The Guardian has a thoughtful article about how stagnant and irrelevant traditional education has become.
As someone living in the Third World where education, tradition and religion are still so strongly intertwined, this article hits me hard.
I agree that education, like any other social institution should be attuned with the changing times. But the reality is that, with few exceptions, the educational system worldwide has remained unchanged over the last 200 years. Patterned after the needs of an emerging Industrial Revolution, education was designed to provide skilled labor for the growing number of businesses. That’s why the focus has always been on the three R’s. That was all that was needed — basic reading, writing and mathematical skills — to run machines, count how much they yielded every day, label products, etcetera. College education was for the wealthy and government never took upon itself to provide it for free for everyone. Why? Because what was taught in college was non-essential to industrialization. Aristotle, Montesquieu and Shakespeare had no place in the factories.
The problem with the article in The Guardian is that although it acknowledges that education should be dynamic and relevant to the changing times, it does not seek to re-orient education to become anything more than what it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. It just says that businesses and employers require a different set of skills nowadays, so education should change in order that the needs of these businesses and employers can be efficiently met. In short, the change is superficial because education will still be nothing more than a training ground for skilled labor.
But shouldn’t education be more than that?
As parents of school-aged children, we saw the change coming and we embraced it. When everyone said it was bad to let young kids spend so much time on computers, we gave the girls their own laptops. We gave them cell phones and digital cameras too. In a world changing so fast, we wanted to give them a head start and we knew that school wasn’t going to give them that — especially not in a country where even teachers in private non-Catholic schools start their classes with Catholic prayers, require students to participate, and the school administration does not see anything wrong with it.
There was a time when we hoped that school would be a discovery ground, a place where our girls would find their real talents, where those talents would be encouraged and the girls could pursue them with passion. How wrong we were. School is a place where only certain talents are acknowledged. Those not comprehensible in the context of the very limited and even more limiting curriculum were ignored if not discouraged. In school, the only way to be considered talented is to excel in traditional subjects — the same ones that the article in The Guardian says have lost their relevance in today’s world.
Worse, school molds our children to be conformists. Once in a while, an inspiring teacher comes along who encourages kids to think and dream, and become visionaries. But these teachers are rare. Parents can only try to augment their kids’ education where the educational system so miserably fails.
It’s hard for parents to swim against the tide — to do what we feel is best even when the system says we’re mistaken. It’s always easier to take the path of least resistance and do with one’s kids everything that all other parents do with theirs. Follow the system, do as things have always been done, and be conformists. But then we wouldn’t be doing our job as parents if all we’re going to teach our girls is how to be conformists. We’d rather that they be visionaries.