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Free thoughts about education and human kind

Whether or not our education system is relevant to preparing citizens for a rightful role and contribution sparks a perennial debate.

The world may be on different pages but there is fair agreement that education systems are not addressing what national and global societies need.

Because of examinations teaching tends to underscore one domain of learning — the cognitive domain — effectively reducing all learning to processes of drilling and cramming for a good pass.

Good students have been defined by their mastery of all manner of content and by quality of passes in tests and examinations. Teachers and parents alike celebrate children who obtain the best grades in total disregard of who the children are as social and political animals.

Parents and teachers spend extra time and resources to support additional classes; they organise highly competitive cluster mock examinations all in a bid to improve learners’ grades in percentage points.

Perfectly fine I would say. This is what the whole world is doing much worse in the countries of Asia and East Asia where education is a fierce contest. But honestly, this is not education. That’s not in keeping with the purpose of education.

Limiting teaching and the learning experience to passing one-time examinations reduces learning to a series of rote contests measured by a mechanical testing system which neither prepares the individual for real life experiences nor builds in the quest for life-long learning.

Certainly, such drill type rote learning is poison for societies like Malawi subjugated by a dangerous decline in values and yet increasingly beset with complex social, economic and political problems.

You see, passing tests and examinations is not the best predictor of success in the life of the children that parents, teachers and leaders are entrusted with. Yes, children must develop and be challenged cognitively, but there is more to life than ‘brain intelligence’

I am sure it’s perfectly fine to ‘manufacture the geniuses’ who will develop the technologies that our world needs — to manufacture the work horses of technological innovation. Yet we must also admit that this is not how the greater social-political world is designed and that’s not how the world should define people development.

We know all too well how brilliant people have failed to lead people and the world. The world knows that the best scientists have not created the most useful technologies for human kind — quite the contrary in many cases — nor have the best known political scientists created the peace the world so desperately needs.

That’s why the richest people are not necessarily the most educated nor were they the cleverest in school. Some of the best businesspeople studied no business management and the best men or women of God never studied complex theology, let alone obtained lofty degrees.

Yes, people have to learn and train their brains. But to me personal attitudes, values and principles such as perseverance, reliability, honesty or hard work are better predictors of success in later life than grades.

Simple taken-for-granted skills like reading, writing, speech or use of technology are a great asset for people advancement much more than distinctions in the most difficult subjects on a national curriculum.

Practical capacities for team work; collaboration; networking and social interaction with people are a priceless bank for individual and group performance in everyday life, by far more valuable than a string of high sounding certificates.

Defining a good child purely on the basis of academic grades has enormous pitfalls. It sets standards which create stiff competition, sometimes in areas that children may not be good at. High contest learning environments make children who ‘under-perform to the standards set’ feel stupid and useless with a high likelihood for failure in real life.

Cognitively inclined definition of ‘good learners’ prevents children learning from the mistakes they make in school because by this model of education good students excel, not make mistakes. Those that make mistakes are not good!

And this has destroyed many a life.

Millions of children who would go on to become useful citizens and leaders in so many ways within their own societies ‘have been killed prematurely’ by systems of learning which glamorise grades, worship intelligence and celebrate only the highest academic passes.

But I argue that training the brain is only a small part of educating the whole person. Good education underscores the development of social capital; that is transfer of human values such as love of one another, honesty, keeping promises, keeping commitments, reliable performance of duty, enjoyment of a shared daily life and trust of both self and others.

Have you ever wondered why everybody is complaining about the performance of today’s products of the education system?

The answer lies in lack of discipline, responsibility and accountability. There is pervasive lack of honesty, avoidance of hard work and clamour for personal attention.

This is why we have today people who want money — lots of money — but they are unready to work hard. We have graduates today who will fight with every rule, disagree with every code of conduct because they worship freedom without responsibility.

Our education produces people who make light of very serious mistakes because they have limited sense of accountability and moral judgement. It churns out dangerously impressionable people who are neither self-conscious nor self-aware.

These are people who may be engaged in a great profession but do not have a clear sense of who they want to become in life.

This sounds pretty harsh, yet so real. And it starts with how we define teaching, learning and education. You see, education — western type or traditional — is intended to make good people better, bad people good and everybody a human being. It is failing miserably for so many unsuspecting users!

As we close: it is not education if it creates competition, aggression or social degeneration. It is certainly not if the result is senseless excitement about life without the exercise of basic human values.

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