So I’m here in Doha with the British Council which has been trying to launch two interesting initiatives in the past couple of months: a youth research network and a youth advocacy group. Both are fairly bold and relatively unprecedented, at least on the scale they’ve envisioned, so naturally I have to admit I find both projects intriguing. The meetings being held this week are focusing on developing the advocacy arena, and consists of a small group of young Arabs and several members of civil society, advocates and others.
Interestingly enough, these sessions and projects have got me thinking about one specific thing: education.
Most people living in this part of the world will agree that our collective educational systems require mending. A lot of it. There is that realization. There is that awareness.
The problem is, solutions are rare. Defining the specific problems can be just as rare.
We spend a minimum of 12 years of our lives in the educational system and it is probably the single-biggest influencing factor on who we end up becoming, the things we believe in, and more importantly, the way we think.
We could very well focus on changing the syllabi or offering different courses or emphasizing teacher training and increasing their standards. Those might me some of the many solutions we could offer right off the bat.
But when it comes to fields such as advocacy and research, I realize even more clearly now that what the educational system lacks, what our school environments fail to give us, are the essential life skills people tend to learn naturally within that environment.
We end up raising generations of people who cannot communicate properly, who have trouble with public speaking, who know little about knowing how to conduct effective research, who know little about critical thinking. I don’t know which is the most important factor on that list as I’m sure there’s more. I might go with critical thinking, but to be fair, they’re all essential.
Our students are taught not to challenge the system, not to challenge the teacher, not to challenge their peers and not to challenge themselves. Much like our political systems, we are dictated to, and we nod as we’ve been trained to do, much like the children in Plato’s allegory of the cave. It ensures that no one will grow up with original thoughts, or with the courage to raise their hand as either students or citizens and say “umm, no?”
Most of what’s produced from this system is a bunch of mindless drones.
I will admit right now for the sake of full disclosure that I was fortunate enough to have escaped that system, just barely, and so I do speak from a privlaged point of view and in this case, it might actually be of some benefit, perspective-wise at least.
Because in the end, what we have is a segment of elite, western-educated individuals contrasting the majority.
The relationship of students to their teachers, to their peers and to themselves, is void of any real challenge. Students are given marching orders for years and they follow them in order to “succeed”, because that’s how success is defined, unfortunately.
But if the success of our educational system is defined by dictation and memorization, is it possible to redefine it as a model of development, producing critical thinkers who have the ability to communicate and challenge? In the interest of giving the next generation something better than we received, can our educational environments be changed to induce these life skills? Would that change inevitably lead to not only a change in the actual syllabus but a whole necessary evolution of it?
I think it’s possible. I think it’s necessary. I think no matter how much you change what students learn, it will do little to change how they learn and how they develop. It’s just data. We are told what it means, but we lack the ability to process it ourselves and turn it in to relevant information. We lack the ability to challenge it and offer another perspective.
So this is mine.