Historically, the concept of education involved the sharing of knowledge and values between people. This form of education ensured that valuable knowledge was promulgated within a society, from one society to another, and from generation to generation. It focused on the importance of culture and taught skills needed to positively contribute to society through hands-on learning and observation. Children were given the freedom to explore on their own because this supported their natural ways of learning. Moreover, it bolstered unity as the teachers were always members of the same community that they were teaching. We would not be aware of countless facets of history, such as the Egyptian civilization, the Mesopotamian civilization, and the Hunter-gatherer culture if this form of education did not exist.
So how did it all go wrong?
The popularisation of the standardised education system as we know it today, in which children are corralled into classes based on their age and study in institutions known as schools, can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays, it is suitably referred to as the “one shoe fits all approach to education” and the “factory model of education”. However, if we consider the prevailing socio-economic conditions of that time, creating a standardised education system was ineluctable and economically beneficial.
Schools were tasked with transforming their attendees from students to efficient workers who would eventually increase the quantity and quality of the labour force. The need to encourage unique skills and individuality did not exist as students would grow up to do monotonous and regulated work. As Alvin Toffler put it “the whole idea of assembling masses of students (raw material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of industrial genius”. At the time, it was thought that the best to produce efficient workers was through the teaching of certain subjects that curricula makers deemed “crucial” using the same method and pace for all students. Students were compelled to utilize rote learning and take graded exams that decided their “intelligence” and potential in life.
The egregious problem arises when we notice that schools continue to espouse this myopic view on education even after over a hundred years. A hundred years ago, things like the radio, jet engines, helicopters, credit cards, car seat belts, personal computers, smartphones, and the internet did not exist. In a world that undergoes major transformations constantly, how can we be satisfied with this archaic and pernicious education system in the 21st century?
In today’s world of modernity, complexity, fastidiousness, globalization, and innovation, the flaws of our education system are more conspicuous than ever. No two students are the same. This monolithic and iniquitous system neglects the fact that students have different skill-sets, they learn at different paces, they come from different backgrounds, and wish to pursue different careers in their lives. Undoubtedly, there are numerous instances in which students benefit from and even thrive in the current education system. There are also countless children that long to go to school but don’t have the opportunities or resources to do so. However, there are too many instances in which students, despite arduous effort, struggle in and are lobotomized by this sclerotic education system. They are made to feel inadequate. They are made to believe that they are “slow” and will always flounder.
Students acquiescently regurgitate vast amounts of information on exams with minimal innovation. These exams, more often than not, test the memorization skills of students, rather than serve as a platform on which they can showcase their understanding of a concept. Students who do well in these exams have the hubristic belief that they are “winners” because society says so and those who don’t do well are humiliated and considered “losers” by society. While it is understood that learning requires the amassing and retention of information, any information that is not understood becomes an undigested burden. The misconception that good grades are the only path to success causes unnecessary pressure on students.
The strictures imposed by this education system curtails creativity and originally. Concurrently, it encourages conformity, rigidity, and conventionality. It assiduously ignores essential modern-day lessons, such as financial literacy, life skills, mental health, critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, and countless others. This results in students feeling disconcerted when they face the precarious reality of after-school life. It provides students with a series of conclusions, rather than a way of thinking.
To truly change this standardised educational system, we have to abandon the ostensible idea that it is still a product of logical necessity or scientific insight. The hunter-gatherers adapted their education system to their needs. The education system was modified to cater to the needs of the industrial revolution. Likewise, our education system must change too so that students can truly be prepared for the future. This will certainly alleviate any antipathy held by students towards education and will make education and learning synonymous again.