Every morning, when having chai at the local tea stall, I watch Indian kids in colorful uniforms go to school. They all align in the playground to hear one of the teachers give a speech; then it’s time to enter the classroom. While observing the scene, my mind sometimes wanders thinking about children all over the world who follow the same routine. From Asia to Latin America, from the largest urban areas to the smallest villages, over one billion kids and teenagers attend classes every morning. For many families, sending their kids to school seems completely part of the daily routine. Mainstream education has become so rooted in the process of life that most people apparently never question its purpose.
In a period of time when our business activities are creating unprecedented social and environmental issues, when we know that our our monetary system cannot lead humanity to a sustainable living,most of our schools are still influenced by the “old” economy, realm of competition, individualism and mistrust. By training the new generation to “get a job” in order to “make a living”, we inevitably perpetuate the story of a model that is becoming outdated. In such a system, individuals create limited value for themselves and the world.
I’m convinced that we can build a much better model. We can turn education into a tool that allows people to become responsible agents who create high value for themselves and others, be it for the human society, for the environment and for all other living creatures. So, how can the transformation of the schooling system begin? I’d like to elaborate on three ideas that can improve education and pave the way to a wiser society and economy.
1. Opening education to the inner world
Traditional education focuses on the external world. We are taught a lot about what is going on around us, yet are encouraged so rarely to learn about ourselves, to engage in our bodies and souls. “What children desperately need is time to look inward and to explore their inner space” says education expert Sir Ken Robinson.
Learning about the external world via science, history or geography is definitely important. However, there needs to be a balance between knowing and feeling, between what comes from the brain — like rational reasoning — and what is the realm of the body and soul — such as emotional and intuitive thinking. Isn’t happiness one of the most important topics in life? How is it that we are not taught about it? Happiness is an internal, spiritual state, not an external, material one.
In addition to traditional courses such as math, writing or physics, Logan Laplante — a home-schooled teen who lives in California — receives lessons to know himself better. Stress management, relationships, diet and nutrition, volunteering in community and environmental projects, religion and spirituality are all part of Logan’s curriculum. As you can see in the TED talk he gave, Logan is much more mature than the large majority of kids of the same age, and has acquired a deeper understanding of himself as well as the world around him. A schooling system that complements the traditional program with topics to learn more about ourselves shouldn’t be called “alternative” because its model seems to be closer to the ideal of education.
2. Finding a gift
Within society, you’ll find two types of professional profiles. There are people who believe work is a necessary evil, a sacrifice in order to make a living. Others think they couldn’t live without their work — even if they don’t make a dime — for the simple reason that their projects are a reflection of their Self. For the first group, working is an obligation, for the second one, it is a vocation.
In the traditional system, we tend to believe that our job represents our gift to this world. But when we see how the business world and the needs of society have become disconnected, mainstream education isn’t really helping us find our true participation in this world, our vocation. Ensuring students find a job, get paid and contribute to the national growth is the priority in the traditional system. Being passionate becomes secondary, a “nice to have”, but not an essential foundation in the economic world.
It should work the other way around: one of the key goals in life — if not the most important — is to identify what the reason of our existence is, what our gift is. This foundation of life has the power of impacting several other aspects of our existence, notably our well-being, the quality of our relationships and our creative capacities among many. Concretely, learning about ourselves as explained in the previous point is definitely correlated to the topic of finding and developing a gift.
3. Focusing on collaborative work and developing soft skills
Because of its industrial roots, the traditional education model focuses on individual performance and hard skill learning. However, our abilities to collaborate, share knowledge, communicate and resolve conflicts are becoming more primordial. Soft skills become as important as hard skills. Through our education, we need to work at strengthening our leadership, our emotional intelligence, our empathy and compassion, our assertive communication, our work ethics and so on.
One of the best ways to learn these non-technical skills is to be involved in collaborative projects, to participate in community work, to co-create, to learn in groups and from peers. The good news is that those who work at finding their gift (detailed at the previous point) will inevitably want to get involved in various community projects where they will interact with like-minded people, share their message and participate in building purposeful projects. In the end, balancing hard skills with soft skills can mostly be an organic process if education enable students to partake in various community activities.
Education cannot remain a standardized mechanism we go through for the sake of learning the right skills. It has to become a system that creates the conditions for each student to blossom. We have to switch from an economy that dictates our schooling programs to an education model that enables a more responsible society and economy to emerge.
Of course, moving forward is easier said than done. You may not be in a position to make such a move today, for yourself or for your kids, but an important step is to at least realize that:
- Our traditional educational model is over-focusing on training people for an economy that is dangerous for the planet and its inhabitants.
- Change has to be conducted by individuals themselves. If we expect all the answers from governments, the evolution may take too much time. Thankfully, several projects have been developed this past decade, such as the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that complement the traditional system, or the alternative schools such as Montessori or Waldorf.
- Education is an ongoing process that takes place throughout our whole lives not a one-stop shop before entering the workforce. Thus, let’s keep exploring our inner world and find and develop our gift, whatever our situation is today.
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