Governments in many countries are trying to reform education. They are requiring schools to make lots of changes, prepare students for exams, and be accountable. Though teachers grow tired of the requirements that seem to change every year (the méthode du jour), I have to give governments credit for at least recognizing that we need to do better, and trying something new when a strategy doesn’t work. Most teachers I know work very hard, and for much less money than they could earn in other industries, and now they have to add these requirements. Schools are working very hard to implement these plans. Are these methods the ones that will help students the most?
So, what is the purpose of education, anyway?
- To produce good results on government-mandated exams? Teachers try to teach students to think, but many schools create expectations of one “right” answer per question. Does the huge test-prep industry exist because memorizing the “right” answers for standardized tests doesn’t interest students?
- To be well-rounded (understand a set of core subject areas)? Since schools are often evaluated based on the results of government-mandated tests, many schools put nearly all their efforts into the few subjects that are tested, and all the other subjects are cut or reduced to the point that they don’t matter. (This is well documented in Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap. )
- To learn what you need to know in life? (Or is that the role of parents?)
- To prepare for university studies and work (get a good job)? What type of work?
- To understand one’s country of birth and be responsible citizens? From working in a company with offices in 60 cities worldwide, I’m convinced this goal should be broader.
- Other goals?
This video spurs discussion among educators, and is often shared with parents, but I think it’s important and that everyone should watch it:
What do you think?
The type of work I’ve been doing for the last 8 years didn’t exist until 15 years after I finished my university studies. When I was in high school, very few people were able to use a computer; they were enormous contraptions that used punch cards (OK, I’m showing my age) and had no graphical interface. I learned about technology and how to use computers on the job, a little at a time, over many years, from DOS and UNIX (you had to type the right command or the computer would insult you!) to Windows and Mac (MUCH more friendly!). Actually, I had a French OS/2 system and a dumb terminal interface at one point.
I loved the learning I did in high school and college; I was lucky that at my high school I could select many of my courses. But the thing that prepared me best for almost every job I’ve had was living abroad. Well, I majored in languages, so I chose to live abroad because of my major—but I chose my major because of my first experience living abroad.
Think about things YOU do at work and whether methods currently used in schools prepare students for the future (or even the present). What should be changed? What advantages has the industry you work in had that schools haven’t?