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3 Ways Our Schools Fail Us

My cousin is quite the negotiator. When I tell him to solve exercise problems from the High Flyer series, he first groans in protest and then turns his negotiating skills on. Let’s say, I start with, “I want you to solve 50 problems.”
We always agree somewhere in the middle. Of course, the first time he did it, I was taken aback. He was only 8. The second time I just started higher and stopped where I wanted him all along.
Two can play the game.

But the more time I spend teaching my cousins, the more I realize the educational system hasn’t changed much since I was in school. Of course, I’m talking from the perspective of an average school in Kenya, but computer lessons are limited (if at all they exist), students are still lugging around 20 kg of books on their backs, they’re still expected to memorize a lot of information, and the hours…my God! When do these kids sleep? What are schools supposed to teach us anyway? The basic purpose of schools is to transfer knowledge and prepare students to become productive members of society. This is achieved by helping students develop intellectually, emotionally, and socially.
However, where do schools fail, especially in our third-world countries?

1)Schools teach people what to think instead of how. Instead, most education, especially at the primary level is based on rote memorization. According to Wikipedia, the Higher-Order Thinking levels are given below, and while we might see bits and pieces of the first three steps in our K-12 system, finding the last step is quite rare unless the person reaches college.


That’s quite unfortunate, because the basis of creating is creativity and curiosity, and kids are born with those two qualities that become attenuated the longer they stay in school. Ken Robinson does a better job ranting about that than me.
We’ve all heard those lines, “Color between the lines. Stick to the rules. Follow the steps.”
The whole basis of being a good student lies on the foundation of discipline and following the rules. Yet to be innovative requires rule-breaking and risk-taking; attitudes that are definitely not encouraged in schools.
Seth Godin makes quite the argument in his book Linchpin, where he says,

“Being good at school is a fine skill if you intend to do school forever. For the rest of us, being good at school is a little like being good at Frisbee. It’s nice, but it’s not relevant unless your career involves homework assignments, looking through textbooks for answers that are already known to your supervisors, complying with instructions and then, in high-pressure settings, regurgitating those facts.”

2)Schools do a great job separating the theory from the practical. I don’t know about you, but my K-12 years were mostly theoretical. Even the biology lesson where we were supposed to dissect rabbits was cancelled because the rabbit was too cute. Practical lessons were taken, and maybe we learned a few experimental tricks here and there, but the gap between practical lessons and theory lessons were too wide. Practical lessons were also closed-loop problems (basically, you start from point A and take everything one step at a time to Point Z). No exploration or deviation is encouraged (and that makes sense if safety is an issue), but it reinforces the idea that practical lessons are always going to be set problems with set procedures and set solutions. However, if you ask any parent, they’ll tell you that children learn better through discovery, by taking apart things to see what’s inside. Students must be encouraged to “do” instead of simply “know,” because if you’ve taken swimming or driving classes you know that it doesn’t matter how many theory classes you take. What’s important is you actually jump into the pool or sit behind the wheel.

3) Schools test for basic types of intelligence. There are multiple types of intelligence including naturalistic, inter-intra-personal intelligence, but schools focus on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. If you ask me, my cousin’s negotiating skills could take him very far in life, but in a typical school setting it would go unnoticed. There was a time when school strikes were rampant in Kenya , and the leaders who instigated those strikes were suspended and/or expelled Nobody stopped to think of nurturing the potential leadership skills of these teens. If these kids could bring together the entire student population against the school administration, imagine what they could do for good causes.
This is not to encourage student strikes because they’re disruptive to education, but teachers need to stop limiting their roles to simply transferring information from their brains to the students’ brains. Instead, they need to realize how privileged they are to be in a position to help students live up to their full potential, and see not only who they are, but who they can be. However, there’s huge room for improvement in our academic systems, especially in an ADHD-conducive smartphone-crazed world.
P. S. This post should not be used by parents who don’t want to send their children to school. Every child has the right to an education. And if we are to break the cycle of poverty that shackles our societies, the first step would be to educate all children regardless of their gender or background.
It really breaks my heart to see all those refugee children from Syria who can’t get an education because of the war as described here ;
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Published inEducation