A bored mind will never truly absorb information given to it in an educational setting, purely because its boredom represents a lack of interest in the topic and its view that said information is irrelevant to its own life. So why do schools dictate what children should and shouldn’t learn? For the last 1,500+ years of modern civilisation the answer to this question has been simple; A school must dictate to its pupils what they should learn about the world so that they are able to survive in it independently, with at least a basic understanding of society and the world they were born into, because this information is not readily available elsewhere. Without dictation and a set curriculum at school a child will be mentally lop-sided and unable to live the independent life those setting curriculums wish for all of us – according to their agenda.
I would be remiss to argue against the dictation of literary, scientific and mathematical basics in primary school, for those lessons lay the foundation of the ability to capture knowledge in the future. University also finds obvious exemption due to the freedom of choice and their role, which is to teach the application of knowledge in order to develop independent reasoning and questioning on a topic of the students’ choice.
However, I strongly believe that the intermediate years between the two are the most important for the development of an individual’s mind-set, both in terms of setting the standard for the future and discovering where one fits into the world. In the age of the internet and readily accessible, limitless, information, I do not believe that there is any excuse for a school to allow its students to find the subjects they are studying boring. Dictation – especially in such an open society – breeds this boredom, of which the symptoms are often laziness, underachievement and disillusionment.
In such a connected and accessible world, the role of the secondary school needs to shift from the dictatorial educator to the mere facilitator of learning. By this I mean that a school need only embed the love of learning (which comes naturally when a child is learning something they are genuinely interested in) and teach children how to access the information available to them. I believe it is true that attempting to teach an individual lessons they do not want to learn is a waste of resources that could be used to educate a student who does want to learn them. Instead, children should be taught the aforementioned lessons early, and be allowed to take their own path from a much younger age. This would eliminate wasted teaching hours and also allow for children to begin to become specialised in their interests earlier in their development. On top of this, it would break the current system in which a child is judged on his ability to regurgitate facts he/she will most likely never make use of.
Teaching like this creates a problem for assessment, but not one that I think makes the shift untenable. Instead of grades specific to a subject, a student should be given a level of overall cognitive and physical potential, calculated primarily through observation. This should be the ‘grade’ most important, and students who choose to take the path of exam-worthy topics should be allowed to do so if they wish. Education should be organised from the bottom up, not the other way around. With an assessment system based on potential, children could be encouraged to grow to said potential rather than being given a definitive grade, which can damage both the moral and confidence which is so required to embrace learning.
A sizeable chunk of the most successful companies and individuals among us discovered their passions themselves at a young age and figured out how to access relevant information and resources of their own accord. These people configured their person from that young age to the purpose they felt their life held. Secondary schools do not promote this kind of open exploration because it is not what is recognised as success by those charged with judging what is or isn’t a successful school.
If children are allowed to focus on their interests from a much younger age, their brains and bodies will grow with them to suit those interests. It will breed much higher levels of satisfaction among students (millions of which struggle daily with rising levels of depression borne of their unsuitability to the one-size-fits-all system of education currently in place), encourage acceptance of the diversity of humanity by demonstrating that every individual is fuelled by different motives and interests, and it will breed innovation in areas we don’t currently know it is required; How can you expect innovation in a system in which the same methods of thinking are forced on youth year by year?
Education is the key to a harmonious and productive society. It has remained relatively unchanged because those in charge are those whom the system has suited since day one. So let us allow those who suit academics to continue to prosper from their talent for it, but also, let us lift the disillusioned out of the side-lines of society and teach them that their mind and body are as valuable and able as those who benefit from a lop-sided system.