by Arifa Akther
What are the alternatives?
If you read the first part of this piece, you’ll know some of the problems with the current education system including: standardised testing, reduced funding for the Art’s programmes and the pressure on teachers. So, what can be done/ has been done to address these issues?
Firstly, we need to allow children to be children. Islamically, the teachings state that for the first seven years are to be allocated to allow the child to play. But most children are in formal education by the age of 6, with years in pre-school before that. The consequence? Potentially stunting our children’s spiritual and emotional growth. Hanson analysed many western child development psychologists’ work studying the effects of early academic education interfering with a child’s emotional development. A 5 year old child views the world differently, they cannot distinguish between the imaginary and reality. To them, their garden can very well be the Amazon Rainforest. They simply won’t view the garden they way you see it. Thus, when yelling at them because they can’t identify a paint brush as such, but instead as a wand which can summon tigers from Asia (the family house cat) can cause them to “feel angry and confused” and later in life unable to think in the abstract.
Between the age of 5 to 7 the child starts to rationalise until the age of 7 when there is now a clear split. Hence why in Islam it is incorrect to punish a child before the age of 7 as they have “no intellectual capability to understand right from wrong… therefore the punishment will not serve as justice but instead likely to leave emotional wounds”. These years are therefore meant to focus on “laying a strong emotional foundation that will serve them well throughout their life” by playing games that build their ability to empathise with others. So, if they play via acting as a: mother, talking horse, a poor child in the street or an elderly man, they learn how to step in the shoes of another. By neglecting this aspect of the childhood and instead sitting in class to practice their handwriting, you end up with an entire generation who are uncompassionate to others. Through no fault of their own. Therefore, I would like to see pre-school last until the age of 7, focusing on arts, crafts, creative play and sports. Finland has this exact system in place.
Finland has children starting formal education later but also has:
- Shorter school days with no homework- so students can disconnect and have time to focus on hobbies and physical fitness.
- Open text book exams- children learn how to navigate through our information revolution rather than regurgitate information.
- Topic learning- has recently been introduced so you can see how all subject interconnect.
On top of it all, being a teacher is one of the most respected professions and are paid appropriately for their contribution to society. Finland encourages collaboration over competition and as a result outperforms every other country. I would like to see more of Finland’s education system replicated universally.
Ken Robinson explains how children are natural learners and are very diverse, but the current system is “not about encouraging diversity but enforcing conformity, to find out what kids can do in a very narrow spectrum.” Sal Khan, discusses about how we need to “teach for mastery.” In this aspect, Khan emphasises how throughout school, we cover a topic, do a topic test, then move onto the next topic. In doing so, we never really cover the topic in full. Take for example in Chemistry, we cover Kinetics, and we get 85% in the exam. You have 15% of knowledge that’s incorrect, but you never truly fix it. In the next topic, about haloalkanes you gain 65% in that exam, now you’re missing 35% of that knowledge. We then repeat this process until we are at an advanced point in that subject that no longer makes sense due to that missed understanding that should have been taught fully beforehand. To put it in context, imagine if you were building a house. The foundation passed the inspection and received 85%. You then went and built the first floor, which by inspection received 65%. As you continue to build, at one point, the building will collapse due to the faults on the previous floors. No one would build on a foundation only 85% secure. You would complete it until it is 100% safe. So the alternative would be to teach for mastery. Once a topic is completed, for students to work together to fully understand 100% of the topic before moving on.
Finally, if we run through other alternatives provided by “educational pioneers”:
Francisco Ferrer– “planned to establish a curriculum based on the natural sciences and moral rationalism, freed of all religious dogma and political bias. Although students were to receive systematic instruction, there were to be no prizes for scholarship, no marks or examinations, indeed no atmosphere of competition, coercion, or humiliation. The classes, in Ferrer’s words, were to be guided by the “principle of solidarity and equality.” Instruction was to rely exclusively on the spontaneous desire of students to acquire knowledge and permit them to learn at their own pace. The purpose of the school was to promote in the students “a stern hostility to prejudice,” to create “solid minds, capable of forming their own rational convictions on every subject.”
Dr. Maria Montessori– “is a child-centred educational approach based on scientific observations that children are naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive via: mixed age classrooms, Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options, Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours with a trained Montessori teacher who follows the child and is highly experienced in observing the individual child’s characteristics, tendencies, innate talents and abilities.” This method is exceptional for the fact that, education is proposed to be the process to create employable adults, however when applying for job- are we only competing with people our age for a position? Do we only work with people of our age? If so, my colleague Sarah will be happy to know she is no longer 54 but 20 like me!
A.S Neil in Summerhill– “an influential model for progressive, democratic education around the world. Summerhill is the oldest children’s democracy in the world. It is probably the most famous alternative or ‘free’ school. The system that Summerhill employs is not only about education – it is also a different way of parenting which eliminates most of the friction and many of the problems experienced by modern families.” A similar school exists in Nepal, called Ashram orphanage which took in a young boy from age 3, and by the age of 22 received his PHD in Physics in Germany.
Steiner- created Waldorf Schools which “pedagogy emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of pupils. Steiner’s division of child development into three major stages is reflected in the school’s’ approach to early childhood education, which focuses on practical, hands-on activities and creative play; to elementary education, which focuses on developing artistic expression and social capacities; and to secondary education, which focuses on developing critical reasoning and empathic understanding. The overarching goal is to develop free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.”
Home-schooling– Is a very real possibility, allowing your child to focus on themselves and develop in a safe environment rather than a competitive one. However, with both parents in work for households around the globe and mothers in developing countries poorly educated I would argue in favour of funding and creating new progressive, “creative schools”. I also favour the socialisation between children. From personal experiences, although there are consequences of “forced socialisation” including exposure to drugs, smoking and pornography- all this would also occur during their part time job at the age of 16. I believe instead, to teach about finding fulfilment in family and hobbies that prevent them turning to the alternatives for stress relief/pleasure. I also believe that by spending time with new people, developing mutually respective friendships having to interact with people you don’t necessarily like but seeing their view on things is more beneficial than without. Also, as I can see the very real potential in what school can become, I would argue in favour of these schools rather than the home environment if for anything, to disconnect the home from academia so when at an older age you can truly “turn off” to rest your mind from rigorous academic work. This is why you shouldn’t revise in your bedroom. You need to dissociate one from the other even in subtle contexts such as the room you carry out an activity. But for many it’s easy to see why home-schooling is the better option, especially in the short term when “creative schools” don’t exist. But this must be done with careful and consistent action as the latest figures show how “92 percent of superintendents believe that home learners are emotionally unstable, deprived of proper social development and too judgemental of the world around them, according to a California study by researcher Rd. Brian Ray.”
In conclusion there is no single solution to be implemented to help better educate the next general. It is a process and measurements are needed to protect the mental and physical health of our children. Let’s allow them to fall in love with learning. And the previous generations to fall back in love with learning just as I have. However, I have fallen out of love with our education system, and I can do my best to try to change the system for future generation to get back to the roots of real education, which allows and even encourages fish to swim not climb trees.
For all references please follow the link here.
“A. S Neill’s Summerhill School.” A.S Neill’s Summerhill School. http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/. Web. 28/08 2017.
“Introduction to Montessori Method.” American Montessori Society. https://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori. Web. 28/08 2017.
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“Studies Show Normal Children Today Report More Anxiety Than Child Psychiatric Patients in the 1950’s ” American Psychological Association 2000. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/12/anxiety.aspx. Web. 01/09 2017.
“Waldorf Education.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education. Web. 28/08 2017.
Bookchin, Murray. “About Francisco Ferrer.” The Modern American Poetry 2013. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/scw/ferrer.htm. Web. 30/08 2017.
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Garner, Richard. “Education Secretary Nicky Morgan Tells Teenagers: Want to Keep Your Options Open? Then Do Science.” 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/education-secretary-nicky-morgan-tells-teenagers-if-you-want-a-job-drop-humanities-9852316.html. Web. 27/08 2017.
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Higgins, Charlotte. “Arts Funding Cut 30% in Spending Review.” The Guardian 2010. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/oct/20/arts-cuts-spending-review-council. Web. 28/08 2017.
John Taylor Gatto, Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Nabila Hanson, Dorothy Sayer. Educating Your Child in Modern Times. Kinza Academy, 2010. Print.
Mintz, Jerry. “Alternative Higher Education Pioneers, Bringing Them Back to Life!” TedxTalks Bergen 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwqdcSwznTY. Web. 29/08 2017.
Pedro. “Devil’s Advocate. A Plea against Prince Ea (Casper hulshof).” The Economy of Meaning 2016. https://theeconomyofmeaning.com/2016/10/13/devils-advocate-a-plea-against-prince-ea-casper-hulshof/ . Web. 29/08 2017.
Savage, Michael. “Almost a Quarter of Teachers Who Have Qualified since 2011 Have Left Profession.” The Guardian 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/08/almost-a-quarter-of-teachers-who-have-qualified-since-2011-have-left-profession. Web. 29/08 2017.