The Positive Spiral of Education

As an independent educator, I often conduct workshops at schools and this gives me a chance to interact with teachers. Couple that with all the various parent-teacher meetings I have attended as a parent to a 14-year-old, and it means I have observations on the different kinds of teachers that people the education world. I find that they can broadly be classified into three types:

  • Maximum Markus: Some who have a very narrow definition of schooling and are ‘grade’ focused – do this and you will get better marks.
  • Subjectus Superior: Some who think end game of education is social success only and hence are very ‘exam’ focused (X subject will be a good choice for GCSE/A-level and will help the student get admission into a good college).
  • Expecto Passionum: Fortunately, most of my son’s teachers focus on ‘how to build his interest in their subject’.

I say fortunately because in many schools I feel we have created a vicious circle – first we (parents, teachers, society) prioritise ‘learning to earn’, then we work backwards and say this requires ‘admission to a good college’, which in turn means getting ‘good grades’ in school and hence we emphasise ‘gaming the system’ to get good grades.

Gaming the system includes doing things like practicing the past 10 year exam papers, learning by rote and regurgitating what you have memorised, without any deep comprehension and in a manner that gets you good grades in exams.

A good school is one that facilitates and empowers students to discover their area of interest and then fosters a life long curiosity and ability to master and shine in that domain. Interest in a domain secures cognitive commitment to stay the course despite setbacks and frustrations and consequent specialisation in a domain leads to the student becoming a musician, dancer, artist, geographer, historian, scientist, mathematician or whatever maestros will be called in future disciplines.

A virtuous circle of education would first foster a ‘yearning to learn’ (against the current emphasis on ‘learning to earn’) and for this a good school should provide,

  • A rich learning environment (offer many different disciplines/subjects, clubs, sports and other extra-curricular activities…) so that students can explore and discover their element.
  • Teachers should don the role of the guide and mentor, so as to aid students with becoming self-directed and self-determined learners.
  • School management should reward such teachers and policy makers should encourage and support such schools.

And we parents should appreciate that focus of schools on cultivating lifelong yearning to learn coupled with making students capable of taking ownership of their learning is what is in the long-term interest of our children. Especially when the rate of change is as fast as it is in the 21st century and children who will succeed in future will be those who can figure out for themselves:

  • What is worth learning?
  • How will I learn it?
  • How will I know I have learnt it well?
  • How will I become better at learning new things and keep reinventing myself?