Updated: Apr 2, 2019
In the past I've bemoaned the output from today’s educational systems. Whether they be the formal or informal, academic or the University of Life, it seems that something has gone awry and that we are not preparing the current (or for that matter future) generations as we should - and I use the term ‘we’ to mean society in general. That's all of you...and me.
As far as I can see, there’s something of a dichotomy going on at the moment.
There’s the over-arching drive to get that all-important (and increasingly expensive) university place, although it doesn’t always seem to be pursued as a heart-felt vocational calling but rather as an experience or a rite of passage before entering the ‘big bad world’.
And then there’s a swathe of role models who come sans academia – the self-made men made Lords, the single-minded stars of the sporting arena, and those in the pages of the weeklies who seem to be celebrated for merely being.
So where does education fit in? How do we line up the roles that will drive our society forward with an education system at odds with fulfilling them?
Just when you thought that this post was turning into rant on the state of the world, I want to pause and share an illustration of this very mismatch.
The following is a social media post that does the rounds periodically - a selection of exam questions and the answers provided by one particular student:
Q. In which Battle did Napoleon die?
A. His last one
Q. What is the main reason for divorce?
Q. If you threw a red stone into the Blue Sea, what would it become?
A. Simply a wet stone
Q. If it took eight men 10 hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men?
A. No time at all. The wall was already built.
Q. How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
A. Any way you want because a concrete floor is very hard to crack.
The teacher obviously saw the funny side and noted A+ for creativity…and the student failed the test.
I don't know if this story is true. But whether you chuckled at the cheek of it or despaired at the defiance, the question remains: How do we engage this clearly clever mind in contributing something valuable, meaningful, worthwhile to the world at large?
Speaker and author Tas Hill tells his audiences that "stories work [because] we are products of biology, psychology and culture, not physics, maths and engineering". And in his article STEAM not STEM: Why scientists need arts training, Associate Professor at Ryerson University Richard Lachman makes the point that Arts and Humanities should not be some vague attempt to broaden minds but offer forums for the necessary discussion of morals, values, ethics and responsibility.
But I see a system overloaded with measures for all sorts of things and for schools to be sustainable in the first instance, they need to do two things: Attract enough students and measure up against other schools, the most common yardstick being OFSTED ratings and academic measures. I also see a system that channels students into increasingly limited choices as they mature with little space to engage in subjects that do not directly contribute to their 'chosen pathway'.
So a little extracurricular help might be in order. From us.
Each generation tells the preceding one about how much things have changed since 'their day'. Change is a constant but its current pace is proving unsettling especially for educators - how do we prepare our teenagers for jobs that we don't know will exist and for technologies and ways of living (remember Steve Jobs' vision of 1,000 songs in your pocket?) that we can't even conceive? How do we cultivate their resilience and resourcefulness so they can thrive in spite of life's challenges? How can we encourage a sense of responsibility for being the source of their life, for stewarding themselves through tumultuous times and inspiring the generations that follow them to be the creators of their own success and happiness?
Having our young people be equipped and empowered for the adventure ahead of them is the best legacy we can offer.
What will our report card say? And how will you play your part?
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