“All the art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds in order to satisfy it later.” – Anatole France
The purpose of education is to create responsible, productive, and socially contributing citizens, people who can provide for their families and contribute to their communities. As Toffler says, education in the 21st century should enable people to learn, unlearn and relearn. But I’m not sure if our schools and universities are engaged in this.
Education is one of the most unscientific human endeavors. Do well in school to get into a good college and earn a good degree. A good degree should be a passport to a good job. Based on your educational qualifications, you can achieve a reasonably high position without having to demonstrate any outstanding ability.
Beyond that, however, you may run into problems. There is no established link between your academic performance and your job performance. More importantly, there is no link between your performance at work and your performance in life.
To be true to purpose, education should help a child develop three critical skills:
1. Discover, develop and continuously evolve a vision to become a useful member of society:
Most of us have an edge: Our parents envision our future for us, pushing us to work towards that vision. However, this is not as common among the poor. The education system needs to step in to help everyone create this vision and to also build the poor child’s confidence to pursue the vision.
Balaji Sampath, who runs Eureka Child, an NGO working to improve literacy and numeracy skills in state schools, told us a touching story in this context. Returning from the US to do something meaningful in education, he immersed himself in local issues by spending a few months in a village. He was in a village class when a boy asked the teacher if it was possible to travel to the moon. “You and I cannot fly to the moon,” the teacher replied. “But scientists in the United States can…” We need to stop robbing our children of goals and dreams.
2. Understand that questions are more important than answers:
Our education system places too much emphasis on providing answers, often to questions that children don’t have. In other words, we too often teach children concepts without context; we have to show them why learning is important. We need to focus on awakening children’s natural curiosity and teach them to love learning. A good way to do this is by putting children in nature experiences or games where they can ask questions. In these contexts learning is immediate and strong. Learning can be a structured process of discovery, offering students different learning outcomes, just as our later situations and decisions in life offer different outcomes.
For example, an NGO in Mumbai went to schools with an experiment to teach students about water conservation. The pupils measured the amount of water they consumed while brushing their teeth with the tap open, and then again with the tap closed. Imagine, if we all learn this kind of lesson in school, how we can apply the principles to so many other aspects of our home and work later in life.
3. Learning to learn:
The world is evolving too fast for schools and universities to keep up. What is being taught is inadequate and obsolete, or will soon be. It’s important that children are encouraged to discover answers for themselves – through the Internet, experimenting, and having access to cutting-edge experts in each field.
It is important for students to learn the scientific method –
(a) create a hypothesis based on observations,
(b) design and conduct experiments to prove or disprove these hypotheses e
(c) reach conclusions while acknowledging that conclusions may change with additional information.
With the level of knowledge available in the world today, it is also important to exercise judgment about what to learn, and how and when it needs to be learned. We need to teach children when to rely on their own judgments and when to rely on the experience of others. Our children need to learn that even when you outsource effort, you retain responsibility for the outcome.
What do you think? Do you agree with these ideas about the critical skills our children need? Is our education system addressing this problem? Share your thoughts and experiences with all of us.