Old School

Have our schools kept up with the needs of the world we live in?

How should we best educate the next generation?

Both of my children are primary school age and we’ve just read their school reports. One of those moments you realise how blessed you are as a parent. It’s fair to say I was pretty emotional.

Their potentials are unlimited.

It also made me appreciate their teacher’s hard work. There is so much detail in what they do, regardless of their ability. After school, my kids aren’t always very descriptive about their day. I hear all about PE or the playground drama but they don’t seem to remember their lessons. I’m not always filled with confidence in the eduction they receive but it turns out they are covering much more than I thought. Schools aren’t perfect at all, but that isn’t usually down to the work ethic of teachers. Unfortunately, working as hard as they do doesn’t make up for the shortfalls in the system as a whole. Teachers are frontline representatives of an out dated institution.

Schools make a vital contribution but are not actually responsible for educating our children. We are.

It’s our job to make sure our children grow and excel. I do maths, spelling and general knowledge tests with both my kids to the standard I think they should be at. But I think it’s important to challenge their learning beyond school subjects and exam results. Relying on schools to develop the next generation is just delegating our most important task. How personalised can their education be in traditional classrooms?  Is there adequate attention given to children who have potential outside of the box? Qualifications are often dependent on strict guidelines. Regurgitating facts and figures and the ability to answer standardised questions are very limited measures of competence. Any institution solely focussed on these is no longer fit for purpose.

We have to constantly evaluate what, and how, our children should be learning.

Going to school should be about the exploration and application of knowledge. More importantly, it needs to be about self expression and individuality. A recollection of information is impressive but is, unfortunately, a skill that isn’t worth as much as it used to be. For our children, knowing their times tables is simply less important than more human expertise. A machine can understand a request and give a relevant response as quickly as a human can. Although they are currently limited by what we know, they are sophisticated enough to have access to the sum total of human knowledge. Something that we have never achieved individually. As they are developed, their reasoning and problem solving will improve to match ours but, at the moment, these are the attributes our education systems should be focusing on.

If school taught my kids how to think outside the box and apply communication, logic and empathy to real life issues with less focus on reeling off numbers in sequence then I would be delighted.

I’m concerned, instead, that schools are aware of the need to move on from the old way of doing things but are too under-resourced to ensure the relevant skills are instilled in the next generation. There seems to be a desire to step away from traditional schooling but a slow, rigid, unimaginative approach to doing so. If schools are struggling to develop the skillset that is out of reach of today’s artificial intelligence, we will be scrambling when our creations are equipped to carry out problem solving tasks as well as we can.

When machines can replicate our ability to think, our children will have to master their unique capacity to feel and create.

This educational shift change cannot be left up to our school system. It is a job for all of us. Do we value innovation or do we prioritise the ability to repeat information? Do we focus on compassion or do we continue to celebrate outdated measures of intelligence? A solid understanding of maths, for example, will always be crucial. However, the ability to understand ever-changing forms of information and the habit of continuous learning are becoming more important than any particular subject – at a much earlier age. Schools will always be relevant as an environment to nurture and stretch the potential of humanity. Higher education, particularly, will continue be the main driver of human progress and excellence. In their current form, however, they are almost obsolete. Lessons should encourage and cultivate our children’s Empathy and build on their imagination and artistry. Communication and Flexibility should be held in the highest regard as a way of ensuring they are able to contribute to the human experience long after we have accepted artificial intelligence is truly smarter than us. A machine can tell you any information you want to know and will one day be able to use that information to solve problems and create solutions. But our abilities to dream, socialise, adapt, explore, design and share a human experience are safe for the foreseeable future. Our society and schools are not equipping us to thrive in the world we live in. If we fail to fix this, the next generation will be thrown into a world that they cannot add value to. The only areas they have been taught to be great at will be dominated by Artificial Intelligence. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below and thank you for reading.

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