This is going to be a rather long rant. You’ve been warned.
After reflecting on my time in the educational system, as well as those around me, I’ve realized how inadequate the current system is and have some thoughts regarding changes that need to happen if education is going to be continually trusted to institutions like I attended.
I was always bored in school. I was fairly smart, but not more so than any of the others in the top twenty percent of my class. I was stuck in a few classes when we lived in British Columbia that were split grade classes. This meant that I was either in a class with peers one year ahead or one year behind where I was, and this effected how the teachers were able to manage their classrooms. It also greatly effected my interest in education because I was either more interested in what the kids a year ahead were doing, or frustrated at those a year behind couldn’t keep up.
I got some pretty good marks in grade school, and spent most of my time day dreaming or getting in trouble for talking to those around me.
Once we moved back to Ontario, I was going into grade eight, and was hoping for things to be more difficult. I found that Ontario was behind BC in french language studies, math and science, but far ahead in English and history. This meant that I had some classes where I was once again bored, and others where I was being challenged. In English, I hadn’t been taught grammar at all, and on the first day of class, I was pointed to and asked to identify the noun and verb in the sentence. With zero knowledge of what that meant, I apologized and said that I didn’t see the word noun or verb in the sentence, much to the amusement of those around me.
This was the moment that I realized my intelligence had always been a barrier for me in terms of socialization, and that being “normal” would allow me to have friends, and as I hit puberty, I definitely wanted to be friends with girls.
I pulled back on my studies, and put my hand up less. I was still bored out of my mind, but I wasn’t the social outcast I had been previously. I was hanging out with people, and had girls that would consider me their boyfriend.
My recesses were mostly taken up with various assignments from my teachers as they tried to catch me up. The school acted like grade seven and eight were one long curriculum and as such, I had to catch up on assignments that the other students started a year earlier. I also had to work on grammar, and some other geography and history. My teacher let me work on a computer program sometimes that constantly would quiz me on answers. The faster you answered, and the more correct answers you placed in a row, the higher your score. My teacher of course had her score firmly in the top position. There wasn’t any written or mentioned challenge to beat her, but I made it a personal goal.
Within a few weeks, I had gotten to the point that just by seeing the first few words, I would know what the answer was, and could complete all the questions in a short period of time, and beat her score. Not through learning, but thanks to memorization and my own personal competitive behavior. I wasn’t rewarded for this achievement, but chastised for not understanding the meaning behind what I was supposed to be learning.
After a few months, I was able to spend recesses with the rest of the kids, and found it very hard to relate with most of them. I knew that starting a new school was a chance to be someone other people liked, and as such, my education took a back seat. My parents weren’t really very good at pressuring me to do well, and they expected a great deal from me. I think they assumed that things were going well because they didn’t hear any different and they were far too busy with their careers and their own personal issues to manage my educational needs.
This was one of my hardest years as I didn’t feel really connected to anyone, and the relationships that I had in grade eight made me realize that as long as I pass, there was very little reason to do better, especially if I could continue moving forward in my education with nearly no effort.
In high school, it was much of the same. I completely cut my parents out of my education. I signed up for courses and signed my report cards. The school never knew the difference as it was the only signature they ever saw. I did what I wanted, and since I had more than an hour each day on the bus, I had plenty of time to do the limited homework I was assigned.
I made some more friends, and the teachers cared even less about my educational objectives than those in grade school. They never knew the David that could place high in national math competitions, or the David that could sing well enough to get a silver medal. They only knew the David that got his homework done but was otherwise unremarkable, and as such, they didn’t seem to expect much from me, which only made it easier for me to slide by unnoticed.
I had some more relationships, and friendships. Life was fairly easy. I still felt as though I was smarter than the classes I was taking, and even worse, I knew I was smarter in certain subjects than the teachers that were attempting to share what they seemed to learn the previous day from the text book.
It was at this point that I decided what I wanted to do with my career. I knew I wanted to go into computers, but what that meant, I hadn’t a clue. I also knew I wanted to study in Kingston. Kingston was where I was born, and I had always enjoyed that city when I got to go back to it, and since I knew I wasn’t going to go to University, St. Lawrence College was going to be where I went. The school didn’t even have a course that I was truly interested in at this point, but I kept my eye on it, and continued to try to take more computer courses in high school.
I could have graduated high school a year early, and would have been finished my college career before those going on to University started their second year of their degree. While I was potentially ready in terms of my educational requirements, I wasn’t emotionally ready to move on to college, and so stayed in high school for an extra year.
Unlike many of my peers, I was lucky enough to make my post-secondary decision early on, and by the time I graduated, St. Lawrence College had a Computer Networking diploma course for me to take.
The first year of this two year course was a joke. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the course was structured so that any person off the street with a bit of persistence could graduate with the diploma. We had classes related to things that I had spent months or years learning in High School, sometimes thanks to the high school, and other times thanks to my own curiosity.
We had a class where the first couple of weeks were about identifying computer components. We had a class relating to the basics of the Visual Basic programming language. And worst of all, we had a class focused on teaching us Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. I have to admit, this depressed me. I had hoped that post-secondary education would challenge me, and re-engage my interest in learning, but thanks to courses like the ones I mentioned as well as accounting and basic math, I was pretty deflated.
The second year, while more difficult, still wasn’t as much of a challenge as I was hoping for, and thanks to my short attention span, and frustration, I skated by with a passing grade rather than ever achieving my full potential.
I know for a fact that I had the potential from a young age to go much further in the educational world than I did, but I was failed by the educational system, my teachers, my parents and myself.
I have a cousin that is a little older than half my age. Unlike me, he doesn’t seem to have a self-assured direction on what he wants to do after he is done high school. He is going to be gearing up for his final year of high school in the fall, and by many educators accounts, he is far too late to be picking out what he wants to do in terms of a post-secondary education.
He is smart, but unfocused. He is being asked to make major life decisions and hasn’t been given the tools or confidence to do so. As such, he hasn’t been picking courses relating to eventually getting a degree or diploma, and now I don’t know if he will get to make his own choice when he gets to that point, as his options will now be limited.
The biggest question that really rang true for me was, “why doesn’t he know what he wants to do?”
The main focus behind education should be to help people learn all they need to become productive members of society, and live the best lives they can with their potential. Currently, the system is set-up that everyone learns a committee determined amount of information deemed relevant and safe.
Information is passed on to students the same way it was over one hundred years ago. Advancements are made slowly and carefully. Societal changes edit small pieces of what is taught, but in the grand scheme of things, very little changes. Education is currently a stagnant system. The boards that determine the standards don’t take into account the variation in teachers or students, and expect the acquisition of knowledge to fit a structured timeline.
The relevance of information is not realized until adulthood, where most people are outside of the educational system. Major choices in a child’s education is left up to parents with little understanding of their child’s abilities, and teachers with little understanding of the child’s interests.
The educational system has also been built to not leave students behind, but in doing so, it has been adjusted down to the lowest common denominator. The credit goals in high school are useless and aren’t in line with the career aspirations of each student. The forced volunteer hours that are now in place in Ontario are wasteful.
Everything is so generic, watered down, and controlled by bureaucratic systems and people with little understanding or investment into what they are forcing on others. Could you imagine some random person telling you as an adult that you had to learn something because they decided it was best for you? What if it was a subject you had no interest in? What if it was something you disagreed with?
I think it is time to take the generic educational system and throw it out the window. Each student needs a custom educational plan. The basics of which is focused on making sure they are constantly challenged. Every two years an assessment is done with the teachers, parents, and an educational specialist/counselor of some kind to determine if the custom lesson plan is working, too easy, or too difficult for the student. The details collected by the educational counselor will be passed from school to school, so that the new school has a profile relating to where a student was, and where they were heading. This way moving can’t easily cover up the potential or issues that a student has.
Classrooms of students would be focused around their lesson plans rather than specific age based grades. While many people will be worried about putting younger kids into classes with older ones and vice versa, over time, this will become the norm, and because socialization with peers has, even now, mostly been removed from the classroom, it won’t effect them too much. Students will interact with their peers during recesses and lunch periods. Schools can promote same-age/close-age activities if needed through sports, clubs, activities, dances, and other social activities.
With this system, the customization doesn’t require a teacher to spend more personal time with each student in their class. Keeping the same age groups together hurts students that perform slower or faster than the average. Schools will have grades, just as they do today, and once a student has finished their grade eight material, they will graduate and go on to high school.
Before the first day of their high school career, students will meet with their educational counselor, parents, and review written input from their previous teachers. Their high school curriculum and work load will be determined. Any student with limited understanding of what career they would like to aim for will be allowed to choose either to focus on a general stream until everyone is in agreement on the direction they need to take, or they can take a personality assessment test which will lay out a grouping of careers the student may enjoy, and they can select from the list, and have their education focused in that direction.
Students, with the agreement of their parents and educational counselor, can change their educational direction at any point to better fit the goals of the student.
High school students should be given real opportunities for apprenticeship and internships organized by the educational counselor with assistance from parents if required. Currently, the co-op system is limited and usually doesn’t lead students towards a career goal, but instead is used as a way for students to avoid sitting in a classroom and for schools to farm out basic work to other schools and businesses for free. The new system should give high school students a taste of the career they are interested in. Businesses should get tax breaks for each student they bring in. Schools should not be able to assign apprenticeship/internships without parental approval. The government should give tax credits and funding to transportation services that participate to make it possible for students to get to their opportunity. Parents should also be given the option to earn tax credits for stepping up and taking their children to their apprenticeship/internships.
My cousin has a strong interest in video games, and as such, his school should be responsible for informing him of the career opportunities in that area, helping him select a career goal, customizing his education towards that goal, and organizing an internship where he can get a taste for that career before he has spent four years at the school taking courses that may end up to be useful in the future for his career. Since there probably aren’t any game development companies in Kingston, his school should arrange with his parents, transportation to a major city center, say Ottawa, and either find a family with a child in high school willing to take him in for a week, or put him up in a student residence. While it seems like this would be expensive, and logistically impossible, I believe it is the only way the educational system will be a success in the near future at placing people into careers that they can thrive and enjoy.
I’m not saying we should get rid of math, science, history, geography or English, but beyond the basics of these subjects, it should be up to the various people taking an interest in the educational path of the student to determine the required learning. Spelling is important to everyone, but does everyone need to have an understanding of trigonometry? By the time a student goes to high school, the basics in all of these subjects should be completed.
A student should remain in high school until they have all the prerequisites they need for the trade, degree, or diploma they want to pursue. If this takes two years or ten years, it shouldn’t matter.
I also think that there is a shortage of clubs and activities within schools. My high school really only had things for sports and music. If you weren’t interested in either of these two things, there were little to no options available to you in terms of school organized clubs and activities. Also, since we lived outside of the city, there wasn’t access to groups like cadets and whatnot. This limited the opportunities for competition, coordination, and socialization within potential peer groups.
Some other changes that need to happen are related to teachers and parents. My parents were fairly hands-off when it came to my education, and I think that is a travesty. Their should be more investment by parents into their children’s education, and by that, I don’t mean more blaming teachers for their kids not getting good grades. I can’t think of a single peer of mine that had parents that supported their children in their education or educational goals. I can’t remember my parents having parent-teacher conferences during high school. This isn’t how education should work. People are only in school for up to two-thirds of the year, and even then, it isn’t a full eight hour day of learning.
Imagine if at least one of my parents had a meeting with my teachers even just twice a year? This could have helped my teachers understand me better, and my parents understand better what I was getting away with. Of course, they wouldn’t have really understood how to deal with the situation, which brings me to my next point: parents need to learn how to teach.
Parents should, as part of their responsibility of raising a child, make sure they have the time to assist in the educational process. At a minimum, parents should be available to ask questions about what their child is learning and monitor assignments. I’m hopeful that the computerization of education will help teachers and parents connect more often, though I don’t think my parents would have taken the time to check some website each day to make sure my brother and I were handing in all of our assignments.
The funny thing in my education, relating back to the lack of clubs and organizations is how often when I was in my computer classes where I didn’t want to leave. I knew that I wouldn’t have the same kind of access, control and time to mess around with things at home that I did at school. My school had better computers than I did at home, and better software as well This is one area where my parents did the best they could by purchasing a decent computer that they could barely afford, though once we had it, they didn’t really understand or truly support my interest in it.
Teachers also need to take more time to identify the high and low performing students. Challenge those that are high performing, and find a way to connect with them. There has been so much research done in how people learn, but I don’t feel like that information has reached teaching schools yet. The variation in caring and quality from teacher to teacher is immense. I have had a few amazing teachers, many average teachers, and some mediocre ones. I am not going to say why these teachers were great or mediocre, but I believe that the limitations in their understanding of teaching methods were part of it.
If the educational system is working, the vast majority of students will continue to go through the system as normal. Some students will take more time, and others will zip through the entire thing quickly. The point being that by the time they graduate high school, they have an idea of what they want to do and the educational basis to do it. Going into a trade, getting a degree or diploma, should be an easy decision, and since we are in a world where there is a constant devaluation of education, and people with multiple degrees aren’t able to find careers, don’t you think it is time for a major overhaul of the educational system from the start, to the finish?
Will my ideas turn everything around? Probably not. My aim is not to fix the educational system, but to try to bring back some passion, exploration and customizing things based on the student’s needs. I want to create a scenario where people are given an opportunity to learn the things they both need and want to attain their goals. I want to reduce the chance that students can slip through the cracks and end up not living up to their potential. I want to let those with passion to be able to effectively explore it, rather than having it quashed by a one system fits all educational system that we currently have.