Part II: Creating An Addiction
This is part 2 of a series on transformational change in education. This is Part 1.
Most children learn to ride a bike in 5 - 7 hours. It seems like a trivial task, but riding a bike involves momentum, force, friction and plenty of biology. Scientists don’t know how bikes even balance⁺. Humans have the unique ability to learn complex tasks in a short amount of time.
That means that the ~20 000 hours we spend in school is plenty of time to learn and master valuable skills.
For the past century, the education system has used those 20 000 hours to mould and produce obedient and compliant workers. It’s done it well, and that fills me with hope. It means that by changing the objectives of the system, we can change the lives of people, and countries, as a whole.
School is more important than we realise, and correctly identifying what school is for will impact people for decades to come.
WHAT IS SCHOOL FOR?
I don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to find a general formula of education that works for everyone. Circumstances differ in each school, country and system. But certain ideas hold in all circumstances and those ideas need to be at the centre of the efforts to transform education.
The core idea is that schools need to serve children, not create children capable of serving the economy. Schools need to be the place where children are allowed to explore, learn and discover what they’re talented at so that they’re equipped to go out and pursue those talents in the real world.
School is for creating agile and adaptive learners equipped with the tools to succeed in an uncertain future.
Two reasons for positioning this idea at the centre of efforts to transform education:
1. “The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment.” - Pema Chodron
Many jobs of the future don’t exist yet and the ones that do are unlikely to look anything like they do today. People capable of adapting will be the ones to thrive.
2. “History never repeats itself. Man always does.” - Voltaire
We need to caution against making the same mistakes of the past. We need to be wary of creating a system that meets the needs of children today but fails the children of tomorrow. We need to have the foresight to build a timeless system.
A CHANGING WORLD
The world changed dramatically in the past century. It will change even more dramatically in the century to come. That’s not because innovation will increase, but because the distribution of it will.
When the first car was invented in 1885, it was a major step forward in innovation. It transformed the way we moved, carried goods and interacted with people. Places that were previously inaccessible became a car trip away. The car changed the world, yet despite its innovative prowess, it meant nothing to South Africans until 1896, when the first car arrived on South African shores.
The distribution of innovation is often more important than the innovation itself. The Internet ensures that innovative ideas spread with the click of a button. Innovation is slowing⁺, but its impact is rising. While internet access continues to increase, so will the rate at which our world is changing.
School needs to prepare children for this rapidly changing world by teaching them how to be effective learners. It needs to prepare them to work with a Tesla instead of a horse-and-carriage. The old system promoted skills like memorisation, the new system needs to foster problem-solving and reasoning.
Where there is change, there is opportunity. School needs to create learners capable of capitalising on that opportunity. That's how things get better.
THE TIME IS NOW
There have never been more children enrolled in primary school education than today. That represents a remarkable opportunity to educate and equip children. It’s not only access to education that requires attention, but the quality of education too.
Improvement stems from the combination of quality and distribution. Had the car been a poor product, even if it was shipped to every person on the planet, the impact would have been significantly reduced. The car changed the way we live because it was a quality product that was effectively distributed.
The Internet ensures that the distribution of education will continue to improve. For education to change the world in the way we so deeply crave, it requires more than distribution, it requires quality. Several studies⁺ have found that it is education in the form of cognitive skills - reasoning, creativity and problem-solving - rather than mere school attainment, that matters for predicting individual earnings and economic growth.
The systems and technology are in place to transform education. It’s now about a series of choices that parents, teachers and regulators can make, or shy away from. It’s a question of whether we’re going to use these tools to perpetuate a system of conformity and obedience, or whether we’ll use them to create a better future for all involved.
If the builders, creators and developers of our future are to successfully navigate the uncertain terrain they’ll encounter, their education cannot end when their schooling does. It has to continue for as long as they live. School has the potential to be the place where children fall in love with learning. The place where they develop an insatiable sense of curiosity and a deep desire for knowledge.
By instilling a love of learning in children, we enable them to captain their own ship and direct their own learning. Life becomes a wonderful and continuous voyage of discovery. The desire to learn means that you live more curiously. The world seems to pop. Instead of simply letting the world pass by, you find yourself engaging with it. You find that you live more when you're always trying to learn more.
It’s important that in building a new system, we build one that promotes a love for learning. It ensures that we don’t fall into the same trap of building a system that meets the needs of children today but fails the children of tomorrow.
By prioritising learning, allowing children to explore their curiosity, and rewarding individuality, we remove the barriers to learning. We make it more than enjoyable. We make it addictive.
The question I’ll explore in the final essay of this series is how we do it. By considering ideas that are disrupting education today, we can build a vision of what we want education to look like tomorrow. Vision is the first stage of a revolution.
To receive notifications about releases of future essays, leave your email below.
⁺ Harvard Business Review; Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find Because of the Burden of Knowledge?