Reforming Education?

The debate at the start of the scholastic / academic year often focusses on several recurrent themes. For those in primary and secondary school, the issues may centre on the cost of books and uniforms, the amount of homework handed out and the various ways parents can support their children.

At post-secondary and tertiary levels, the stipend system, the cost of books and the relevance of assignments and exams are perennial issues for discussion.

Some may question the validity of their studies; parents may retort by encouraging their children to forge ahead and strive for good grades and further qualifications since these are the key to a good job and a sound future.

All these points are very valid. However, they fail to address wider and perhaps more pressing questions: is education too formalised? Is it driven by utilitarian principles? Does it whet intellectual curiosity? Does it take a holistic approach? How is it contributing to the overall development of the individual? Is any importance given to informal education?

These questions are not ancillary to the regular debates. Rather, they strike at the heart of the entire concept of education and render all other considerations somewhat superficial.

In wider terms of policy, education is often viewed as the key to creating a learning society and a knowledge-based economy. There is a general consensus on the pivotal role education plays in both the life of the individual and his community.

One must question whether compartmentalised learning which leaves little room (if any)for inter-disciplinarity, a rigid assessment system which allows no room for creativity and certain pedagogical systems are fostering the right educational culture.

Education is a formative rather than a learning process. It is not a means to an end – nor an end in itself – but an ongoing process which enriches the individual and the way he relates to peers.

The leading British educationalist, Sir Ken Robinson, makes some interesting points for consideration.

Education should fundamentally aim to gauge and foster talent from a very young age. Robinson made a valid observation based on his long career in education: “many people go through their whole lives having no real sense of what their talents may be, or if they have any to speak of. I meet all kinds of people who don’t think they’re really good at anything.” He expands on the importance of fostering talent: “human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.”

His greatest point of contention seems to be with what he calls the fast food model of education. He builds on a catering metaphor. Fast food is often standardized and caters for a mass audience. Other forms of catering involves adaptation to local circumstances and cater to a more discerning palate. Robinson argues that “we have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.”

Robinson suggests that we must make the quantum leap between an industrial model of education to an agricultural model: “We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process and you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

Whether the right conditions are being created remains a point of contention. Reigniting the education debate is the first step to explore the number of ways we can alter the many problematic areas which are failing to maximise the potential of the individual.

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