Our school system is antiquated; it's time for a change (Part 1)

We've made tremendous progress in the last 150 years; however, the way we learn in schools didn't change much.

3 years ago   •   6 min read

By Vladimír Záhradník
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

It’s more than eight years since I left the university, and I feel now that I’m able to take a look at our school system with a distance. I will talk about the education system in Slovakia, which I know best, but I’m sure you’ll find many parallels with the school systems in your countries. In this first part, I will talk about the things which bothered me when I was a student.

Let’s memorize the world, shall we?

When I came into the elementary school, I remember the day when our teacher told us to memorize the multiplication table on the math class like it was yesterday. I came home that day and asked my mom why I need to remember this thing. I couldn’t understand that. She explained to me that it would help me to do simple multiplications from my head without pen and paper (or a calculator), and I accepted her answer. After all, for me, she was an authority.

Image by Наталия Когут from Pixabay

Later I appreciated to memorize the table, but there were just many more things to remember, which I don’t think are useful to keep in my head to this day! For example, we have lists of selected words, which contain the letter y, e.g., Bystrica. Why do we need to learn them? Frankly, I don’t know to this day. Every language has specific rules and many exceptions to them. By memorizing a few hundred words, we don’t learn to write without mistakes.

Other subjects were not different. On Literature classes, we had to memorize poems or the list of authors from each era and the books they wrote. On our German lessons, we had to periodically learn lists of certain words, on our History class we had to memorize dates and years when certain events happened. To this day, I remember the Battle of Mohács occurred in 1526. What was the reason for the conflict? I don’t know, but I know the year!

Foreign languages are hard to learn!

That was the feeling I had back then. I learned German for about eight years, and now I’m better in English, which I learned many years later during a much shorter time. Not to mention, I had to learn Latin, because my school had its roots in Collegium statuum evangelicorum superioris Hungariae, a school with a long tradition and famous graduates. I remember to this day the first sentence our Latin teacher, Mr. Pribula, told us.

Latin language — a dead language! — František Štefan Pribula, 1998

He wrote it also on the blackboard to emphasize this message. Why should I learn the lingua franca of the past, Latin, instead of the lingua franca of today, which is English?

Image by Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay

I knew the importance of learning English, and as soon as I could, I took it as a non-compulsory subject. My brother and I, along with other classmates, had to wake up early to be at 7 AM sharp already at school learning. All these languages made me feel they are hard to learn. Later I found much more effective ways to learn foreign languages, and I will get to them, but I bet almost no school applies such techniques to this day!

Our teachers changed frequently

During my time at school, our teachers changed often. In eight years, we had like four Math teachers, three Chemistry teachers, three German language teachers, perhaps three or four Religion education teachers, two Physics teachers, two History teachers, and two Biology teachers. All of them taught differently, and all of them had different standards. I remember having a D from Math at the end of the term and suddenly having an A from a different teacher one semester later. I didn’t change, the teachers and their way of teaching have. One of them couldn’t correctly explain the concepts, the other one could and did!

University follows the wrong education practices

When I got into university, I didn’t feel the school works differently. There were just more people in the class, but fundamentally the school worked the same, inefficient way as the schools on the lower levels. Most of our universities don’t show in the world university rankings. I believe you can get a decent education here only if you study the STEM fields, which is because our schools go far more into teaching advanced Math stuff than western universities. I can relate based on what the people of the Erasmus program program told after they studied abroad for one semester.

Image by Nikolay Georgiev from Pixabay

The parallels with lower-level schools are in place — the professors write up some gibberish on the table, often don’t explain it adequately, and you need to learn the stuff (or memorize it) by yourself. Still, ultimately, you’ll figure it out, and you gain the understanding. If you wonder why so many startups have their branches in Slovakia, one of the reasons is because they know they’ll get quality engineers for a relatively low wage. Also, a decent number of people from my country working in FANG companies shows that our STEM education is still proper. But we can do so much better!

After I graduated the university, I didn’t get Magna or Summa Cum Laude and yet I had a feeling that I know more than the people who accomplished this. I learned new stuff regularly, and I tried to come with efficient ways how to learn. After I graduated, I had a strong feeling that all the knowledge I gained besides my study of Telecommunications was more worth it. I regard only my master’s thesis because I learned to apply the knowledge to come up with something new, to write my accomplishments in a document, which is longer than a couple of pages, and I learned to cooperate with other people while working on it. Albeit worth it, I doubt it’s an effort worth five years of your own life.

Schools don’t prepare the students for real life

What’s the point of sacrificing 9 to 20 years in schools, if you come unprepared for the real world? Those are also the most critical years of your life, where your mind works at its peak. These years have an impact on the rest of your life. In a recent video, Robert Kyiosaki talks about his Rich Dad from the Rich Dad Poor Dad book. If you don’t know the book, his Rich Dad was the dad of his friend who took Robert as his protégé. He taught Robert how money works in real life and how to become successful after understanding this ultimately.

In the video, Robert talks about how his Rich Dad had to drop school early to take care of the family and the business. What seemed to be a misfortune, at first sight, showed up as a blessing very quickly. Instead of spending hours listening to the teachers of the academic world, his teachers were accountants, lawyers, and other people who know the real world better. At the time of my age, he already built an empire. He used the time well.

Sometimes I have a feeling, and I’m not alone, that the schools don’t want to raise well-educated, self-thinking students. Instead, they educate obedient future workers and employees, often lacking critical thinking. We see this every day on social networks, during elections, and on many other occasions. Many people aren’t capable of finding the truth and doing actual fact-checking from multiple sources because nobody told them how they should do it. Instead, they count on somebody else to do the work for them, and they accept the information often without a doubt.

Also, today we’re facing a world where there’s just too much information, and we need to effectively search in tons of books, articles, blogs and use the information to our advancements.

I won’t discuss why schools work the way they do. It’s not the subject of this post. Instead, I want to lay down my opinion on how the school system should work.

Next time, I will briefly talk about advancements in understanding how our brain works and the advent of e-learning. If you have some thoughts on this subject, feel free to comment. The discussion is the way how to move forward.

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