My final year in high-school
For the thousandth time, our math teacher recites the formula for finding the derivative of a function. Last night’s homework was to find the derivatives for 45 functions, and at this point, I’m really good at it. I have been doing this for one and a half years, with the goal of getting a good score in my national high-school graduation exams. I still don’t understand what the use of this mythical derivative actually is. I once asked her, but she didn’t bother answering me. But it doesn’t matter. In a few months, I’ll be out of this place, and never have to find a god damn derivative again.
It’s weird. At the beginning of the year, and all throughout my previous year, the teachers have been warning us that this last year will be tough, and the exams at the end of it will determine how the rest of our lives will play out. A real turning point for each and every one of us. But here I am now, in my fourth period of the day, and I’m playing chess at the back of the class room. It’s now physics class, and our physics teacher is either drunk, or going to drink as soon as this period is over. His hand is shaking, and he’s chewing bubble gum. He’s wearing sun glasses in the class room. He’s the running joke among us students. But it’s okay, our grades won’t suffer. He already promised to give A’s to all of us without having to study for it. We just had to get him a bottle of vodka the other day. They tell us that this year is important for us, that we have to study hard, but I don’t give a shit, just like everybody else.
Fast forward to the end of the year.
My friends and I are checking out each others grades. Funny, one of my buddies, who’s never really tried to study for any subject, and has been getting low grades for as long as I know him, has gotten so many A’s! It’s no surprise though. His grades are bought. It would make me upset if I actually gave a damn about grades. I mean, I studied much harder, and my grades aren’t as good. But I don’t give a shit, because at this point, I can’t take this education system seriously any more.
Fast forward to my first year in university
I’m now in the physics faculty in the national university of Mongolia. Being a freshman is funny. The schedule is chaotic, and nobody gives a shit if you even turn up for class. It’s winter, and I’m in the lecture hall trying to figure out what my professor is teaching us. I can’t focus though. It must be about -20 centigrade outside, and the poor state of the building means that the lecture hall is freezing cold as well. I can’t hold my pen calmly, because I’m shivering, and the other students around me are just like me. Well those that are here anyway, if they’re not sleeping. It’s a familiar feeling, to sit in a physics class with a drunk teacher. It’s 9.30 in the morning, and the guy is already drunk. *sigh*
These are some of my experiences of the Mongolian system in education. I didn’t even go to a public high-school. I went to a private school. One of the most expensive schools in Mongolia, in fact. It cost me $1000 per year at the time. I hear the prices went up to $3000 per year. If there is one lesson that is truly taught to kids in our schools, it’s that money can get you anything, and isn’t this the most important lesson that our kids should learn about life anyway? Seemingly EVERYTHING is up for sale in the real world, don’t you think?
Something is wrong with this system. How should we fix it? A few weeks ago, the teachers in the public schools went on strike to get higher salaries. Okay, let’s give them higher salaries. They’ll perform better if they didn’t have to be under constant financial stress, right?
No. Our education is fundamentally flawed. There is something wrong with it, and the problem goes fucking deep. It really isn’t just about the schools alone. It’s connected to everything else in society, but that would be too much to write about here. So let’s keep the focus on the schools.
What is the purpose of schools anyway? If you really look at it, it isn’t primarily to provide children with an education. The primary goal is to produce workers that can operate the industry of a country. Why do you think that mathematics and the natural sciences have a higher priority than the languages, and those are on the other hand ranked higher than the arts, such as dance, or drama. Why don’t we teach the children dance as often as we teach them maths? The establishment just doesn’t need people to pursue their own interests. They need people who work hard and don’t ask questions.
Do you remember the things you learned in biology in 8th grade? Chances are you don’t. You learned the material (probably just memorized it) to get a good enough grade to pass the class, and forgot everything immediately afterward. Isn’t this a fucking waste of your and the teacher’s time? Ask yourself why you didn’t learn it. It’s because you didn’t give a shit. Which is fine, really. Wouldn’t it have been better for you then if you could have learned whatever thing you wanted? If you were interested in learning to play the drums, that’s what you really should have been doing then. Think about this: if you’re interested in it, you don’t have to be forced to learn it.
What we need is a system that is flexible enough to support and assist children to learn what ever they are interested in, when they are interested in it. This doesn’t mean more and more teachers. What we need to do is rethink the role of the teacher. What does the teacher really do? Most of the time it’s grading tests, and reciting the same lectures year after year. They’re broken records, and it doesn’t make them happy either, I betcha.
What we DON’T need is a grading system. Grades take away the focus of what education should be about, which is the self-improvement and growth of the student, the exploring and discovery of what we would like to be in the future. If you never tried acting, you don’t know if drama is your passion. Grades only serve to label children as stupid and smart, and put children under psychological pressure. I remember being so scared of showing my mother that I had a bad grade, that I didn’t show my grades in that subject to her for an entire year. Our teacher required the parents to sign the test papers of their children, and I faked mine. Where’s the good in that???
What we need is to humanize the class room. It’s stupid to put a bunch of 8-year-olds into a classroom, tell them to be quiet and pay attention to an increasingly stressed out teacher. We need children to interact with each other, to learn to work together and be active. Use this energy in a productive way. What about the lectures, you ask? Let’s replace the broken-record-teacher with an actual record, like a YouTube video. Let them watch the lecture as many times as they want, in the comfort of their own home. They don’t miss out on anything if they’re sick at home, and they don’t have to be embarrassed if they can’t quite follow. If something is really unclear, they can post a question underneath the video, and have it answered from one of millions of other students. This is not magic, guys!
There is a 7 year old girl, who uses “Khan Academy” regularly, watching whatever she wants. She actually likes learning, because all these stress factors you’d have in a traditional school simply aren’t there. She learned trigonometry. And understood it. Think about THAT. And she’s not a phenomenon. My sister, who didn’t understand chemistry for 3 years watched a 5 minute video about the elements and atoms. The first video in the chemistry playlist. She got it, for the first time, and was elevated. “Chemistry is actually so simple!”, she said. 3 years of chemistry classes, gone to waste right there……
This means that the role of the teacher must be fundamentally reinvented. Teachers aren’t the source of all the knowledge anymore. They should be the respected guide, a friend for the student. They can actually spend 100% of their time interacting with children, instead of coming up with or grading tests, or shouting at them to be quiet and pay attention. And children won’t have to be forced to learn something they aren’t interested in anyway. Let them find their own way, and they’ll amaze you with what heights they can reach.
This isn’t something I came up with myself by the way. Watch these videos:Share Share