We all know that much of what we learn at school is a waste of our time, and that once we have mastered reading, writing, and basic maths, we are learning to jump through increasingly irrelevant hoops in the diminishing hope that we will somehow get enough marks to get into the college of our choice, or at least one that isn’t a complete no-no as far as employment prospects are concerned.
Now we are being told by the owners and managers of business that our syllabus and curricula are irrelevant, our schools and colleges are turning out unemployable youths, and that our schooling needs to change.
This is very true, but genuine learning means more than how to succeed in a business environment. They need to learn how to sequence and analyse, how to predict consequences, how to distinquish truth from fiction, how to empathise, how to be creative and solve problems, how to have a conversation, how to stay healthy, how to value themselves and change what they do not value in themselves. Most importantly they need to live meaningfully.
Most schools are not designed or seek to do any of this. Even a simple exercise like the teacher holding a regular conversation with a child is an impossiblity.
With forty or fifty children in a class, a minute long conversation with each child would take up the whole of the lesson time.
You would think that schools would teach how to tell truth from fiction but they don’t. In our schools students must absorb knowledge uncritically. Imagine if 40 children all questioned a different aspect of what they were being taught - The teacher would have to converse with each of them, and again the syllabus would never get covered. Many teachers think that children asking questions is an impediment to learning!
Obvious the way to learn what is true and what is fiction is to ask questions. Question what you read, what you are told, what you see on TV. To distinquish between truth and fiction a child must continually ask. How can I know if this is true? What evidence is there for believing that this is true.
Teachers don’t do this – they don’t have the time, but parents can encourage their children every day to critically scrutinise at least one piece of information, a newspaper column, a text book passage, a classroom lecture, or a TV advert.
They can get the child to ask themselves what they are expected to believe and how they are expected to feel, then ask themselves whether they have sufficient reason to feel or believe it, or whether they are being manipulated?
If parents did this every day it would probably take up five to fifteen minutes of their time, (depending on the age of their child).
Three revolutionary things would happen. One is that the child would learn how to distinquish between truth and fiction. In the process the child would learn how to ask questions and examine issues and statements.
Thirdly this process could develop into a conversation between parent and child. Of course creating an analytical, questioning child, who seeks out conversations with adults will make your child a bit of a misfit in much of our education system. However, many of us think it is a price worth paying.
(Abha Adams is an education consultant)