Our school system is antiquated; it's time for a change (Part 2)

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

3 years ago   •   5 min read

By Vladimír Záhradník

After quite some time since I left the university, I feel that I finally have some distance over the education system in Slovakia. I’m positive that the readers from other countries will find many similarities to their school systems as well. In the first part, I talked about what bothered me when I was a student. Today I would like to discuss the advancements in understanding how our brain works and the advent of e-learning.

The book that changed everything

One day I was browsing the books in a bookstore when I found a book Ovládněte svůj mozek (literally “Master your brain”) by some Czech author, Libor Činka. He wrote there that our brain is the most powerful thing we have, and we don’t know how to get the maximum out of it, because nobody taught us that. He compared our brain with a PC and the operating system installed in it. I found out about effective memory techniques, speed reading techniques, what works and what doesn’t.

Ovládněte svůj mozek (Master your brain) by Libor Činka

For example, there are three kinds of people — visual types, the types who absorb information mostly through sounds, and the people who need to feel things. I learned that anybody could tell what type the other person is just by listening to him/her speaking carefully for a couple of minutes. “I see you’re good at math!”; “I heard you were at Wendy’s yesterday,” or “I felt something went wrong with the machine.” Anybody uses these words in their speech, but visual types tend to speak in a manner where they say words associated with seeing, etc. By the way, I’m a visual type, based on the test in the book.

People don’t know how to learn.

Different personalities need different methods to learn efficiently. Do we take it into account in schools? I don’t think so. John Amos Comenius came with a book called Schola Ludus (School by Play) in 1630. According to him, we should teach children by playing games. They will have an intense experience doing it, and they will remember it.

Do you read a book right now? Imagine, can you tell what wrote the author on page 40? If you don’t have an eidetic memory, I doubt it. This time think about your Vacation with your family. I bet you can see your memories as a color movie. Even if not, I still feel that you remember it very well, although the recollection is a few years old!

John Amos Comenius. Source: Wikipedia (public domain)

John Comenius wrote the book almost 400 years ago, and yet schools don’t teach this way. Also, the grading system is simply wrong! If you write a test and you know that you need to have a good grade, you’ll be under stress, even if you have prepared yourself. The pressure is not right for remembering and storing things. If you’re under stress, can you remember some information you need right now? Even if you do, it takes you probably much longer than if you were not stressed. I remember how often I experienced stress in my school years. If we know it’s maleficent, we should do something to ease the pressure of the children, shouldn’t we?

As I read the book, I realized that many techniques described there I discovered by accident. For example, I liked the TV series The Tudors very much, even if I knew it wasn’t historically accurate. Each time I watched a new episode, I went to Wikipedia to read about the real events, and I compared them with what I saw in the TV series. You’ll be surprised how efficient this method is, and I discovered it by accident. To this day, I know the history of the rulers of Great Britain in more depth than an average citizen of the United Kingdom. I have the visual sense from the series, and by comparing and learning the differences from the real events, I also remember these.

Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay

If you want to learn a new language, do you know what the most effective way is besides actually going abroad? If you watch Netflix with subtitles, you’ll learn the foreign language at a more rapid pace than in your school, guaranteed! Start by watching the show in English with subtitles in your native language. Later, start watching shows with English subtitles and, after some time, turn the subtitles off. This approach works for any language, not just English.

When you play online games, and you need to chat with your opponents, you also learn the language efficiently. Recently I heard on Quora about the shadowing technique. First, you’ll listen to a line in English spoken by your favorite character in a TV series, and then you pause the show and try to repeat the sentence, also with an accent. After some time, you should be more fluent when speaking and you’ll talk closer to a native. I will try this technique and probably write a blog post sometime in the future.

The important thing is that almost no school uses these techniques, which proved to be efficient. Instead, you learn a language for years and speak worse than someone who is half a year abroad.

The e-learning revolution

In 2011, I discovered the MIT OpenCourseWare, and it blew me away! Suddenly, I had access to the lectures of probably the best teachers in the world. A year later, MIT launched its online learning platform, edX, and I was one of their first students. Harvard course CS50x is legendary now; hundreds of thousands of people took it. I took the first class ever launched with the course. In many ways, edX, Coursera, and other platforms revolutionized the way people learn these days.

Creators build their e-learning courses as interactive segments. First, they teach you new information in short videos, and then you immediately apply the knowledge in the parts that follow. It is much closer to how our brain works.

According to the MIT study, students learned more in an online course than in a traditional classroom. Teachers achieved the best results among students taught with an interactive engagement pedagogy, i.e., they learned the stuff online and were able to discuss the material with real teachers along the way.

The data is clear. Nevertheless, we think that sitting in a traditional classroom is better for us, and we pay more for the experience. Instead, we should shift towards e-learning. Thanks to the Internet, we’re able to learn from the best teachers anywhere in the world. We are not limited anymore to the teachers in our local schools, who may not even know how to teach. I met great teachers for sure, but as a student, you don’t have that guarantee. This profession is overly underpaid, and I know a lot of teachers who work in IT now. Who teaches the kids, then? Often, the people for which teaching is a lifelong mission or the people who weren’t able to find a better job. Not good!

We should strive to level-out the differences irrespective of the school you were lucky to be in!

That’s it for today! Next time I will introduce my vision of the school system of the future, prepared for the 21st century. Feel free to leave a comment. Thanks, and I hope to see you next time for the third and final part!

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