Education as a fortress?

Break down the walls

When looking at the way we structure educational systems, I’m always immediately struck by all the artificial borders we have  created in and around schools, effectively walling off education from surrounding society.

When children enter primary school, they’re grouped by the somewhat arbitrary parameter “age”, and remains in most cases divided in this way.

Once organised into these age-homogenous groups, education is again further divided into subjects, which are predominantly taught isolated from other subjects and in bite-size chunks, making most schedules look something like this timetable from Töyrynummi Primary School:

Those are borders within education. That’s important issues, yet what’s probably even more problematic is the borders we’ve been building around education.

In most occassions, students are being taught or working on assignments, which has nothing to do with…anything, really. Anything beyond the classroom & curriculum, that is. Students might comment on contemporary events, yet they do so mostly in the closed ecosystem of the classroom.

Is education caught in industrial society?
Is education caught in industrial society?

These characteristics remind me of  industrial society, which we so often claim to have left behind years ago. Society as a whole may have moved on, yet education seems to be helplessly stuck in the past. All the distinctions and borders are (to the best of my knowledge) not established for creating optimal learning conditions, but for convenience’ sake. We do what we do because it’s a nice, easy and comfortable way of organising and structuring education, providing us with an illusory sense of order and control.

In my book, that’s not an acceptable argumentation.

This situation worries me for numerous reasons, the common denominator being the increasing gap between education and the surrounding society, in which education is situated.

From the student perspective, there is no obvious link between “school skills and competences” and the actual application of said skills and competences. This frequently leads to a feeling that education holds no relevance, as it is very hard to decipher the future use of what they are expected to learn.

From the perspective of society, we see an enormous resource left almost entirely untapped. Whereas students could potentially influence society, they are rarely allowed to work on anything but assignments limited to unfold within the confines of the classroom.

We should change our perception of students from someone merely preparing to participate in society to someone who are actually able to actively contribute to creating a better world. In general, we should stop thinking about education as something seperated from society, and allow for education at all levels to much more closely resemble and interact with society. Besides adressing substantial contemporary issues, this would also require us to reconsider the internal boundaries. Where in society do you meet problems confined to the domain of one school subject? The world does not respect subjects or disciplines, and learning how to navigate in chaotic interdisciplinarity becomes pivotal. Also, almost exclusively working with similarly aged peers does not exactly promote the ability to interact in heterogeneous group, which is labelled as a “key competence” by OECD.

Could we imagine an educational system, which is much more integrated with society? Where no rigid time tables exist, but where students of heterogenous age groups are collaborating to solve substantial contemporary problems and thus influencing society in a wide array of positive ways? Where learning is not directed by abstract curriculums divided into subjects, but by the actual problems?

Who would have the courage to radically break away from the current paradigm of education?

Anything less than that is not enough.

2 thoughts on “Break down the walls”

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