Updated: Aug 15, 2020
The ultimate transformation of how we learn and teach starts with the simplest question, directed to the students: What do you want to do?
If you were given the opportunity to change how the learning-teaching process in schools operates, what would you change?
The question asked here is not whether we should change the school system or not, but how can we change it. If you think that it shouldn't be changed and that it is good as it is, then you're either an old-school teacher or someone who hasn't fully experienced the downs of high school.
Either way, the school system is always in need of development and improvement. It is impossible to cope with the rapid development of technology in today's education system without making alterations accordingly. Schools are obsolete, and if we don't make a change, dropping out of school—or homeschooling—is going to be more beneficial in the long run.
Schools are becoming more and more obsolete in the era of new technology. Add to that a plethora of deep-rooted problems within the system itself, and we've got more than enough reasons to change how we teach and learn. If not, at least we must take a look at the educational system and ask the tough questions.
A Politicized System
To take a look at the school system as a whole, we cannot ignore the element of politics that has a huge influence on how the system functions on a daily basis. The matter of the fact is that the education system is politicized, just like any other ministry.
Healthcare has never been about saving lives, but about control. That is what we're seeing today as infection rates of the coronavirus soar in countries around the world. The decisions that the ministry takes are almost always tied to politics; to the intricacies of money, power, and relations. This has been the case in Israel and the United States, specifically.
The education system has never been about true, genuinely beneficial education for generations of young students who would graduate to become the structure of their communities. These young men and women receive an education that is highly affected by politics.
This brings us to pivotal decisions being made in the realm of education, pertinent solely on political agendas. If the Education Minister is a religious, orthodox man with strict views on science, for example, changes in the educational curricula would reflect his own ideology. So is the case with a secular minister, whose views on religion and God will definitely be mirrored in how the curricula transform.
These changes and decisions are affected by election periods and the political foyer of men with no educational background. Generally, the ministerial positions end up in the hand of the elected party, and these positions are distributed among friends of the man in charge, which almost always results in an inefficient job. Just like a rabbi with no healthcare work background cannot be the Health Minister, a politician who barely finished high school cannot be the Education Minister.
When the unfit becomes in charge of how academics and intellects must manage the system, the problem deepens more and more.
A Uniform Agenda
A common problem that community schools face is that there is a strict and rigid formula of teaching from which teachers cannot deviate. Put simply, there is little or no flexibility in how teachers teach their students.
Take English, for example. In high school, the uniform agenda dictates that students learn a set of literary texts. Personally, I didn't care for any of them. Not only were they boring, irrelevant (in the cultural sense) works of literature, but also did not add a bit of value to my (our) understanding of English.
The problem with schools, in general, is that they are a continuous learning curve. Once you've finished a year, you cannot turn back and redo it. Next year, it is assumed that you have acquired all the necessary preliminary information to progress to the next level. This, sadly, is not the case with many students. Yes, sometimes because they did not pay attention in class or slacked off indifferently in elementary. But mostly, it's because the teacher in that class was not able to pass the material through to the student.
When you put 40 students in a classroom, you can never expect them all to be the same. You will always find gaps and astounding differences between them. Their learning capacity is not the same. Their intelligence varies; their emotional characters vary; their personalities are totally different.
These 40 students will receive the same information from their teachers and will be assessed by a uniform exam. Students who aren't as good as other students will fall behind, become stigmatized - either by their peers, parents, or teachers—and eventually neglected. When these students reach high school, they've already accumulated enough reasons to drop out or seek external help from expensive private tutors or institutional courses. Not only do they have to pay extra money to "barely" succeed, but they are also considered lesser than their high-achieving peers.
Since #students have varying learning capacities, a teacher has to provide raw information that is designated to be digested and comprehended by all students. Teachers have to find a middle ground that both high-achieving and low-achieving students can play in.
Succeeding to do so means that the majority of the classroom is doing just fine. However, there will still be over-achieving students—the highly intelligent—who will hate it. They cannot adapt to a middle ground with which they have been familiarized long ago. The same happens to students with very low learning capacities, who may need personal attention from their teacher or extensive aid and extra hours.
Failing to find a middle ground, nonetheless, will compel the teacher to adapt to one of the two realms. Either the teacher upgrades to teaching the material in a more complex and advanced way, personalized for the high-achievers, or they alter their methods to help the low-achievers. Either way, however, the majority of the class is then split into two categories, and the learning harmony is ruptured.
This is a serious problem in schools today. Low-achievers are lost between cockily happy over-achievers, and are not being addressed, their needs neglected and undermined. This creates generation after generation of undermined abilities. Had they been given the care and help they needed when they began their educational journey, they would have nurtured and developed their abilities.
A uniform agenda is bad. In school, I have met with amazing students who were low-achievers. You wouldn't tell they were low-achievers if not for their numerical grades. The sad truth is that students are assessed with numbers, by exams and tests that are also uniform, and never reflect the student's real abilities.
An Assessment Problem
The biggest problem with the education system is the assessment methods. To be particular, exams and tests, which ultimately label students into successful and screwup, or genius and stupid. Grades—merely numbers—can determine the future of a person - it can determine what he majors in in college, who he becomes after college, and where he can do that.
For years, voices of intellects have been reverberating in the educational realms about alternative assessment methods. What this means, essentially, is that students are assessed with practical methods other than orthodox or standard testing. For example, in a literature class, students can be asked to write literature instead of memorizing a bunch of names and plot points.
The end goal of education is to acquire #knowledge. This knowledge can either be acquired through frontal teaching; a teacher explaining verbally (sometimes even verbatim according to the text) the material to their students. Then, the students are assessed and tested on the basis of learned material. Alternative Assessment, however, teaches the students either verbally or practically (or both) and assesses them by giving them practical tasks. For instance, in a government or law class, a mock-trial mimicking a courtroom trial is considered an alternative assessment to a written test.
“The best way to learn is to do; the worst way to teach is to talk.” — Paul Halmos
The main problem with exams—or orthodox assessment—is that they do not reflect the true abilities of the students. Schools often disregard the mental issues of their students when it comes to taking exams. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health problems are undermined and neglected, which often leads to students failing classes just because they were not able to adapt to a stressful exam setting.
But mental health aside, written tests are just not that effective in teaching. I firsthand experienced written tests since the very beginning of my educational journey. It has become the norm, along with consistent tedious homework, to compel students to an inefficient assessment tool. I admit—and other students—that these exams did not help one bit in the understanding of the material. It merely gives teachers a concrete, sensible evidence and testimony to what each student can achieve.
It's a way out for teachers and schools to categorize students, not assess them.
Autodidacts for the Win
Autodidacticism or self-education is an underrated method of learning that I believe can help students achieve more and understand materials on a deeper level.
Personally, I have learned English this way. All of my English teachers—from elementary school to high school—would beg to differ. I'm not saying I haven't benefited from my teachers, I'm saying that the majority of what I know about the English language, I learned myself on the internet and the available literature.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of autodidacticism. It liberates a student from the duty-bound stress to score high grades. When you have the freedom to choose what to learn, how to learn it—according to your own capacity, time schedule, and rhythm— is a very effective way to acquire knowledge.
I can assuredly and proudly say that most—if not all—of what I learned throughout my years in junior high and high school have been successfully forgotten. They have long left my memory, once I was done with their respective exams.
Unfortunately, the only reason students study and actually sit down to read "knowledge" is to pass exams and get it over with. Once the duty and the responsibility to score as high as possible vanishes, there is no reason to acquire more knowledge in the field.
Schools claim that learning is fun. They try to incorporate unorthodox teaching methods that "seem" fun to little kids. But it stops—at best—in junior high. There's not really any way to do that for high school students who can't wait to step out of the door.
In all honesty, I have no idea what I'm talking about. I may be right and I may be wrong. The goal of this article is to provoke thoughts about what we perceive as normal. Education has always been the same, and we don't seem to question that enough as people who have gone through the system. We all know how bad the system is, how horrible at assessment and nurturing schools are, and yet once we're out, we don't care anymore. Then it's time for your own children to go through it.
Thanks for reading. Here's my previous article on #education: