Education Reform: Preventing the Rise of Drones and Clones

Our current education system excels at churning out millions of homogenous, disenchanted drones every year. Isn’t it odd that students, regardless of ability or interests, are placed into the exact same system, where they are each force-fed an identical curriculum?

In my previous post on this topic, “Universities Kill Your Passion“, I discussed some of the causes of this issue, but this time I’d like to focus on discussing some possible solutions to the problem. There’s no point complaining if you’re not willing to make any changes, so let’s get started.

Possible Improvements to the Education System

I have a number of suggestions that could either be implemented individually or collectively and still be effective. Below is a summary of my ideas on education reform, with detail to follow:

  • Personalised learning pace
  • Students need to know the “why” of what they’re learning
  • Application based approach to 10x understanding
  • Autonomous learning
    • use the internet as a resource
  • Incorporating the arts

Personalised Learning Pace

Imagine for a moment that by law, we were all expected to wear standardised clothing. Every single one of us, regardless of size and height, required to wear a size medium. That would be quite absurd, wouldn’t it? Yet we do exactly this with education. A one-size-fits-all approach that’s expected to work for every individual.

Allowing students to progress at their own pace enables them to maximise their potential. For students who are able to grasp concepts quickly, the standard pace can be very frustrating. On the flip side, for those who require additional time, the standard pace can hamper their ability to understand increasingly advanced concepts, as they would have fallen behind in the basics.

Allowing each student to dictate their own pace allows the quick learners to excel and capitalise on their strengths, while the slower learners are able to catch up and even surpass the rest without the pressure of an unsustainable pace.

There are of course counter-arguments that could be made.

For instance, if you allow a child to study at their own pace, they would slack off. This is true, but then again, isn’t that also true of the current system? Students slack off all the time. I would know, I was a master procrastinator myself. I think it’s a separate issue, and one that needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Students Need to Know the “Why” of What They’re Learning

I’m sure many students have at some point looked at their algebra and wondered when any of it would ever become useful to them. I have certainly done this, not just with math, but with pretty much every subject I’ve ever studied.

I actually touched on this topic in my aforementioned post, regarding how I enjoyed learning when I had a purpose for learning the material. I strongly believe that if students understand why they needed to know something, they would be much more interested in learning and absorbing it.

For example, most students are forced to memorise the multiplication tables. As an 8 year-old at the time, this was an exercise in futility. I (along with most others, I suspect) had no idea why I was being forced to memorise the most boring possible combination of numbers.

I started thinking about this when I was learning the concept of exponential functions in high school. If I had simply been shown that I could use that exact formula to calculate compound interest and find out how much money I needed to become a millionaire in the future, I would have been far more interested in the application of the formula, because now I would understand why or how I could actually use this formula, rather than just knowing it in order to pass the final exam. Instead, the formula was presented to me, I calculated a bunch of random numbers and got the right answer (sometimes). Only, I had no clue what the answer signified.

This simple step appears to be almost non-existent in the education system. It’s almost as if no one actually cares whether or not you understand the true purpose of what you’re learning, as long as you can get to the right answer eventually.

After some reflection, I realised that all my favourite teachers were the ones who took just a couple of additional minutes to explain or demonstrate the “why” behind what we were learning.

That made all the difference in the world.

Application Based Approach to 10x Understanding

This ties in with the previous point about knowing the “why”. If students are given assignments in which they have to apply what they have learned, it would enhance understanding tenfold.

For example, I did a basic course on a programming language a couple of years ago. Initially, the module had been structured in a way that we had to learn all the bits of code and it’s functions, but we would never apply any of it. As you can imagine, this was terribly boring and I quickly gave up.

When they updated the module, they would teach us a part of the code and immediately apply it to an mock-up web page. As the module progressed, we added more and more to the web page until it was fully functional. This time, I had a tangible, finished product, and could see where all the seemingly separate bits of code had come together to form one complete page.

I think many subjects can be redesigned to work this way. Applying what you learn helps you remember and understand it.

Autonomous Learning

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, so I will just briefly touch on it. I notice that students learn best when they are allowed and encouraged to learn things on their own. Guided learning is not always necessary. In fact, most of the things I have learned have been purely out of my own curiosity. Isn’t that how learning should be?

The problem is, curiosity is stamped out of us in school. On many occasions, a student would ask a question and the teacher would reply, don’t worry, that’s not relevant for the exam. We are trained to excel at examinations, instead of being actively encouraged to learn and discover.

I think the application based approach can help to some extent. Allowing students to work on projects that encourage self-learning would be very beneficial, as the student would have to understand the subject matter thoroughly in order to apply it. The application of that knowledge is extremely important, as it cements what he or she has learned, and helps that understand why what they are learning is useful.

Incorporating the Arts

The arts are simply not given enough recognition in the academic world. However, I believe that a truly well-rounded mind can be developed through the creative process. Learning a musical instrument, dance, painting, or anything else that frees the imagination and allows for creativity is essential to the human mind.

It enables a student to develop excellent discipline through practice, allows them to express themselves, teaches them to think without constraints, and naturally encourages experimentation, all without the rigidity of traditional academia. It enhances the human mind and greatly improves focus, which in turn result in improved academic performance.

An intriguing study funded by the Dana foundation and summarised by Dr Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that studying the performing arts — dance, music and acting — actually improves one’s ability to learn anything else. Collating several studies, the researchers found that performing arts generated much higher levels of motivation than other subjects. These enhanced levels of motivation made students aware of their own ability to focus and concentrate on improvement. Later, even if they gave up the arts, they could apply their new-found talent for concentration to learning anything new.

Robert Twigger

Below are some resources that demonstrate how art has been integrated into the curriculum.

Cross-Training: Arts and Academics Are Inseparable

Leading to Change / Academics and the Arts

Collectively implemented, I think there’s a good chance that these suggestions would actually increase a student’s interest in learning, which is the main objective. Leave a comment below or send me an email, I’d love to hear what you think!

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