Educational Apartheid

Hey everybody,

sometimes friends are your muses. Well, actually I think most of the time they are. They inspire you to think out of the box, to strife for new goals and roam new lands for they just make you feel how much they love you and how much they trust in you. Even on those dark days when you can’t even trust yourself. With real friends it’s basically just like with parents: They have to give you both strong roots to keep you down on the earth and wide wings to make you fly. I hereby wanna say thank you to those very special friends like Avarra who have so often made me fly or made my feet stick to the ground; sometimes, in a way, both at one time.

However Avarra, who’s the most amazingly wonderful mom I could possibly imagine, commented on my last post about a new kind of Apartheid. Educational Apartheid. And she sure made an important point. One I felt I had to stretch.

I grew up in 1990ies Austria and sure, I heard all those stories from the US where your school, which was defined by your parent’s income, defined your career and your whole life. However I was of course one hundred percent sure Austria was nothing like that. Like many of my generation I was made to believe by my parents, none of them academic, that all I had to do was finish my A-levels. Anyhow and on any school. If I made it past this boundary the world would be wide open to me and I could do whatever I wanted. This seemed as socially fair as it could possibly get.

Yet when I started tutoring next to school – less for the money it earned me but most of all for the joy seeing how my students improved gave me – I found out what it meant to try to make it to that A-levels if you aren’t out of a wealthy or at lest middle-class family.

Sure, there are no tuition fees for Austrian schools – there are very few private schools however – and on a theoretical level everybody can enroll at whatever school they like. In fact the Austrian educational system sure is way more flexible the for instance the German one where students are sent to three different types of school at the age of ten without much chances of changing anything about it later on. Basically (in fact it’s way more complicated then that) in Austria you have to decide at the age of 14 whether you want to do an apprenticeship (in which case you’ll do one extra year of school intended to prepare you for working life) or you want to do your A-levels (in which case you do another four to five years of school until your A-levels) until then there are a lots of possibilities to change from one school to another (given your marks are well enough for that change, which is a topic of its own) and actually even later on there’s plenty of ways to get hold of your A-levels.

Anyway, the thing is I soon found out that there are little students who don’t have difficulties with one subject or another. The Austrian educational system just isn’t very good in dealing with that so they end up needing a tutor. And an expensive one too. No problem for middle- or upper class children, but what about the working class? And this isn’t even talking about an academic’s children changes being their parents can help them whilst this isn’t possible for working class children. Seriously I don’t believe anybody could make it through any given Austrian high school without tutoring at one stage or another which of course means the odds of working class students are way worse then that of middle or upper class people. A situation that, by the by, is well-known from Austrian statistics featuring a vast majority of A-levels students being children of the upper or middle class.

But earning your A-levels is one thing, getting anywhere with them another one. Sure, tuition fees for Austrian universities aren’t as astronomic then in other places and have de facto been cleared lately, however life as a student is expensive! Living in Vienna you’d easily pay around 300 € a month for a room in a dormitory (without food!) and food has become really expensive in Europe these days. Of course there are “small things” like those 100 € you have to pay for a four month public transportation ticket vital in Vienna, money for copies and prints and books to buy that are obligatorily in many classes. Those books can easily add up to more then 100 € a semester, even more in some subjects. And then there would be obligatory field trips which might cost you as much as 50 € / day. It just keeps adding up. In the end even a middle class family can hardly afford sending more then one child at a time to university. As for the working class … well just forget about it!

Sure you can work but there is little flexibility in universities for working students; there is that one class you have to do and that is at one certain date (and actually for there are less places then students you’re lucky if you make it into the class anyway) and if you can’t fit that into your schedule you’re screwed. It takes working students forever to finish school and with every semester the problems worsen: They stop getting governmental aid, they have to pay for their own medical insurance and so on and so on. Many eventually drop out of university in debt and find themselves a badly paid job.

And it still gets worse then that. If you really want to be somebody in Austria there are certain schools you have to attend. Even if the regular citizen isn’t aware of that fact. Just look for anybody in Austria’s diplomat corps who hasn’t graduated from Vienna’s Lycée Francaise. You’ll look quite a while. And of course upper class children are gathered in Austria’s few, often international, private schools where they team up with fellow upper class children. Even if an A-level of those might officially be just the same then any other A-level people will know. Plus naturally you’ll have done quite a lot of social networking by the time you graduate. Social networking a “normal” student won’t have the opportunity to do.

So yes, even if not obvious on the first look, there’s plenty of educational Apartheid going on in Austria. Those who have made it to upper class keep to themselves and aren’t much interested in including anybody else. An upper class child can easily make it through school all the way to his PhD without ever becoming aware that there are people quitting school in order to make an apprenticeship or maybe not even that. Many are just locked inside their golden cage and kept from the world. They are kept from other people. And that’s the definition of Apartheid, as far as I remember … even if it has nothing to do with your skin colour but with your bank account. It truly is a shame for a country as rich as Austria in so many ways …

Yours,

Migdalit

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