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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

Why good education isn't good enough (2023 update)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The following article was my first blog post on another site back in 2017. Over time my views have changed somewhat, however the thrust of my article remains the same. Now that I work in a progressive online school, I can really see and even live a different form of education that really, truly strives to accept each student as they are and support them to their own objectives as much as possible. While the school is not perfect, it is a massive step up from traditional education which continues to be stuck in the past.

I can also see that my advice to parents was a bit preachy especially since I did not have a child of my own at the time, however now I do and can reflect on this advice. I still feel that educational change is necessary and could be scary for parents, but I truly hope that it will be coming in the future, but I am not so certain of this education revolution anymore.

In the past few months ChatGPT has opened the floodgates and some are calling it the death of high school English. Yet, while I don't know that it will necessarily go that far, it does call into question the idea of forcing students to write long essays for a teacher to mark. When students seek to understand and comprehensively learn about topics they are interested in, then they won't need to be forced into anything whether that is writing or producing an outcome product of some kind.

With the above in mind and that brief update from societal pressures confirming my beliefs that education needs to change. I will leave the original below to be considered and while it is not my best work to date, it does help to remind me - and all of us - that learning is a lifelong process and one we should be teaching students to embrace, not forcing them into.

The original 2017 blog post

Education. It is something we have all done at some stage. True, our experiences vary and some of us enjoy it more or less depending on our mentality, our teachers, the content being taught or our environment at the time. Education is one of those things that pervade our life in all aspects and at all times. Some people may wish to ignore it or decide that traditional education ‘isn’t for them’, that’s okay. It really isn’t for everyone.

'Some people may wish to ignore it or decide that traditional education ‘isn’t for them’, that’s okay. It really isn’t for everyone.'

In-fact the current education system that most countries use was mainly developed following the industrial revolution and hasn’t changed much since then. It was a way to push out graduates of a certain type; those who are typically good at their mathematics and science will tend to do well, as will those who can consistently write well. While these aren’t perfect indicators of success, the traditional subjects of English (writing and reading in any language – not just English itself), Mathematics, Science and Social (and historical) studies still dominant the educational landscape. The so-called classics of education.

So what we provide at the moment is a system design to train and develop academics. Those people who are likely to become university level professors or specialist professionals. That is the true endgame of education, as we know it. Now you may be wondering why this isn’t okay anymore? It worked for you (kind of) why won’t it work for your kids?

This kind of thinking can be just as dangerous as those who are afraid of change in education. I understand the parental drive to be concerned about education - no I don’t have children of my own - and yes, change in leadership or teaching practices if not led properly can be an issue. But if we don’t try new things we can’t go forward. It is unfortunately that simple, as with any field of study or invention to change the world, progress needs change.

Parents, if you are having this moment of change in a school your child is attending now and are concerned, here’s what to do.

1. Try not to worry; the educators at your schools are trained for this.

2. If you would like to get involved in helping to give feedback or voice possible concerns, then wait for the appropriate opportunities such as parent-teacher evenings or consultation nights when all the parents are asked to give feedback.

3. Ask your child about the changes, do they enjoy school more? Are the changes making sense?

4. See if you can help them with homework, if you can’t then perhaps you should be studying. This certainly isn’t a reflection on your knowledge as it really is true that each generation knows more and you might be surprised at your child’s level of sophistication in a given subject! Can you draw connections to real-world examples? (try and make the learning real).

5. If home schooling can be an option, then perhaps it is worth hiring an after-school home tutor, however being careful not to promote rote learning and finding a tutor who can make the learning interesting can be rather hard to do.

The danger with the home tutor is that they will work to teach your child ‘to the test’ rather than inspire them to learn. This is a very different situation and when I used to tutor students, the trick I used (since it was what I was good at) was to frame problems in an angle that made the student interested. If a student liked say music and wanted everything to do with anything related to be beats and bass, then I would know what to try and connect to. I could make up problems that were based on the frequency of rhythm in a song or the science behind sound movement. It’s all about learning about the student and their needs before launching into the content that they need to learn. It shouldn’t be so much about the content as to HOW to learn. This is so crucial; I don’t think I can stress it enough. If you teach a student how to love learning and how they learn, you’ve done them a bigger service then any other teacher can or might ever be able to do so. It’s all about the students; we want what’s best for them. So why are we teaching them mandatory content that we don’t need in the modern world?

It’s a sad fact that we still require certain points to pass subjects. How often do you need to use mathematics equations without a textbook (or probably Google) to back you up? How often will you need to write an essay from scratch in a 2 or 3 hour time window?! YOU PROBABLY WILL NOT. This is such a point of passion for me, we aren’t teaching students how to learn with tailored content because ‘the state’ or ‘the nation’ dictates that all students must know X, Y and Z, but adults don’t use X, Y or Z. So why are we teaching them it? The most common reasoning I hear is that the education system is too large to change, it’s too difficult. It won’t happen quickly. Well I’m here to tell you, that is fine, we are going to change it ourselves. Bit by bit and we are going to keep grinding away at this beast from classroom to classroom and from school to school in every state and every nation in the world until we have an environment that allows growth on a reasonable timescale. Until we reach an education system for students that is great, that is excellent and then brilliant, a system that is flexible and broad and inclusive. This isn’t about me yelling alone until I lose my voice, this has been a deep issue in the education community for years and I know this. But I refuse to believe that we can’t make significant change in the next 5 years, the next 10 or the next 20 years.

I believe in a sensational and encouraging schooling system that 99.5% of students will WANT to go to every morning or perhaps just be involved in. Maybe they won’t need to attend physically, but I believe that by 2035 we should have an education revolution and we should have moved onto the next educational era.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom, there are some absolutely sensational educators out there and some voices in the education community calling for change. The famous Sir Ken Robinson who has the most watch TED talk of all time, The education for change: Change for education manifesto by the council of Europe highlights how much of change we need and some of the issues that we currently face to improve this situation. While I’m not necessarily endorsing their suggestions for the future (as there are many other voices in the proverbial room), they all have the point in common that calling for change is crucial, for students now and for the following students.

I have recently been hearing of many great initiatives to help improve and essentially escape the traditional education system towards a broader and more balanced form of education for schools, which allows students the freedom to follow their passions. Options such as Makerspace initiatives – which are the current reincarnation of design tech with a twist (as a colleague of mine has phrased it) or so called: ‘town’ schools which operate as a small town would with students providing each other services and large amounts of project based learning. These kind of projects give hope for the education system going forward, a system which takes into account all types of learners.

The kind of people that education fails is those who have other kinds of intelligence then academic. While I am keenly aware that Gardener’s multiple intelligence theory has been disproven, there are critical points to consider from the work in that field. The theory of emotional intelligence and the ability of people to use their inter- and intra-personal skills to excel in life and their work environment. Humans by nature do tend to be emotion driven creatures and it has been seen that those of us who are better social interactors will tend to do better given time then our peers of the same academic intelligence (for example those with the same IQ).

'The kind of people that education fails is those who have other kinds of intelligence then academic.'

The point above makes me reminisce about my brother, who was never great in school; his drive lies in other areas. His social development and personal develop has largely happened beyond the boundaries of a classroom and a lot of his tutelage has come from ‘the school of life’. But it did not have to and it should not have had to. He is still young, but has now moved into a management role and is consistently the best salesman in the mid-sized company that he works at. This points towards a form of success that our schools are not teaching or perhaps in their current incarnation are incapable of teaching. While I am not suggesting in this post that we drop schools entirely (I’ll get to that in another blog post), there is something to be said for considering broad and harsh modification of the current schooling system.

Even those like myself who could be considered successful through schooling will sometimes struggle. I find it hard to pin down what I have wanted to do with my life (until more recently). I have had depression when I was younger, I have had issues with feeling out of place or feeling unintelligent compared to my peers. It has taken a lot of travel, self-reflection and personal learning to realise that my intelligence simply lies in different arenas then many of my genius science friends and I am better at education and helping others to learn. I am better at helping a student get that spark of understanding and pointing out the interdisciplinary connections in almost any science / mathematics / technology content I can get my hands on. These are areas that I excel at, but finding these skills of mine took time and development. This took me until I had finished my first four years at university before I figured this out. It is not a quick process and for most of us, it never is, finding our passions and a job or mission that drives us will be a life long struggle. For me, helping to improve the education system from where it is now, to a better situation in the future is the long-term goal and the mission I choose to set myself.

So we may have now reached the point of ‘good education’, but do any of us want to settle for that? Do any of us – feel that we have a good enough teaching system for the next generation? My hope is that, the answer will be a resounding NO! We need to keep going to see how we can innovate and work to improve education as we see it.

I won’t lie, I don’t have the answers for what the future of education should look like, but I suspect that the answers will come as we go forward with a willingness to accept change and try to develop the best solutions.

In summary, there’s three main points I’d like you to remember.

1. Innovation can be scary, but without it education will not grow and it will not get any better.

2. The best help we can give students is to help inspire them to learn. To develop their own drive for learning for it’s own sake. (NOT rote learning and memorisation).

3. Learning never finishes at the edge of a classroom or at the end of schooling. It’s a life choice.

Thanks for reading.

Ollie - Interdisciplinary Curriculum Developer and Educator

Cheers and stay curious -updated by Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist

(Note: This blog post was NOT generated by AI and is conceived, typed and uploaded by a real person.)

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