Education: The Big Truths

[ 14 mins read ]

Education. What does it all mean? A seemingly important pivot to our society or a mere illusion which we have created for ourselves? Many argue, and rightfully so, that education is undoubtedly significant for society and the individuals who are the beneficiaries of education – the students, the teachers, the parents. Education aims to promote the well-being of children – to provide a place where students feel comfortable when learning and encourage the love of learning. Educational institutions are beacons of excitement to discover the world around us, and ultimately, share time with like-minded individuals.

Glossing through the supposed purposes of education has given me thought on whether they actually materialise into reality. What are the problems which education faces and why do they exist? With a contrarian way of thinking, can we see the problems within education? Are standardised tests just a convenient tool to gain maximum efficiency when marking exams? Is homework needed? Where’s all the passion at? Is there a disconnect between educational institutions and parents? Edtech, what are the consequences? Turning schools into businesses? Are we happy?

It is of relative importance to indeed ponder about issues such as those which education will face going into the future. It is up to us to seek what is meaningful and carry out actions which are right and just. Whether you agree with the perspectives proposed or the comments made here, I aspire to generate discussion and perhaps, make you reflect upon your own initial thoughts.

And as we walk through the 21st century, we have to ask ourselves, are our education systems relevant and keeping up with the evolutions and revolutions which our population faces. With concerns over global teacher shortages to the, still unclear impacts which technology may have upon students and teachers, education is facing challenges – let’s see what we can do to solve these challenges.

 

One size fits all

A standardised education system is most common than not for many children nowadays. As pupils, we are taught the same subjects through similar forms of teaching, with no regards to the unique passions and interests which individuals possess. It gets even worse when it comes to testing and examinations; standardised testing is a method based on convenience and practicality, where the “intelligence” of pupils is tested. For those who succeed through the norm of these examinations, they absorb the credit and praise which their teachers and educational institutions reward them with. For pupils who don’t necessarily excel through this conventional form of testing, they are deemed to lack “intelligence” and are made to feel somewhat inferior. This is wrong and unjust; even though teachers may, as a result of their so-labelled poor performance, give more attention towards these pupils with the sole intent to help them, it still does not explain why we still push this notion that conventional examinations are the best way to measure intelligence.

Standardised exams fail to consider indicators which cannot be measured – passion, creativity and curiosity, to name a few. It is far easier to use a computer to mark thousands of multiple-choice test papers than to give feedback to each pupil, although the latter yields far greater value for the pupils themselves - the individuals who we teach and want to improve as people. Sounds familiar? Similar to an assembly line? Standardised exams are by their nature prone to pupils who attempt to beat the system, developing techniques to pass the “exam game” rather than learning to understand the content put forward to them.

We must look to broadening the way we examine pupils in order to reach out to the untapped potential of young minds. No one pupil is great at everything, but every pupil is great at something. Understanding what pupils are passionate about or love doing, can help policymakers better implement methods to rightfully examine pupils. It is by no means lesser to test an individual’s creativity through problem-solving than to test an individual’s ability to memorise. We must shrug off this belief that giving out conventional exams is the only way to test an individual’s capabilities – to shrug off this rule that pupils have to conform to the dogmas created by a system which fails to comprehend the human nature of learning and expanding ones’ skills.

Alternatively, instead of having these conventional examinations which aim to standardise pupils, we could have pupils and students work on solving world problems. Not only does this approach allow pupils to closer understand the complexities but also the beauty of the “real world”, but as individuals, we want to work on things which are meaningful and do matter in the end. Working on solutions which help move society forward by eliminating inequalities which exist or the ability to appreciate the diversity of thought which will inevitably emerge from pupils collectively working together. This can be done by allowing pupils to learn the skills gained from subjects through the humanities, arts and sciences, and allowing time for pupils to reflect upon which skills are needed to tackle world problems. In most occasions, the naivety of younger people can help to challenge the assumptions and norms which persist in the world today – without these new minds and fresh perspectives, will we continue to use the same way of thinking which has manifested into the many problems we see in today’s society.

“I think you also have to and talk to people who are not at college levels; you have to talk to high school kids and grade school kids.” – Rainer Weiss

 

Unnecessary Information Overload

It is surely bewildering that in a society where information is so easily accessible that pupils are still subject to the excess of information received from teachers. Pupils do not need more information but instead guidance to allow them to judge information which is regarded as relevant and useful from information which is false, such as fake news. Helping pupils to develop skills which best prepare these individuals into the rather uncertain and unpredictable world, is a more fruitful use of time – skills such as communication and inventiveness.

As mentioned before, it is however very difficult both in terms of resources and the magnitude of change needed to switch from education systems which advocate information diffusion to skills-based teaching. Pupils do, and rightfully so, question whether the information they are told to absorb, will be useful in their years to come – subjects which have a strong theoretical frontier and seemingly having little practical use for pupils are further vulnerable to the question of real-life utility.

We need to teach our children how knowledge and information can be indeed useful or bear value. How the application of knowledge can be carried out to solve problems which help other individuals within society. We, as a society, need to decide whether stuffing pupils with information is the best way to educate younger minds; the world is changing faster than ever. Unless the ways of teaching change to one which promotes the importance of skills instead of information, our education systems will become obsolete relative to the pace of change we are seeing in the world.

“Let us choose to let machines be machines, and let humans be humans” – Kai-Fu Lee

 

Home-work

Classwork that really should have been done in school? Seems like a chore for pupils and a burden for teachers, homework has become an activity pupils resent and despise. With the purpose to extend and expand upon knowledge pupils have learnt in class, there, of course, exists a rather logical argument for the reason why homework is set. Despite this very foundation which proves the existence of homework, this bears the question of whether homework leads to an opportunity cost which would otherwise allow pupils to go off and explore the world around them, further broadening their experiences in their early life.

Just the process of doing homework itself results in one being isolated and away from friends and family. Could this be a factor in determining why face-to-face interaction with others may have decreased, with people resorting to social media as a far more convenient way to connect with others whom you know? Consequently, the detrimental effects associated with social media usage also come to fruition. With the constant flows of homework which pupils find themselves catching up on, it can be said that homework itself inhibits younger people to be more curious about the world around them and develop passions that may prove vital in their future years.

In a situation where homework is indeed set, it is the teacher’s role to convince pupils that the activity is one of importance and value. If such is not achieved, pupils will lose engagement of the subject and instead churn out something just out of necessity. Allow time and give pupils the freedom to explore – this is an approach which will result in great work, not work which is rushed. Ultimately, it is better off to encourage young individuals to chase their passions and discover what really stirs their imaginations.

“…the fact is that most of us here loved what we did and so that carries you through failures and you have to really like doing experiments.” – Michael Rosbash

 

Passion

Do all pupils and all teachers get a kick out of going to school? I have always thought that people should be acknowledged for the passions they have, and the unique interests they choose to pursue rather than the grades they achieve. Our curriculums act as lists, with topics ready to be checked off. It’s almost as if we have forgotten that people with passion can change the world for the better. Enabling pupils to explore a broad range of experiences means that they are best exposed to discovering what really drives them and energises them.

A fundamental principle to stand by is to work on things which thrill you and you find a pleasure to do. It is not to abide by a set of academic walls which dictate what pupils do, with very little freedom to deviate, but to nurture the inner passions individuals will develop over time. Education was not set up to spoon-feed knowledge, needless and of no use in some instances, but to develop the potential of young minds. It applies to teachers too – the role of a teacher is not merely to transfer information from their brains into other brains through PowerPoints and notes (a book can do this faster for some pupils). The role of the teacher is to excite, to pose questions which pupils are fascinated by, and ultimately, use their sheer love and enthusiasm for their subject, into captivating pupils’ minds.

On a broader note, passion is absolutely fundamental in a world with growing shifts in technology and AI. The power and capabilities of AI mean that things which human beings used to do out of necessity such as administrative work and repetitive tasks will indeed be replaced by AI. This thus leaves human beings the ability to work on things which they love to do out of passion. We don’t know yet if AI will ever possess consciousness and thus passion as a characteristic, but we know with certainty that people with passion (without harming other individuals) have always changed the world for the better. If all humans are passionate about the things they do during their lives, we can certainly hope for a better society. This starts with education systems which stimulate nurturing passions.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

 

Edtech and its problems

Edtech solutions are supposed to solve problems – that’s why they exist but have we ever thought if they curate unintended consequences? With billions invested into so-called edtech companies, every edtech firm is attempting to promote their new “revolutionary” product for students, teachers or whoever they end up “selling” their product too. The education/edtech industry is really difficult to be in and it is simply ignorant in nature to think that just because one went through the education system, they are somehow justified to set up their own edtech business proposing to solve a problem which may not be needed or exist in the first place.

In the long run, education will face even problematic issues considering the approach which edtech companies take when selling their products to school. The word “selling” is the key term here – an economic transaction which is dependent on the school having the financial will to do so is required. In most cases, especially with high pressures upon school budgets, schools lack the necessary capital to even think of buying solutions which are marketed to them. Edtech companies will then move to where the money is – it seems only logical to do so. Where an edtech product statistically improves the lives of pupils or teachers, does this not present the question – are only those with the capital available entitled to purchase solutions which may improve educational attainment? You see where this one is heading.

Founders must think carefully about entering the edtech industry or face spending time, fixated on a wrong solution. Founders must establish that their solutions are for pupils – not teachers nor administrators. Even tools which free up teachers’ time will inevitably result in teachers spending more time with pupils – thus, the pupils benefit from this in the end. Like any other industry, new solutions in edtech must be so much better than existing solutions, in order for them to stand out among the countless and ubiquitous solutions out there.

Many edtech companies focus on solving problems which they know they can measure. Of course, it seems only logical to have statistics to prove teachers and students that a product works. However, they forget the human aspect of education; aspects which can’t be easily measured such as creativity or how students behave in different environments. In order to better education, we must first better the individual by creating approachable products which consider human nature and are truly a delight to use. And of course, make individuals happy. That’s the whole point of innovation in the end. Happy people, happy world. Technology can never be pushed. It is essential that edtech products are shaped to the needs of individuals, and that requires a deep understanding of human nature – what individuals want, their dreams, their hopes and their ambitions.

“When you’re putting people on the moon, you’re inspiring all of us to achieve the maximum of human potential, which is how our greatest problems will eventually be solved. Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids’ dreams too.” – Randy Pausch

 

Because we all matter

Education can be an amazing medium for individuals to find what it is they love, contribute to the world and ultimately, move society forward. However, we need to shrug off this notion that the education systems around the world do not have problems. Inertia and denial cannot help us in creating an education which considers the uniqueness and sheer brilliance of each and every individual. We have to acknowledge problems such as current education systems creating greater social inequalities to switching our mindsets away from the viewpoint that education is just about academics.

Imagine a world where education is based on passions. Where individuals are taught skills such as critical thinking and empathetic understanding, values of respect and care, an educational system which does not discriminate or exclude. It’s time we change how we perceive education to be.  

to be continued…

 

I would love to hear your comments and views about the issues raised above!

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