what our children see around themselves every day. What they see on the walls of the trams and buses painted and advertised. I am truly worried what is on the wall of their classrooms as decoration. What they eat, drink and what they are being fed mentally and emotionally. What are the things that they see and look at for 7-8 hours a day for twelve years of their education? What impulses they get every day for twelve years and even longer.

I have seen many schools. Old shabby buildings, dirty and temporary structures that are not suitable for the education of the future generation of a nation in a first world country. I have seen modern private schools, too. I have seen schools with the proudest and brightest kids in schools with no roof and dirt floor that were cleaner and neater than any school I have seen in a first world country.

When a country wants to educate their children it will find a way. When children want to learn because their parents value education and support their children's future they will go to school and do their best.

How we look, carry ourselves, how we talk and act and how we take care of ourselves has a lot to do with what we think about ourselves.

How a country runs schools and the education systems and what schools look like and how they are run tells a lot about what a country 'thinks about itself' as a nation.

I experienced that in Australia kids frequently sit on the floor during lessons, on old dirty carpets that has not been cleaned for ages and is full of dust while the teacher sits on a chair. I see kids sitting on the streets and at bust stops on the pavement. Later I realized that Aborigines traditionally sit in the dirt. As a comparison, you would see Asians squatting traditionally.

When not sitting on the floor, kids sit on chairs that are not ergonomically designed but the cheapest plastic, stackable chairs that are bad for their postures and backs. They write at desks that are the wrong height and not cleaned frequently.

My view on sitting on the floor versus on chairs is that the set up of a classroom tells a lot of the ability of the teacher. How confidently the teacher can manage the class and treat them like equals and work with them. Kinder and lower primary school classes are happy to sit on the floor, it creates a playful, relaxed setting for certain activities. However, the moment you ask them to sit on the chairs in a circle or in other formation without desks, the feeling of the class changes. They feel more mature and ready for work. The moment you sit the class on chairs and behind desks facing the teacher, the expectations for high standard work can be set. In the last decades desks were turned against each other in twos and fours in many classrooms, which means working with or learning from peers.

The moment you 'downgrade' upper primary and high school students sitting on the floor, we 'go back to basics'. For many teachers this is a way to relax the class or to increase the difference in authority. Students are put in a 'looking up' position if the teacher is not sitting with them on the floor but positioned on a chair, even more so if the teacher is standing. Many teachers don't even realize what they are doing with their students, it is not a conscious behaviour but deeply engraved in their dealings with students. Creating submissive and inferior settings in the classroom by positioning students provide their authority that they are unable to achieve otherwise. These apply later for bosses and managers, even family members so be aware of this. Read body language and watch positioning of seating and standing. Once you are aware of it, just gently reposition yourself. The energy will change right away which means the dominating person looses power.

The teachers who can deal with students sitting at their desks or standing which means they are at eye level or close to that and still able to communicate and make their students work can manage the class under most circumstances and have a better balanced relationship with their pupils. I would like to add that physical education and music teachers, especially choral conductors work a lot like that. No accident that these teachers develop quite unique relationship with their students.

Let's talk about basics. In lots of schools children go to toilets that has no toilet paper, no soap and no paper towel or hand drier. Many of the schools have no sanitary bins in the student toilets. When I was visiting schools to provide professional development for teachers, I noticed that tools to maintain basic hygiene were lacking even in the staff restrooms, too.

Our children don't get proper cooked meals and sit down in dining rooms socializing and eating their meals with their friends in our schools. Australian kids in most schools eat their home packed lunches or food purchased from the canteen sitting on concrete, in better cases on the grass, maybe a few sitting on benches.

The children are taught by teachers who became teachers because they thought they can make a difference. They became teachers because they wanted to teach. A decade, and these committed and dedicated people get burnt out and disillusioned. They get overwhelmed by the workload, extra duties, administration and the lack of support from the parents. In lack of high quality teacher education, proper wages and appreciation of teachers we do not support our children's future.

Our future generation children are taught by tired, disillusioned, unsupported, underpaid and undervalued people. These teachers should be the ones who inspire and motivate children. How could they? When they are fighting and struggling and hardly survive themselves?

Experts talk about marriage between two people being like a box that partners constantly fill. If the box is empty or too much is taken out of it instead of being filled, the marriage will break down. I believe, teaching is very similar to this. Teachers constantly give to their students. Only people who are well-balanced, mentally strong and giving and caring by nature will stay long-term in the profession. This 'filling' can be done by the person him'/herself just by living a creative, active and happy life and being 'aware'. Others need constant stimulation, learning, professional development courses and outside input to maintain their 'filled box' to be able to give to their students.

Of course, we could talk about the parents and their 'filled boxes' but that could be another article.

Conditions in the private schools are a little bit better but still very far from how it should be. Consider that you are paying astronomical fees in most private schools and you see things in different light. Many parents are attached to the 'name' and the reputation of a school, go soft from the fact that kids work on IPads and laptops and taken to foreign countries for school excursions. Many of the very expensive private schools have ridiculous, impractical and expensive school uniforms that are mostly designed for boys. These uniforms are from fabric that is too thick, takes too long to dry and not suitable to the climate. Not to mention, how out of date they are when it comes to design and comfort. I feel sorry for the kids. Simple and functional uniform that is designed for 21st century kids would be truly welcome.

The children's classrooms in best cases are decorated with items that assist in their learning and mostly, with their own work. That is wonderful. Except that it does not inspire. If they only see what they presently can do how will they grow?

The wall of a classroom is a canvas with unlimited and incredible potentials to shape the minds of children.

Let me give you some background why I say this. Why I know this.

I come from an 'ex-communist' (how I hate when people say this) country, Hungary. I had a privileged education, no doubt. I knew it that time and appreciate it even more now. My school was a specialized music school that auditioned children at the age of 5-6. I still remember what I had to do at the audition! Singing, clapping, IQ test-like tasks, mathematics, talking about a story after seeing pictures and drawing patterns and shapes. Even now writing about it, I know as a teacher how much information this gives about a child's developmental stage and readiness for school. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issue is that we miss out on the most receptive years of our children when their brain development takes place. Kindies in many countries are just a better quality child care places and not an educational facility with high standard music education.

Music classroom lessons were a daily part of the timetable along with weekly choir rehearsals, folk dance and language lessons and the opportunity for instrumental lessons. I was already learning piano since age 4 and the school instisted that I continue it in a school settings. I remember, my parents were not very happy with this but we did it! While the Kodaly School had a strong music focus, it was only to support the general subjects that were taught at an extremely high standard. Our school was an experimental, first in the world and became a model school internationally.

In the 1950-s, when the school started, the first building was an old house. Nothing special. However, as the student numbers grew and the school proved itself to be worthy of recognition and Marta Nemesszeghyne principal and the composer-music educator, whose brainchild was the school, Zoltan Kodaly, fought for the school, the school moved to different location. The building that was occupied by the school got better and bigger and more central in the town. The school became one of the jewels of the city attracting tourists, foreign visitors and fame along with more financial support from the town.

As a primary school student, I was extremely proud of our school and what it stood for. Music became central in my life. The school and its staff represented high standards and values. There was a lot expected from the students in every way and because we were proud of our school, we tried to live up to it. Even for us as students it was clear that being a teacher and working for the Kodaly School was a privilege. Our school uniform was a simple, light blue shirt. It was a great colour that suited everyone, fresh and youthful. It was easy to handle at home. We had certain guidelines what we were allowed to wear with it but even jeans were allowed and looked great with the blue shirt! However, it gave us the unified look in school and in front of visitors. We liked our blue shirt that was very different from other school uniforms in town. We were proud to wear it. On special occasions we had a beautiful, expensive looking, elegant, white embroidered all white blouse that we had to wear with black skirt and shoes. We looked beautiful and we felt special. The boys wore white shirts and black trousers and shoes.

In recess we had to leave the class and were sent to the schoolyard to play or on rainy days we played in the school corridors. In the recess when we ate, we set quietly eating and chatting or reading at our desks until we finished our snacks that we brought from home.

Our school provided lunch to everyone. Class by class we walked down at a scheduled time to the dining room where we were provided a two or three-course meal. We were taught how to line up, set tables, get the meal, eat quietly and clean up after ourselves to get the tables ready fore the next groups. These were special times we were looking forward to every day.

I have a lot of wonderful memories about our school.

The decorations in our classrooms were musical and artistic. There were positive, wise quotes from musicians, artists, famous personalities. Positive affirmations that we carried with ourselves through a lifetime. These pictures and quotes engraved themselves in our minds, in our hearts and we lived our lives according to these values. Our classrooms not only had large windows allowing light and fresh air to keep us focused, a Bosendorfer grand piano that we used in our music lessons but it was a nice and clean environment for learning. When you consider how many hours students spend at school for years...it is their second home so it must be a nice, comfortable and esthetically pleasing place.

One of my very fond memories about decoration of classrooms was two pictures my father painted. One of the pictures was the tree of evolution. It was a large poster sized coloured picture. My father spent many nights for weeks drawing and painting it. When it was ready and framed, it was put up on the wall of our special biology room where everyone from the school went for biology lessons. Lici neni, our biology teacher was extremely appreciative and very proud of those pictures made by my father. For years she always kept telling everyone who made those pictures. She made me feel very proud of my father and that he was able to contribute to our learning. They turned out to be beautiful, large pictures. My father's works.

The pictures and positive quotes that decorated our classrooms are still in my mind. They have accompanied me everywhere. As a teacher, I did the same in my own classrooms wherever I thought does not matter it was university or school. I have collected the most beautiful musical calendars, posters and the best quotes, some of them are the same that I grew up with to carry on the tradition. I do the same now in my own music studio. My students love these pictures the same way as I did. Many times they quite them by heart. The parents tell me stories when my students use these quotes in different situations to respond to people and to situations. This just prooves that it becomes part of their thinking and life philosophy.

As a professional musician and teacher, I was lucky enough to become a staff member of my old school where I studied for twelve years. For that time, we were in our third building that was right at the town square of Kecskemet. It was a magnificent building with marble stairs, pristine white wall and huge, beautiful stained glass windows. Our weekly two choir rehearsals took place in the concert hall that had beautiful parqueted floor, the breathtaking stained glass windows and the 120 members of my children's choir sat on elegant chairs with velvet seats. We had two grand pianos and a magnificent new organ at our disposal in the concert hall for our rehearsals where the balcony doors could be opened and the sound of the carillon bells interrupted our rehearsals every hour and the perfume of the flowers and the trees from the parks of the main square lingered in the hall. What a way to grow up and learn? What a way to educate beautiful young minds?

We had more than ideal working conditions and our children have behaved according to the standard of their environment. They appreciated and took care of their surroundings according to the expectations. And our staff set high standards because the founder of the school, Zoltan Kodaly and the first principal, Marta Nemesszeghy set high standards. They had a vision for the school. They had a vision for music education. They had a vision for the Hungarian nation. We were all part of it. I am still paert of it and carry it in myself. Even 15,500 km away, 30 years later I am still part of that vision and doing my job.

I know that not everyone is as lucky as we were at Kecskemet at the Kodaly School. However, I found very interesting to meet similar visionary thinking in poor countries, in schools with no roof and dirt floors.

However, as a contrast I would like to share with you some of my experiences here in Australia. I will never forget my first impressions of my new work place, the Canberra School of Music at the Australian National University. Big, grey concrete building. I remember when I was showed around in the institute and led to the Llewellyn Hall. My colleagues showed me proudly around in the large concert hall. Fortunately, they could not read my thoughts. They would have been shocked to know my opinion about the whole building. How can be music made in a grey concrete bunker? No colours, no decoration, no design, no life, no beauty, no heart, no soul, just greyness and concrete. It destroys the soul, the heart, it kills creativity. No inspiration. If you ask me, I prefer no roof. At least the sky can inspire me.

Researches show that every cells in our body respond to our thoughts and words. Just imagine, when kids see powerful, inspirational positive thoughts around them every day, there is not much space left for negative, self-destructive thinking. When their days are filled with inspirational, creative, artistic and soul-enriching activities, their lives become much richer. Children, who grow up in this kind of environment will be a much more balanced and happier members of our societies. Researches who that they are less likely to drink, smoke and take drugs or become involved in crime. Simply, these students live a more full-filling life and engaged in more positive activities.

It is absolutely possible to learn and achieve outstanding results under any circumstances. However, I believe that we have certain responsibilities to provide the highest quality education that we can deliver and healthy, aesthetically pleasing conditions for our children to develop, to learn and enjoy the many hours they spend in schools.

Cheers, Piroska

Street Talk


Children in their early age are like cotton that absorbs everything they are taught...you are a great teacher Piroska...our children really deserves the highest quality education! keep it up...

  about 9 years ago

Thanks Leonardo. Education is a topic that is very close to my heart and when it comes to children we need to pay much more attention.

  about 9 years ago
Anna Ware  

You are so right. The enviroment and what's thought since a young age is so important. I want my kids to thought how powerful our minds are, that things are possible and how to think outside the box. I want for all those brilliant quotes to become a part of their reallity and mindset. Brilliant article, thank you so much.

  about 9 years ago

Thanks Anna. If we would pay close attention to all children at early age, the world would be a better place for all involved. I am sure that your children will be just great with your attitude that comes across your articles :)

  about 9 years ago
Anna Ware  

Thank you. I hope so I try my best, but sometimes I get it wrong and have to apologice to them.

  about 9 years ago

Anna, a mother always does her best. The fact that you can apologize when you think you don't get things right says it all. They are lucky to have a Mum like you! Relax, they will be fine! Just love them and have fun with them :)

  about 9 years ago
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