Revitalizing a dated education system

Education lacks real student engagement and stifles curiosity

How often do you sit in class and hear something that sparks your curiosity, but you’re afraid to ask about it in fear that your question may be considered off topic or besides the point?

This was a common narrative for me throughout my education. I remember asking questions about why we were learning certain topics in class and being told it was simply because we must.  

We are conditioned from an early age by a traditional antiquated school system to discourage our impulse to wonder. Our current school system, as described by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned expert in education, is one that was molded by past circumstances, making it difficult for modern day students to see why they should receive schooling which seems irrelevant. In a TEDTalk presentation, Robinson says that our current “system of education [is one] that is modeled on the interests of industrialization and the image of it.”

A large portion of my motivation to study during my early education seemed to come from striving for little else besides achieving good grades. However, coming to University, I found that my old habits of seeking good grades impeded my desire for a long term understanding and proper analysis of material I was learning.

Now, entering my second year of study at Queen’s, I’ve had time to re-evaluate my learning habits to enable a process that is more rewarding and tuned into what learning should truly be about. I no longer take in information with the mindset of reading just to find what I think will be on the tests. Instead, I try to engage with the material, ensuring that I’m actually learning, not just memorizing and understanding in the short term.

To solve the dissonance between the necessity to wonder and the lack of it in our school system, I believe the education model needs to undergo a revolution, to evolve in such a way that better promotes students to fully explore their curiosity.

The current system was created during a different era, specifically one that was largely based on Enlightenment ideas and in the interests of industrialization. The model is antiquated, outdated and in need of a renewal. Since the inauguration of the school model, the context for learning has changed.

For some, it’s appealing to sit in a lecture hall full of hundreds of students and take notes while a professor runs through PowerPoint slides, but to me, that doesn’t evoke a positive learning experience.

Yes, seminars exist and are a good element of engaged learning, but they’re not as frequent as lectures. Universities need to incorporate a system that enables mainly seminars instead of a lecture based system, this would help solve the crisis of disengagement that inhibits curiosity.

This change may happen in the form of hands-on, tactile learning or in the form of research, or internship opportunities.

Nowadays, there seems to be an upward emergence of schools that promote alternative education models such as outdoor education programs and this is a crucial step in revitalizing the education system.

In Toronto, a small school unaffiliated with the Toronto District School Board, The Grove Community School, claims to be “Canada’s first public elementary school focused on environmental education, community activism, and social justice.” The school uses outdoor classrooms and the teachers focus on fostering “curiosity, wonder, imagination, and creativity in students.”

A good example of alternative learning at a post-secondary level is Quest University in Squamish British Columbia. The school claims to be Canada’s first independent, not for profit, secular university. The model functions on a ‘block system’ where one course is taught for no more than three hours a day for no more than three and a half weeks. The maximum class size is 20 students and the faculty ratio is 14:1. A classroom experience that focuses on debate and discussion, while the student only has to think about one course at a time is a positive learning opportunity. It’s a chance for the student to truly delve into the information and engage through collaboration into their own wonder of the subject.

A model of education that aligns with the newest understanding of how to create the most positive learning experience, like that of The Grove or Quest University, is the sort of model that better suits the needs of the modern day student.

I think it’s time more schools and universities start bringing discussions outside the walls of the classroom. To re-establish and foster wonder in the student, alternative classroom initiatives should be applied more liberally in universities to emphasize a more collaborative, hands-on way of grasping knowledge. In this way, it would be a more wholesome (practical and theoretical) learning approach.

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