Our Education System is Broken | #MyFridayStory №32

Our education system — from grade zero right up to college and university level — is broken.

I can say this because I’ve had first-hand experience throughout my own life of how flawed the system is. I have children of my own in their twenties, with a large circle of friends, all starting out in their careers. My own circle of friends also has kids at different stages of their lives. Either still at school, in college or university, seeking employment or working their first job.

At the turn of the century, Henry Ford introduced large scale mechanisation that required obedient workers to do as they were told on the production line. This started the boom of factories that offered mass produced goods at a low price. A massive new workforce was needed to drive the new hunger for convenience that mass production provided. A large group of aspirational middle-class workers that drove the economy, was born.

This new workforce needed to be taught a new set of skills, together with discipline to ensure conformity and uniformity that mass production required. This framed how the education system was built and in a large part, how it is conducted today.

In 1980, when I graduated from high school, it possibly was not as obvious as it is today, and thus slipped by un-noticed but, the Forth Industrial Revolution already started at the dawn of the third millennium with the rise of computers. In other words, since 1969, which marks the start of the Third Industrial Revolution, factory work has been on the decline.

If you are a baby-boomer like me, you will remember those chemistry and electronics sets you could get. Every kid wanted one. I never managed to get one, but Seth Godin tells a great story in Leap First about how the sets differ and how that relates to learning. The electronics set comes with wires, coils, diodes and so on, and if you followed the directions, you could build a functional radio. The chemistry set was different. It came with glass test-tubes, beakers, pipets and a range of chemicals. The instructions showed how to conduct various experiments using the chemicals, with cool results. The instructions go on to encourage you to try and experiment yourself and see what happens!

The electronics’ set represents how we have been educating our children for the last 100 years.

Don’t think too much. Don’t ask questions. Follow the instructions carefully and methodically. If you do, there is little to no chance you will fail, but if you fail, that is bad. It was extremely effective at producing compliant factory workers.

The education system that will take us into the future needs to be like the chemistry set.

For a start, education should be fun. Ask lots of questions and seek out different answers. Failing is part of the process and should be encouraged, not frowned upon. By implication, tests designed to measure who gets the most answers right, are obsolete.

As an example, the 2017 World Best Education Systems top 14 countries according to The World Top 20 Project, do not take tests. Singapore rated at 15th in the world, is the best ‘test- taking’ country. China comes in at 14th and the United States creeps in at 20th. However, Finland has unofficially been rated as having the world’s best education system since 2000.

They have done this through a combination of national will and a culture that values education. Some of the aspects of the system include students receiving no homework, they spend less hours at school, and have more holidays. There are at least three teachers per class, each taking care of a different aspect of the class environment. Teachers are selected from the top 10% of all graduates, meaning teaching as a profession is regarded as equal to that of being a doctor or a lawyer, and the pay is commensurate. Having made education a priority in the country, the whole nation supports the system — parents, students, teachers, business and government. There are no failing schools in Finland. Finnish citizens speak an average of four languages, English being spoken universally.

There can be no doubt that our education system needs to be completely overhauled to produce employable people for the new economy. With an alarming unemployment rate, our high school drop-out rate, and a generation educated in an obsolete system, we can’t lose any more time.

We need to fix our education system, and soon.

A few extras to check out:

  1. A free manifesto by Seth Godin on Education that everyone should read and share. “Stop Stealing Dreams”
  2. A fantastic TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Do schools kill creativity?”
  3. A quick video journey on the 6 Problems with our School System.”

Originally published at https://www.leapfirst.co.za on July 26, 2020.

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Frans Nel

Frans Nel

Curiousor and curiousor

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