Education has always intended to prepare young people for their transition to adulthood, people capable of dealing with the complexities of the world. It used to be about providing them with the means to survive and integrate themselves into the productive and social system of their communities. In a time of twentieth century political ideologies, school was the privileged way of communicating ideals and the forming of public support for the existing regimes.
However, many of these regimes have not survived the historical shake-ups. Take for example the popular democracies of Central Europe and the Far East. Youths in these areas have been educated and prepared, with the necessary knowledge, for life in socialist society. Not to confront the free market, as they are today obliged, merciless towards non-competitive agents. It is thus not surprising that a number of them find it difficult to become part of a society and a liberal Western system. (In fact unemployment has risen among youths since 1989 in the Near East and China.) Considering the future expansion of the EU to the east, this fact is worrying. Such an inequality would cut off the new arrivals in the bottomless pit of European subsidies for many years to come. This discrepancy could turn out to be more embarrassing in the long term than the cultural difference that has already caused much ink to flow.
But the question is more complex than it would at first seem. Of course, a certain percentage of youths always find reorientation and the road to a new system challenging, all the more so since the education programs and the teaching staff themselves only adapt little by little. But at the same time, we perceive a growing class of dynamic youths, competent and prepared, who have managed to play their socialist and educational capital to their advantage.
Actually, in spite of everything that has been said and written about the propaganda and the recruitment of youths in popular democracies, the education provided also had positive aspects. In general, emphasis was placed upon exact sciences. Maths, Physics and Chemistry were considered as the fundamental basis of all primary education. General literary and artistic culture was encouraged as well as foreign languages. At the same time as all of this, the organisations of Pioniers stressed the importance of manual ability and of economic resources (paper collection for recycling made possible annual competitions between clubs), while at the same time encouraging solidarity and teamwork.
These aspects of socialist education have allowed numerous youngsters, following the changes of 1989, to reorientate themselves and to successfully compete with their Western counterparts on many issues. Recent surveys show that still, in this day and age, Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian students and school pupils overtake their French and German equivalents in Maths and Physics. Further to this they have no problem in mastering the modern technologies of computing and mobile phones.
The ideals and interdisciplinarity acquired during their childhood also make these Eastern youngsters particularly sensitive to the big questions of the modern world, such as the environment and human rights. The growing popularity of Green Movements in Eastern Europe effectively demonstrates this.
Furthermore, they possess the (relative) advantage of their human experiences, their witnessing of the collapse of a system of beliefs and ideologies. They have seen all these definite truths of their teachers suddenly held up as propaganda, and replaced by others, often as little justified as the last. This crisis of values has permitted many of them to sharpen their critical spirit, and has led them on the search for alternative and innovative paths in all areas. Being subsequently often more independent and resourceful, they hold a considerable advantage over Western youths, who tend to confine themselves to the framework constructed by tradition and the existing institutions.
Globally, we have established that the socialist education system has finally (and undoubtedly involuntarily so!) properly prepared its youth for the confrontation of the very different situation of the twenty-first century, that is their citizenship of an ever growing European Union, in the same way as French, Italian and Belgian youths, and have established that it is, however, the latter, who sometimes seem to have trouble finding their place.