Teachers, parents, thinkers – are you questioning the education system that’s preparing your kids for their future? How can today’s schooling better cater to the modern social and technological context?
“We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”
So goes the anthem of Pink Floyd’s 1979 hit “Another Brick in the Wall“, whose lyrics call for individuality and intellectual freedom.
The film, The Dead Poet’s Society, which was released ten years later, became famous for the character, Professor Keating’s line,
“Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary,”
essentially, a plead for his students to aspire to be bigger than the system.
Give it some Thought
What about more recent works of art? Are today’s artists and thinkers still pleading for the education system to realise our children’s fullest potential and not confine them to outdated systems?
They are, indeed.
In Prince Era’s insanely thought-provoking poetry slam, I Just Sued the School System, he puts modern day schooling on trial for “turning millions of people into robots” and accuses it of telling kids what to think. The artwork is part of his movement: Make ‘SMART’ Cool (SMART: Sophisticating Minds And Revolutionizing Thought)
The slam is so brilliant that you should watch it right this very instant.
An Ancient Institution that has Outlived its Usage
When you type ‘modern schooling’ into your search engine, you’ll get hits like “We need more practical knowledge…” or “Education needs to change as fast as technology”. The latter title is from a 2014 Forbes article in which Zach Sims states that,
“It’s time for education to catch up with our technologically enhanced society. Students deserve a relevant, modern, customized education that helps them acquire 21st-century skills.”
We’re now in 2018, our technology is as updated as can be, yet the education system we plant our children in is operating the same way it did before the era of modern technology. The very system supposedly designed to prepare our children for the (21st century) future. Mind you, the worry isn’t exclusively about the engagement with modern technology inside the classroom, but about adapting the style and structure of teaching so it supports our modern day context and the skill sets students need for life after school.
So what are 21st Skill sets?
Well, apart from not letting your roasted peanuts burn to the point of carcinogenic pebbles (which, once again, I let happen 10 minutes ago), it’s become popular to condense the four most important 21st Century skills into the “4 C’s”. They are:
- Communication (e.g. technology, people skills)
- Collaboration (e.g. teamwork, management skills)
- Critical Thinking (e.g. problem-solving, leadership)
- Creativity (e.g. innovation, entrepreneurship)
What it comes down to is that modern-day schooling needs to shift its focus and weigh down more heavily on these 4 foundational skills, and moreover, to do so by encouraging the individuality of each student in the classroom.
Teachers, Listen Up
“Everybody is a genius. If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
– Albert Einstein
If we want to educate our kids to be innovators, creators and leaders, we have to stimulate them in a way that appeals to each individual. That kid on ADHD meds might just be a Dory in a class of Nemos, easily distracted. If it was your kid, you’d probably want them to have a Dory-friendly teacher. We need to make an effort to adapt our teaching so that it appeals to the restless one, the problematic one and to the straight-A one…
The Pursuit of Creativity
To get some more hands-on advice for teachers, I chatted to Dani van Zyl, a BEd graduate from the Centre for Creative Education with a degree in Waldorf education. Dani specializes in Rudolf Steiner anthropology, which regards creativity as an indispensable teaching tool and aims for a more connected way living.
Check out her insights:
What is Waldorf education & how did it originate?
“This Waldorf teaching approach is very hands-on, spiritual (though not necessarily religious) and intellectual. Most importantly, it’s creative. Creative teaching inspires children to want to learn. It’s about conscious learning and loving that inspires people and children to be more empathetic and have more reverence for their surroundings.”
What’s the practical foundation of the Waldorf approach?
“The approach really encourages teachers to teach the individuals that sit in our classroom.
Lessons are based on a three-level system:
You want the children to feel something. You want to send them home to think, but also do work, thus making concrete what was taught in class. Many people also know this as, ‘heart, head and hands learning.’
As the teacher, you need to identify the child’s personality and their emotional, physical and intellectual development and teach to both their strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to be challenged but also feel capable, to understand what is being taught but also stretch their minds.”
What sorts of classroom activities are there?
“There is singing, moving, storytelling, poetry, intellectual stimulation and lots of stuff to do. This form of education empowers children to be individuals and the curriculum speaks to child development.”
What do you consider the main problem in modern day schooling?
“The main problem in today’s modern teaching is the ‘teacher’. If the teacher is not inspired to teach, the children will never be inspired to learn. A teacher can take any curriculum and ‘add colour’, interest, fun, movement, challenges to create stimulating and reachable lessons for the children to grasp.
Children are being taught like sheep, to all be productive citizens who are all equipped with the same skills to go out in the world and think the same. They have all gone through a system which they hate. Instead, children should be inspired to find out what they love – be it Maths or English or Art.”
What do you feel should be the core focus of schooling?
“The core focus of schooling should be creating lessons which students want to be in. Lessons which inspire them to learn no matter what subject. It’s up to the teacher to do this, to ignite sparks in the children, and that teach them truths about the world. This is what makes them want to learn and think creatively.”
What about keeping up with modern day technology?
“I don’t think keeping children up to date with technology at school is terribly important. They’ll learn about that regardless. It’s more important to teach them about what’s around them when they aren’t sucked up into a screen.
Children are so lost behind the screen nowadays, they don’t even know how to connect to other human beings, how to write, how to read. I’m not saying that technology shouldn’t be incorporated, but some countries have even taken handwriting out of the curriculum because it’s all done on an iPad. Handwriting, movement, and reading are so important because they create synapses and connections in the brain.”
If you are a teacher, or perhaps studying towards a BEd, try to think of how you might apply some of these tips to your teaching.
“We as teachers need to draw on all children’s capabilities and teach them to value what’s within them and others around them.”
– Dani van Zyl
How can you focus more on the 4 C’s, on catering to all personalities and talents that are looking at you, and how can you shape your class content to be creative and stimulating, so that you are not just producing more bricks in the wall.
If you related to the Waldorf approach and would like to read up a little bit on this teaching philosophy, check out South African Federation of Waldorf Schools.