How to fix the education system

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!

How to Find a Mentor

Having Trouble Getting a Mentorship? – Create Your Own!

Having a mentor can be extremely beneficial for your progression in virtually any field. They can accelerate your learning curve exponentially, help you shape your ideas and empower you. Given all of these potential benefits, I thought it would be useful to have a mentor of my own, so I started making a shortlist of people whom I could pick to be my mentor.

Enter Tim Ferris – World Renowned Author, Angel Investor and Polymath. 

Throughout my early teens, I was already fascinated by the concepts of accelerated learning, self-optimisation, and getting unconventional results by utilising unconventional methods. I would always try and figure out the easiest and most effective way to get something done. No one does all of this, and more, better than Tim Ferriss. If you haven’t heard of Tim Ferriss, you should certainly do some research on him and I promise it won’t disappoint.

You can check out his blog:  

Why Tim Ferriss?

When I first read the Four Hour Work Week, I was mind-blown. I instantly knew who my ideal mentor would be. I’d found someone who shared the same passion for everything that I enjoyed doing, except he was on a completely different level, far beyond anything I had imagined.

The reason I picked Tim Ferriss was because he is, in fact, a polymath, and exactly what I aspire to be. Secondly, I noticed that Tim was also utilising the tools that I had learned about from elsewhere, however he was applying them in ways that I had never thought of, which I found to be extremely interesting. He also has a knack for asking very simple, yet powerful questions which get you thinking and questioning everything, which can lead to some very interesting results.

To elaborate on the previous point, Tim has dabbled in a diverse array of fields, including his own television show (The Tim Ferriss Experiment, in which Tim attempts to master a new skill within a week), judo, language learning, self-experimentation, accelerated learning, and angel investing, just to name a few. He has enjoyed tremendous success in almost all of these fields. He is the living embodiment of my goals, and that makes him an ideal mentor in my case.

(Side note: I think the phrase “living embodiment” is quite superfluous, and yet I seem to find myself using it relatively often)

If I could have Tim Ferriss as my mentor, I certainly would. However, If you don’t have access to someone whom you would really like to be your mentor, what can you do?

You create your own mentorship.

How the Self-Created Mentorship Works 

Since I didn’t have access to Tim Ferriss himself, I looked at everything I did have access to and started with that. I voraciously devoured all of his books and searched for all kinds of material which he had released over the years. When I discovered his podcast, I began to listen to that too (It’s called the Tim Ferriss Show).

Side note: The Tim Ferriss Show basically involves Tim interviewing and deconstructing world-class performers from a variety of fields, and extracting the tools and tricks which we, the listeners, can put to use. I highly recommend the podcast, there’s an insane amount that I’ve learned from that alone. I’ve also recommended a couple of other podcasts, which you can check out: Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture.

I also follow Tim’s progress through his blog, his Twitter page and of course, his podcast and try to make notes of all his titbits of knowledge that he imparts through all of the various channels.

Books, of course, are possibly one of my favourite ways to learn from my chosen mentor, because it distils all the information and leaves the reader with only the most useful and relevant content, which can be easily accessed and reviewed at leisure.

How to Create Your Own Mentorship Program

  • Find an individual/individuals whom you admire or aspire to emulate
  • Look for articles or books that they have published and read them. Write down questions and take copious notes
  • Search for other resources on your chosen mentor – read about their history and understand how and why they do what they do; it’s all about getting into their mindset and understanding how they work
  • Look for others’ work on them
    • Sometimes your mentor will not release their own material (Warren Buffett is a case in point). What you can do instead is to read books about them by other authors. These can be great because the author sometimes adds their own insight which can be very helpful.
  • Search for videos, interviews and other types of relevant content which can help you gain an insight into your mentor’s thought process
  • Finally, try connecting with your mentor. Some of them may have a Twitter account and you could try tweeting them. Hey, you could get lucky!

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t anywhere near as great as having direct access to your mentor, but it’s the next best thing. I can honestly say that I’ve learned so much from all the different sources of information, even though I could not speak to my “mentors” directly.

I strongly encourage you to find someone whom you admire or would like to emulate, and embark on the journey yourself. It’s actually quite exciting to discover the information you require and try to search for all the answers by relying solely on yourself. It’s a challenge, but one that’s definitely worth it.

In fact, with this self-created mentorship program, you can have as many mentors as you want. Some of my other mentors include  Warren Buffett, Derek Sivers, John Mayer and many other incredible, talented individuals. There’s a wealth of knowledge that you can learn from your mentors, so go ahead and give it a shot!

The Best Podcasts to Listen To

Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture

Podcasts have been experiencing phenomenal growth and it’s certainly justified as they’re extremely versatile and there’s an immense selection available. This means that there’s always something for everyone Continue reading “Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture”

Advice From Henry Ford - Crushing the Crippling Fear of Failure

Advice From Henry Ford and Crushing the Crippling Fear of Failure

This post is strongly geared towards education, but the principles are universally applicable. 

Failure isn’t what stops most people from achieving their full potential. It’s the fear of failure that is the real issue. It’s something that can be dealt with, and I’ll explain what I did to get past this. In fact, the goal -for me at least- was to become comfortable with failure, and know that I can get past it.

It’s important to fail because I know that if I’m not failing at least a few times every so often, that means I’m not trying anything new, working hard enough, growing, or taking enough risk.

My grandmother gave me a pivotal piece of advice when I was in my mid-teens. She quoted Henry Ford, who famously said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. I have this quote plastered up on my goal-setting board (I know, what a creative name) and I live by this principle.

When it comes to achieving higher grades, many students fail before they even begin. The majority of battles are won and lost within the mind. Many of my friends have said some variation of the following to me when I ask them why they don’t aim for higher grades:

“If I don’t expect too much, then at least I won’t be disappointed if I fail. And If I end up succeeding, it’ll be a pleasant surprise”.

Getting Rid of Fear

Why be afraid of some disappointment and failure? That’s literally the worst that could happen. So why not aim really high and try your best to achieve it? What happens if you fail? You’ll come away knowing that you put in your best effort and that your tried everything within your power and therefore have no regrets.

You’ll definitely fail if you don’t try, so what do you have to lose if you do?

The “What do you have to lose?” question is incredibly powerful. Really ask yourself and list down some answers in your head or on paper. You’ll find that it’s really not as bad as you think.

People tend think that they have so much to lose and that the disappointment will be crushing if they fail. However, when I ask them to tell me exactly what it is that they’re going to lose, they usually don’t have much of an answer.

The feeling is psychological, and that’s what prevents them from trying. Once they realise that there really isn’t much on the line, and so much to gain just by trying, they usually end up much further than they expected.

Overcoming My Struggle with Math

Back in middle school, I was terrible at math. My friends could easily achieve a 90 percent in tests while I struggled in the low 40s. As many students in that position would, I decided math just wasn’t my subject and gave up.

This became a self-fulfilling prophesy. I believed that I was bad at math, and that’s exactly what I got. What you believe, you become. The secret is simple, alter the way you think.

Let’s go back to the quote by Henry Ford for a second. If I went into something, already convinced that I was going to fail, do you suppose that I’d somehow end up succeeding? 9 times of of ten, the answer is no. I might get lucky, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule.

Realising this, I changed the way I approached math in high school. Rather than think of it as horribly intimidating and difficult (which was pretty much guaranteeing failure), I began to consciously tell myself that math was easy and I was good at it. Of course, you probably won’t believe yourself at first and might even feel stupid doing it, as I certainly did.

It just needs to be an internal dialogue with yourself, so don’t be embarrassed and worry that you might fail and disappoint yourself. This seems pretty obvious when I say it, but most people seem to have an inbuilt system designed to prevent themselves from “bragging”, even to themselves. In this case, you need to brag. Just to yourself at least. Fake the confidence, until you start to believe it, and eventually it will become real.

This trick actually worked for me. After 3 months of repeating this to myself, I had literally convinced myself that math was easy and began to notice a dramatic improvement in my understanding of math, which translated into much higher grades. I applied this same trick to physics and chemistry in high school and the exact same thing happened. I went from barely scraping a 50 percent to averaging 80s and 90s.

It’s All About the Small Wins

I realised something else soon after this experience. I started having to study a lot less and put in a lot less effort. The reason was an increase in confidence. As a result of these early, small wins, I had begun to believe in my own ability, and I had removed the mental block that so many students, including myself, struggle with.

This has nothing to do with natural intelligence or talent. Of course, some people are naturally inclined towards these kinds of subjects, but I certainly wasn’t. I was extremely frustrated with myself until I started using this technique and I found that I could attain the same if not better grades than my peers whom I am still convinced were genetically tuned for excellence in math and science.

The power of belief is often underestimated. I’ve since applied this to almost everything in my life and noticed that it always works. Try this out for yourself and see how it goes. The caveat however, is that you have to try your absolute best to convince yourself until you really do believe in your ability. Doubt is always normal, but do your best to shove it into a corner, punch it until it loses consciousness, and leave it there.

Look to fail, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

It’s lonely at the top. Ninety nine percent of people are convinced they can’t do great things, so they aim for mediocre.

            – Tim Ferriss