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Our school system is antiquated. It's time for a change! Part 3

We've made tremendous progress in the last 150 years; however, the way we learn in schools didn't change much.
Vladimír Záhradník
December 15th, 2019 · 7 min read

In the first part, I covered what bothered me as a student; in the second part, I briefly presented modern learning techniques and discussed the revolution of e-learning. In this final part, I will give my vision of the school system of the future.

My vision for the learning of tomorrow

This blog post was in my mind for a longer time. Some time ago, I summarized my thoughts in a discussion to the topic on Facebook, and a few weeks later on LinkedIn.

I don’t agree that people should learn inefficiently for so many years. It’s a colossal waste. Today, almost everyone goes to university, and if they don’t pick the right field, they will be unemployed, or they will work somewhere where their diploma isn’t needed. I know many people who work in different areas than they studied. Our society, however, expects this higher level of education from everyone; it became a standard.

Thirty years ago, when you were a Master of Science and had a degree, you were highly regarded in society. Only a fraction of the population studied, and they were the best of the best. Today, if you don’t have a degree, you are despised by the people. We should change that perception; a university degree should not be compulsory for everyone! We have alternatives.

Elementary and high schools

After you read about my own experience in the first part, you should see the problems of schools from my perspective.

In my opinion, students should:

  • Be able to read and write
  • Know at least one foreign language, preferably English
  • Have solid foundations in Math
  • Be ready to socialize among other schoolmates
  • Know how to sort, filter and verify information from multiple sources quickly
  • Form their own opinions based on facts from various sources (i.e., be able to think critically)
  • Know how to present their views (what I had to learn years later in my local Toastmasters club)
  • (Most importantly) be taught how to learn efficiently based on our latest knowledge
Kids
Image by klimkin from Pixabay

I believe that all the skills mentioned above can be taught within five years, maybe sooner. And I also think that these skills are more than sufficient. What’s tragic is that today students don’t learn most of these skills. They spend years learning something that they don’t need.

If you take a look at the list carefully, I dropped all the subjects like Literature and History. It’s because of two reasons: If people learn how to learn and process information, they should grasp these topics by themselves later if they want. They can study History or Literature, but it shouldn’t be mandatory for everyone. The second reason is that teaching subjects like History is always biased. You need to follow given textbooks, and the teacher has his own beliefs too. You can never avoid that altogether. Through my study of History, I often came to some facts, which nobody mentioned in the classes. Sometimes new information can change the perspective on the person or event completely.

History Is Written by the Victors

The truth is, if we didn’t face the events directly, we’d never have an objective look at them. Also, if we encounter the events directly, we interpret them subjectively, as did the people who wrote the chronicles. But if we know how to validate the information and read about the events from multiple sources, we actually can have the least biased picture possible. However, we should be the one who puts all the pieces together, independently from the teacher.

Students should learn foreign languages, like English, practically, as I mentioned in the second part. You can teach the foreign languages even more efficiently, with virtual reality to reinforce the senses of students, but the Netflix way is still far better than what we see in schools today; and it’s more fun, too!

STEM
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Math and STEM don’t have a place for bias. Countless experiments and mathematical proofs create the foundations on which we build our society. Therefore, everyone should learn at least the basics. However, they should learn them so that everyone understands the concepts. If we teach students properly, they can later study anything by themselves.

The ability to present your work or opinions publicly is also one of the keys to success. This blog post is better than the previous ones. I learn by doing, and I observe how you, the readers, like my content. Similarly, you can’t become a public speaker within a day. Countless expensive workshops try to teach you to speak publicly in a day or two, but from my experience, it’s not possible. It took me two years to gain enough confidence to speak freely and to share my thoughts in front of people. The students can practice this skill day-by-day, and by the time they leave school, they will be ready.

Public speaking
Image by Irina L from Pixabay

Socializing is also very important. You can learn that only by doing it. Maybe this is the most important thing you’ll learn in school. The whole world works on social relations and personal networks of friends and acquaintances. You may have the feeling that the machines and AI will rule the world, but they are just tools. From my experience, our society still works on relationships. Think about it: Would you attend a conference taught by a machine? I doubt it.

The rest of the points should be pretty straightforward. My point is to gather our latest knowledge about how the brains work and teach students effective learning techniques to help them.

If students learn only the skills mentioned above, they will already be better prepared for practical life than many are today! However, let’s think further. Dropping all the useless stuff allows the students to dedicate their time to what they like. If they want to learn Latin, we should let them do this. Similarly, if they prefer to learn English, they should learn that! Their brains work best just when they are young, and they should be part of the decision on how to seize their brainpower in their best interest.

The advent of e-learning

With solid foundations, I believe the students should further learn from the best teachers out there. Best teachers from the whole world. Platforms like Coursera already proved how well it works. I learned more applied knowledge on platforms like Coursera than in my schools. Teachers should just assist the students and help them better understand the topics. This approach will significantly eliminate the effect of sub-par teachers in your local school.

E-learning
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

E-learning is excellent if we do it properly. Our schools use e-learning courses in their classes, but often it’s sub-par in terms of quality. The providers of the e-learning programs should be independent of the state and should compete to prepare the best educational materials possible.

If we look at the existing projects out there, Khan Academy is an excellent resource for the students of elementary and high schools. Instead of creating something from scratch, maybe we could adapt the courses from this academy and provide them to the students. English may be a bottleneck for the students, but Khan Academy supports the translation of the materials on a volunteer base. What if instead of volunteers (like me), the state would hire professional translators and consultants to make sure the content is localized correctly and without mistakes?

If the students accomplish what’s in Khan Academy, they can proceed to higher education on Coursera, edX, or anywhere they like. They should be free to choose from many providers. The goal of teachers should be to help and assist the students. It is more than enough.

Elementary and high school education should be free of charge!

Let me demonstrate the power of e-learning with very recent news from Finland. The University of Helsinki published a free online course on artificial intelligence for all European citizens. Over time, this course will be available in all official EU languages. We should take it as an example worth following.

Another example comes from MIT. This technological institute heavily uses e-learning for many of its classes. MIT runs its custom instance of the edX platform, where teachers publish lectures and materials. Consultations with the students happen in person. Best of the two worlds! Other schools should take this as an example.

What about specialized study programs?

Believe me, I thought about it. High school study programs like electrical engineering, microelectronics, and health service require to teach some skills practically. Students need to grab a soldering iron and use it so that they can safely operate it in the future. They can’t learn it from videos. However, even in these cases, we can use e-learning to assist with teaching.

Students of these programs would also be taught the basics like Math. However, after accomplishing all the necessary skills, they won’t be able to choose what to study next through e-Learning freely. Instead, their school will allocate part of their time to teach them necessary practical skills for the profession. The rest of the time will the students use to gain a theoretical background for the future job, and they will also have some time to study whatever they want.

People in Slovakia go to school at the age of 6 or 7 and reach adulthood when they are 18-years old. That’s 12 years! Plenty of time to learn all the necessary skills, specialized skills, even skills, which are taught at the universities today. At the age of 18, they should be prepared for their profession or start their own companies if they wish.

Universities

If we stick to my vision, the universities would still exist, but they wouldn’t teach what the students can learn in high schools through e-Learning and other means. It will, among other things, significantly reduce the cost of education for the individuals. They won’t have massive debt above their heads after they finish their school. Universities should be attended primarily by the students who want to dedicate their lives to research and academia.

Books
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Often, great inventions come from the universities. However, for most people, maybe 80 percent, online education and the knowledge gained in lower level education should be enough.

Everyone should be allowed to apply to the university, and the university should accept the students who qualify. The bar for admitting the students should be set reasonably high. Today, our universities take money for each student they have and therefore are motivated to accept most of the applicants. This is fundamentally wrong. Also, many study programs seem useless to me. I don’t want to be the judge of what to keep and what to cancel, but we should have a way of assessing the study programs, their quality and benefits for the society.

Universities make the most sense to me to teach students of the medical profession or future architects. These fields are highly specialized, and I acknowledge the need to learn the knowledge at the university. However, these fields are an exception, and we should handle the study of these fields as such.

Students should pay for university education. We should provide scholarship programs to students who meet the criteria.

Conclusion

I realize that my views on the future of schools and education are idealistic. However, I think that going towards that direction is the right thing to do. To transform an antiquated school system takes years and the will of the elected representatives who govern your country. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If this blog post sparks a discussion, it’s a decent start. Feel free to leave a comment; I’m pretty much interested in all opinions, notably different than mine. Because this is the key to critical thinking, which is needed in today’s world more than ever.

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