My last blog post discussed the issues I had with the education system. Lately however, I've become renowned (or infamous depending on which way you look at it) for being extremely critical of problems without addressing how I'd solve them. So, in an effort to combat this (and because it's my 9th blog post), here's 9 things I'd do to fix the system:
Apply a practical and interactive component to every course
Create a sense of community with other people
Reward outside-the-box thinking
Understand what the end-goal and "why" is
Teach the soft skills
Break it down easy
Fix an issue in real-time
Kill the obsession with exam results
1. Use practical and interactive approaches
When it comes to teaching, it makes a lot more sense to build in a much more hands-on means of learning. What I mean by this, is rather than just regurgitating information out to students and expecting them to listen, a far more intuitive and engaging means of understanding data is to actually see and feel the implications of this and what happens in the environment surrounding you.
For instance, currently through all three "tiers" of the education system, we have an adult at the front of a room, saying words in the hopes that people get something out of it. Rather than this, why not build our classrooms in a way that facilitate the use of activities, asking questions, and maximising technology to enhance the way we think? This would encourage us to have better recall mechanisms when we later need to rely on the knowledge in the future.
2. Build a collaborative community
I recently took a course at university called Business 304 which focussed on Strategic Management. I gained a measly C+ in it, yet probably gained more value from it than any other class in my 3+ years at university. I'm not trying to be dramatic here but it really was unlike any other course I've taken...
Because the content didn't consist of a single assignment, test or exam. Instead, it oriented around having group discussions based around real-life cases of organisational strategy. And it pushed us harder than anything before it! We had to actually read the cases before class, were encouraged to dispute and challenge what other students had said, then were subsequently graded on the quality of our contribution. This created a fantastic, natural culture that actually emerged within the class where we all started to talk to one another before, after and during breaks both about coursework and on a more social basis.
The beauty of this, is that it really encouraged collaborative learning and being able to engage with the class a lot more. With tech evolving more and more, I feel one of the true phenomenon that will never be replicated by it, is that of social interaction which the education system should absolutely be fostering. This is why forging a system that takes advantage of this is crucial going forward.
3. Reward the change-makers
I've already talked at length about the issues with qualitative grading and the death of creativity in my previous post. To help with these problems then, why not reward individuals who come up with the outside-the-box solutions? This seems to be a constant necessity for employers today: "we want people who don't think like everyday people" but with a standardised system this isn't exactly easy to obtain.
I therefore think applauding those who don't abide by the rules may be an excellent approach to finding innovative ways of thinking about the world. Obviously this is a difficult thing to measure, but question whether there is even a need to measure it at all. Let rule-breakers be rule-breakers. Give praise to those who stride away from the status quo and what we classify as "normal" to find better ways of doing the things we all take for granted.
4. Showcase the final end-goal and the "why"
Why do we learn trigonometry? Why do we get told which languages we should learn? Why are we confined to learning very specific subjects such as Classical Studies and Mathematics at school?
These are the questions I still ask myself now, but I asked them even more frequently when I was at high school. There still exists no means in the system to try new career pathways out, nor an integrative method of knowing what you want to do when you leave school. So why should students at any level believe that what they're doing is worthwhile? The only factors we're basing this off is from adults above us who have lived in an adjusted world and different lifestyle to what our future will hold.
Of course, this future is impossible to predict. There are some routes such as applying concepts to a given environment as previously stated, as well as encouraging participation in work experience that certainly help facilitate learning. But these are still very traditional and I still don't think students fully understand their purpose or their strengths at such a young age, in order to fully utilise them later by making an informed decision.
Try a wealth of different skills (playing an instrument, problem-solving skills, strategy within sport etc.). Then show how these can be applied to different jobs and steadily start ruling out the careers that each individual student knows they don't want to pursue. This should slowly start to develop into their interests and passions, and finally a purposeful "why" should emerge.
5. Incorporate the soft skills
Educating students is targeted towards core hard skills such as counting, spelling, algebra, computing, learning formulas and a whole breadth more. This is all well and good and of course has its place.
But what of the softer skills? Problem-solving, working collaboratively, leadership capabilities, building self-confidence and taking criticism are amongst those that are implicitly expected to be known by the time you reach the workforce though there's no way of proving this. These skills are often brought up as being absent in the millennial generation. Though where do you learn this?
Take my favourite soft skill of active listening for instance. I still believe this is a core competency with one of the lowest rates of success and acquisition amongst people of any demographic. Yet, a potential reason for this is the fact that it's just not easily found within any walk of life! Even common extracurricular activities do not incorporate listening (when would you use it in a game of competitive hockey for example? How about in a theatre production?).
And so it falls to the education system. Or a more integrated approach to tackle this.
6. Keep it simple, stupid
There's a reason I try and keep my language, style and tone pretty casual and minimalistic across all the ways I communicate (whether this be written, verbal or even through body language) regardless of the audience.
It makes what I say, understandable and accessible to as many people as possible. I don't try nor intend to use big, long, fancy-pants words to impress others with how smart I sound. Rather, I find it makes more sense to keep it straight to the f***ing point to help others learn as easily as possible.
Thus, should we not rely on using simple terms to explain certain phenomena in the academic sense? Other than sounding like a w*nker and rejecting the snores of your target audience, very little is actually being achieved by using fluffy terminology.
On this point, I don't believe in the need for academic journals to bloat out their points to sound as elite as possible. The Abstract often says it all with perhaps a little more detail needed, and that's enough! Keep it short, snappy and simple.
7. Stop waiting until tomorrow
When you submit a piece of work, it takes days or even weeks to get any kind of feedback or grade back on that. Who cares by that point? It's something you completed yonks ago, been put out your mind and don't really have much caring for the end result anymore.
Being able to provide feedback immediately is crucially important. It helps you realise what you've done wrong there and then, and so can correct any errors with instant effect.
Clearly a core part of this, is just the sheer lack of human resources a teacher has at their disposal. Apps like Khan Academy and Duolingo are actually really helpful at contrasting this by telling users where they might've slipped up instantly.
My only problem with this, ties back to the lack of interpersonal connection from technology in this way. Words on a screen can only go so far. Combined with the possibilities of artificial intelligence and virtual reality however, I remain hopeful and it will be interesting to see where this goes in the future.
8. Use measures outside of exam results
Currently, measures for how well a student is doing is based heavily or entirely on exam results. Worse still, in a lot of places (the UK and NZ included), teachers and even their entire careers/salary are impacted by these exam results and scores. The education system actually hangs the lives of thousands of teachers based on these scores, despite a whole range of extraneous factors potentially having a major bearing on them.
Think about it: when we test people, this examination comes as a snapshot in time and does not reflect the broad array of knowledge an individual may possess over the longer period of learning. So the evidence kind of suggests that this isn't a particularly great model of measuring "success". Instead, we like it because it is a way of offering something qualitative as a basis of performance for other students and teachers alike.
9. Integrate don't isolate subjects
Of all the points on this list, this, in my opinion, is the most important, the most fascinating and the most exciting!
In Finland, a new structure for learning has recently been made compulsory. It's called "phenomena-based learning" or PhBL for short.
The idea of it is that rather than isolating subjects (like Maths, English, Science, History, Geography etc.), you actually integrate them into single subjects to make the student think about ideas more holistically. For example, at a basic level you might learn about supermarkets: combining basic arithmetic, spelling of common items, how business works and using languages to interact with different customers and the checkout operator.
On a more advanced level perhaps: you analyse the United States and its history of the wars, the Presidents and how they have impacted the political system as well as geographical location of how civilisations have become prevalent in certain areas.
More time is spent on the broader topic and the student, not the teacher, gets to choose the topic they want to learn about.
I like the idea of this so much because it reflects the way the world works a lot more. When in the "real world" do you really think about each school subject in its own silo? You don't! Everything's integrated together and using this framework actually helps tackle a lot of other issues in this list (such as creating change-makers and using soft skills in conjunction with teamwork). Find out more about PhBL here.
To End It All
These are, of course, just my solutions and feelings around the education system, from my personal experiences, talking to others and my own independent research into the area. I have no doubt that there are issues or arguments to be made against many or all of the above points.
If you have any, feel free to voice up in the comments below or in-person! I always love a good debate and challenge you to combat your own thinking to make variations on the educational "norm". This was a long one so thanks for reading!