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Time to test what we think we know about education

Time to test what we think we know about education

Friday 9 September, 2016
Education in this country is backwards, as learning more than necessary is discouraged. I think it’s time we turn in our papers, and think for ourselves.
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In our society, so often information is confused with opinion, facts are replaced by beliefs and knowledge to many is “uncool”. News outlets are prostituting themselves with clickbait and consumer share-ability with the hopes of higher online traffic rather than informing the public of the stories that would affect their readers. And the worst thing is the news outlets are not to blame; we the people have made this bed, and shall lie in it. Politicians reject scientific consensus when it contradicts their personal political agenda. We can chisel upon the land in big bold letters, our motto “ignorantia sit beatitudo” – “ignorance is bliss.”

Our whole concept of knowledge is fundamentally flawed. We think the purpose of knowledge and education is to serve and grow the economy. Education has become less about equipping generations to explore the rich depths of humanity and the natural world through questioning, experimentation and exploration. Philosophy as a concept seems to have slowed and the whole notion of answering the unexplainable has condensed into the old joke: “The engineer asks ‘how can I build that?’ the scientist asks ‘how does it work?’ and the philosopher asks ‘do you want fries with that?’.” Education has become so intermixed with financial gain and personal profiteering that any convocation you have about any current study always, and I mean always, ends up with the question “what do you plan to do with that degree?”. When was it no longer enough to want to know more about the physical, spiritual, psychological and natural world without having to create a career around it? Yes I do understand that money can be exchanged for goods and services, and yes it appears that tertiary education is quite the expensive endeavour to undertake, but I don’t feel that the pursuit of knowing more, for the sake of knowing more should be discouraged.

This philosophy I believe starts young. Our education system is designed to equip our children with the skills to join the workforce so that the taxman can be paid and placated. Do not be fooled into thinking the purpose of the school system is to educate your child. Education in recent times has become about standardised testing and graded results to be used to empirically calculate the effectiveness of the educational institution. The problem with this model of education is that it is flawed and broken. The current flagships of education are literacy and numeracy. Are these important skills to learn in life? Probably, or you wouldn’t be reading this. These are the most easily marked because you either spell a word right/wrong or get the correct sum or not. One of the worst resources to be introduced to Australian education is NAPLAN. Studies into the negative effects of standardised testing are widely well known globally and demonstrate the detrimental effect it has on children by adding unnecessary stress to their lives, taking resources from class time to teach the test and having little focus on much more important life skills like creativity and inquisition.

When their parents buy them drums, their excuse changes to being too busy to practise. That drum kit bought for an apathetically unmotivated child is exponentially worth more than the yearly wage of the majority of people around the world.

It is not bad for students to feel a sense of achievement from gaining a good mark on an exam, but as parent, please don’t think that schools use these exams because they are the best way to assess your child. It is just the easiest way with the most minimal amount of effort required. The written test was made popular in England when Cambridge University had the clever idea that if they could create standardised assessments then they would be able to enrol more students to their campus and therefore make more money = fun fact. This has been the most utilised unchanging form of assessment for at least the last 400 years. How can you effectively critique the creativity of a child? Or even quantify the scope of divergent thinking of an individual?

When I ask any of my students “Are mistakes a bad thing?” the response is consistently the same. A shyly timid answer of “Yes” always escapes their lips. The first thing we learn at a young age is to never make mistakes. Mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. Parents try and “protect” their children from experiencing mistakes. Parents will do their child’s homework and assessments to stop them from receiving a poor grade at school. Grades have become more important than inquisition. Without the mistake, there is no effective learning.

I have had the privilege of teaching music around the world. I have seen firsthand non-Western countries that truly respect and honour education. In Vietnam, children will spend their summer selling pirated photocopied books to Westerners so that they can afford the tuition so sorely needed to better their lives. In other countries, the punishment for a simple mistake for a child may be a beating or worse; in Australia, the majority of the time it is simply a lesser mark at school. We take what we have for granted. One of the phrases that saddens me whenever I hear it is, “I hate school, my favourite subject is lunch.” For starters, lunch isn’t a subject and that just proves how much you need a better education, you ignorant-sheltered child. With my music tuition, I have 8-year-olds first telling me they can’t practise drums because they don’t have drums. When their parents buy them drums, their excuse changes to being too busy to practise. You are eight, you do nothing. That drum kit bought for an apathetically unmotivated child is exponentially worth more than the yearly wage of the majority of people around the world. Look at the Landfill Orchestra. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Imagine a society where knowledge was actually valued and respected above all other things. Politicians would be held responsible for their falsities. Climate change deniers like Malcolm Roberts in the face of scientific evidence from Professor Brian Cox that’s based on the 97 percent consensus of the global scientific community, would have no platform to stand upon. To just try and summarise the audacious and unequivocal lies Trump has spewed forth on his journey to the Whitehouse, frankly, baffles any reasonable person’s mind. We do need reformatory changes to our education systems on a national level, but even more than that, we need a paradigm shift in our collective conscience. The smart kid at school shouldn’t be bullied and labelled a nerd. Parents shouldn’t place an unreasonable expectation of perfection and genius on their children. Education shouldn’t be geared towards exams and standardised tests. We shouldn’t take for granted the opportunities afforded to us to be better-educated in our lives.

Only when we don’t learn from mistakes are they detrimental.

Knowledge shouldn’t be feared. Knowledge (forgive the use of a cliché but it exists for a reason,) is power.

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