If you take a walk around any school in the early hours of the day, or late evening, especially at higher institutions of learning that offer evening programmes, you can notice the ‘stiff’ nature of some teachers.
The silence during class hours at some of these schools does not suggest the ‘open’ knowledge sharing or acquisition required to address this era’s challenges. Rather, there is a heavy manifestation of the traditional style of teaching that makes the teacher ‘supreme’.
Actually, calling it an old-style system is not entirely accurate as the teachings of early great philosophers such as Rousseau, Froebel and John Dewey, among others, churned ideas that continue to inspire creativity around the world.
Their philosophies on learning shaped modern education, but it’s mindboggling that we still have not given attention to these very important elements.
We keep singing about 21st Century skills but we do not have a well-defined approach through which these skills are achieved.
The dominance of teachers in classrooms without a single open discussion can be compared to a father who comes home late every day, never helps his children out with homework yet continues to demand for a better performance.
Such is the classroom environment that we have.
There is the question “what experience do you have in this particular discipline”, often asked during job interviews. With one who is fresh from university, what kind of experience do you expect?
Many graduates have not been exposed to open circles; to think beyond the boundaries of the classes they sat in.
Over the years, a lot of emphasis has been put on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with the vision that these subjects will nurture job creators. However, it’s like more STEM graduates are looking for employment, compared to students from other fields, rather than creating it.
How do we ensure that these students have more to bring to the table than just academic papers?
We need to distance ourselves from traditional styles of teaching and encourage learners to open up and share ideas; to think outside the box.
Learners should be given the chance to contribute to the world they live in and that will not be possible if we limit them to a stiff learning setting.
Many top universities in the world embrace open discussions where students take the lead and a teacher is there to guide them.
At top universities like Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), China’s Tsinghua University, and University of Berlin, among others, late in the night, students can be spotted out in the field setting up various innovations to be presented in class and these are the colleges producing some of the most beautiful brains in the world.
Albert Einstein said, “It is essential that students acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. One must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he with his specialised knowledge more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to the individual, fellow men and the community. Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialisation on the ground of immediate usefulness kill the spirit on which all cultural life depends, specialised knowledge included. It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed in the young human being, a development that is greatly jeopardised by overburdening him with too much and with too many varied subjects. Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality.”
The writer is a PhD Student of Comparative Education and Leadership at Beijing Normal University