3 Urgent Changes We Need in Education Now
1 - More play, play play
I don't know about you, but I loved playing as a kid - I still do, actually. I throw myself into anything new, and whilst I do often make a fool of myself - like when I got stuck on the climbing wall at a trampoline park and fell over numerous times on that crazy game where you have to jump over a giant spinning arm whilst landing on your podium - that doesn't stop me from having a go.
I love playing because I love learning. I love learning new facts as well as skills. I love learning new ways to do things and I'll always try to do things the way that no one does them because I want to know why it doesn't work that way.
I was that kid at school that blew the power pack we used to create an electromagnet. I had to see how strong it would be on full voltage. It was quite strong... and so was the smell of smoke that followed...
What I'm trying to say is, play helps me learn.
Not just me, I think every kid learns more when they can play, explore and investigate rather than sit, read and memorise.
Humans are born with a natural instinct to play, laugh and test their boundaries.
Why do we think that an education system that does the exact opposite is a good thing?
Unstructured, messy play helps us learn about the world, connect with each other, and understand our abilities and limitations.
We need to create a much more playful, inclusive environment within education. One where all students are catered for and recognised as individuals with different personalities, energy levels, temperaments and learning preferences.
We need to stop prioritising learning for exams.
Assessment has its place, and memorising facts is essential for learning.
But we need to make more time for playful, exploration-based learning too.
2. Much More Student-Led Learning
I mentioned this in one of my staff training sessions.
The reaction was one of horror and self-righteousness.
I was faced with a class full of teachers who did not know how to code.
Nor were they interested in learning.
"We don't have the time or budget" was their reasoning.
When I suggested they spend 10 mins per day learning programming, they were indignant and the Deputy Head said "no, no, I don't expect that of my staff."
Wow, I thought. You don't expect your staff to learn anything new or dedicate time to learning a new subject. Yet these very staff are meant to instil a love of learning in their primary school students... I wondered what the parents would have said had they been there
So I said to them, "Well your only option then is to let the students learn by doing and you take the role of a facilitator or guide."
"No, no, we couldn't do that, I'd feel like I'm doing my students a disservice by not teaching them."
But we really do need more student-led learning in schools.
I know that's scary for numerous reasons.
And it's not just for teachers who don't know programming or robotics.
We are all curious.
Our young students are too and when we impose too much structure on their learning and only focus on what's on the exams, we are putting them off.
We need more workshop style, or maker days, that give students the space and time to research their topics of interest at a deep level.
Let them investigate, try out their ideas and learn about the things that are important to them.
Yes, part of the role of a teacher is to teach their students what they know, but it's also a teacher's responsibility to allow a student to discover their own knowledge and create an environment in which they can do that.
3 School life should be more like real life
For me, university was nothing like school, which was a relief.
When I left university I also realised how different the real world was to school and education in general.
We had learnt very little about how to earn money and nothing about financial literacy in school.
I had a GCSE and A- Level in Business, yet didn't know anything about networking, branding or marketing. 4 years of business studies and yet nothing on the syllabus that showed us how to go out and set up a business and how to make a profit.
Wow, I thought, real life is hard.
School is designed in a way that we think we have to choose one thing to be when we grow up and be that thing for around 40 years. Then retire at 65 and maybe have the chance to do the things we actually want to do.
That may be fine for some, but it isn't for everyone.
Schools should be showing students just how many opportunities there are in life.
That we are much more than our career goal and that we can have several career and life goals.
Schools should teach much more about business and freelance work.
How to work from home, or travel whilst working.
How to create a life where you can still be there for your children, whilst juggling work and other responsibilities.
Some of the most useful skills for real life are problem-solving, creativity, effective communication, working with difficult people and so on.
Yet the current education system prioritises learning theory for exams.
We need a system where students are encouraged to help each other succeed as opposed to competing to get the highest grade.
We need more developmental focus on social and ethical values and more exposure to real life by going out and meeting more people and getting involved in community projects.
In other words, education should be a part of the real world and develop every aspect of a child's personality.
To summarise what I'm saying, schools should be a place of constant enrichment for students AND teachers.
At the moment whilst it's enjoyable for some, for a lot of kids and staff it's a source of stress, anxiety, peer pressure and sometimes even depression.
Much more can be done to help prepare our children for real life and navigating adult hood, as well as to instill a genuine love of lifelong learning.