Kids are sick and tired of traditional schools. This is no news. We ourselves lived through that and now, being adults, we know for sure:
- That we will never use (or even remember) at least 50% of what we studied
- That the remaining 50% could be divided into a 90% that we have also forgotten and a 10% that have stuck with us: that 10% represents the things that we loved or traumatized us when we were students.
Why do our children repeat an educational model that we know absurd? There is only one possible answer! Because we want them to win when playing at trivia games. There is no other explanation.
Curricula in schools includes topics such as: what is grown in this area, the tributaries of that river, what does Horsepower represent, the chemical composition of potassium sulfate … If we did not learn all that just to hit all the answers, why did we do it? Maybe just to not stay with our mouths open if someone asked us ‘What countries does the Orinoco River flow through?’ So it is completely clear now: our Education has been modeled to prepare us to answer questions that one day could be asked to us… or maybe never, but just in case…
However, when we finally finish school and go out to the real world, we find we are underprepared to what we need to face. The world expects from us lots of things we never heard of before:
- We had to know where to find the information we needed… Did we know? WE DID NOT
- We had to know how to interact with people of all backgrounds, cultural levels, and generations. Were we prepared? WE WERE NOT
- What about public speaking? Did we dare? WE DID NOT
- And what about speaking a foreign language… for real, not like a 5-years-old kid? Are you kidding? Of course, WE DID NOT
- Could we manage our economy and plan the best investments for us? Has anyone heard anything about this? WE DID NOT
- Were we able to take our own decisions, and pondered them, reasoning and defending why we took them? Do not make me laugh!
What we were taught was this: To parrot what the teacher said and forget everything just after the exam. Memorize without understanding. Repeat, repeat, and repeat, because if you do not understand it is because you have not repeated it enough times.
I remember entire afternoons trying to memorize the capitals of the Asian countries. Reciting over and over and over and over again. And the only thing I remember without the slightest doubt is “the capital of Georgia is Tbilisi” (the country, not the state!). Why do I remember that one specifically? Because my brother is called George and my ten-years-old brain seemed to find hilarious the ‘coincidence’. My brain was able to find in all that jibber jabber something that was connected with “my real world”, something I could understand, relate to myself and thus, successfully store forever.
The scientific term for this is ‘constructivism’. We find information, then analyze it with our tools and finally we form subjective judgments that affect this information and help us to process it and remember it. How we got to learn what we have learned becomes more important than what we have learned.
However, our school uses the ‘cognitive learning’ approach. Simplifying it works like this: you gather a lot of information, you put it on a shelf inside your head and ask your brain to find it when needed. So there are no related thinking processes, just storing. Exactly the way a computer works though we don’t have the ability to find as fast information stored 20 years ago…
This model would make perfect sense in a society with scarce access to information, where the only way to know something is to have previously memorized it because the nearest book is in a library 400km away. Is that the case nowadays?
The other usual model present in our education is ‘behaviorism’. This is basically how to teach a puppy to not pee on the carpet. Every time it does it, you hit it or shout at it so, out of fear, it eventually will stop doing it. We find a similar approach in our schools: every time you give the wrong answer to a question, you get a bad grade and, out of fear, you start studying harder.
In short: the current educational model treats our children (and us before them) as if they were animals living in the Seventeenth Century. Interesting…
To take a mundane example, let’s say you are in a cooking class learning how to cook an omelet. the recipe is clearly written on the blackboard and students are put to the task:
- The cognitivist teacher will not taste the tortilla, students will recite the recipe to see if they know it by heart including colons and semicolons positions.
- The behaviorist teacher will punish the careless student who didn’t put enough salt in his first tortilla.
- On the other hand, constructivist teachers will let students cook their tortillas and after that will have them explaining everything they went through. In their own words, students will describe the whole process, including problems faced and solutions taken, reasoning every step of the way.
There is still one more theory of learning called “connectivism“. It is the most modern theory and it adapts to the digital age. Using again the omelet as an example, each student is one member in a wide information network. The teacher is another member, the cooking book, another one and a YouTube video where Maria makes an omelet, another member. The important thing here is that the student learns to identify what type of information is each member of the network providing and what is the reliability of each one of them.
Maybe the students are more creative than the teacher, but most likely the teacher’s knowledge of the subject is higher. But perhaps the teacher only knows the theory and has not cooked an omelet in his entire life! And maybe Maria has experience but it is unclear what “a pinch of salt” is or how long you have to keep the omelet in the pan to obtain a “golden brown” color. Each member of the network or information source has its advantages and disadvantages and it is the student who must identify them and fill the gaps seeking appropriate sources.
Constructivist and connectivist theories have been around for years in educational experiments all over the world. Data show that learning is more effective, faster, deeper and involves less effort but achieves better results.
Why then institutions, parents and teachers are still resisting the change clinging to obsolete models?
What do we want our children to be in the future? … trivia winners?