Fast Forward Education

The school of tomorrow

Does our present system prepare children to meet the challenges of life?

In your entire adult life, how many times did you use the Avogadro’s law? During your entire work life, did you find any use for the date of the Battle of Panipat? How many times did you have to recall the formula for Barium Hydroxide?

Yes, there is a small minority of specialists, may be less than 1% of the population, who are really using some of the subjects that we learn at school. Those specialists (physicists, mathematicians, biologists et al) use this knowledge as a foundation to learn even more specialised stuff. Obviously, we cannot ignore their contribution.

But for the remaining 99% of us, busy in our mundane jobs, struggling in our relationships, that specialised knowledge is of little use. We have no use for Ohm’s law. We do not use trigonometry in our daily life.

Focus subjects

If we are to design a ‘School of Tomorrow’, we should throw out most of the existing subjects in our curriculum. Instead, we should focus on four subjects which all of us truly use in our adult life — work, relationships, society, and technology.

In the subject of ‘Work’, we should teach skills that are needed in today’s workplaces. We should teach our children how to use computers to write, present, calculate, and communicate. We should give them real responsibilities inside the school.

In the school I run in rural Bengal, we get the students to manage the school canteen, maintain the school blog and Twitter handle, take care of the school’s IT infrastructure, mentor younger children, and fully take charge of the annual events. Through all these, we guide them about how to behave in a team, how to coordinate a meeting, and how to resolve conflicts.

In the ‘School of Tomorrow’, we should teach our children how to approach external organisations, perhaps to raise a small sum of money for a school event. We should teach them how to write an effective resume and a persuasive email. Given the importance of social media in today’s world, we should train them on how to use it effectively for work and not just to post selfies, forward inane jokes, and circulate fake news.

Other than work, our relationships with our friends, spouse, parents, and children form a critical part of our life — one that determines how happy we are. Yet, how little we are taught about how to handle those!

Movies and literature, if chosen well, can be useful learning devices. Movies let us see issues from different people’s points of view, teaching us empathy.

A movie like Revolutionary Road may be shown to highschool students to dissect marital conflicts. Twelve Angry Men can help us understand group dynamics. A movie like Hotel Rwanda, where the protagonist painstakingly cultivates relationships in anticipation of tougher times, can help us understand the value of building friendships and networks.

Schools must teach our children to stop believing and start thinking. We must teach our children not just to read newspaper, but also to spot fake news.

We should ask our children to take an active part in building our society. Maybe they can start by asking their parents not to forward that hateful WhatsApp message. Maybe they can teach elders about how to use their smartphone to do more than pressing the like button in Facebook or playing games.

The fourth subject — ‘Technology’ — is inextricably linked to ‘Society’. In not-so-distant future, technology is going to reshape the society. Our current way of life may undergo such transformation that it may be unrecognisable. Yet, our schools hardly deal with this all-important subject. They do not teach the students how to apply technology and how to code. They do not talk about how technology is going to impact society. They do not teach children about how to be safe in a connected world.

Looking backward

Not only these subjects cannot have fixed boundaries, they cannot have any fixed syllabus either. The ‘School of Tomorrow’ will be characterised by its quick response to the changing world. To be so agile, it must be decentralised, which means the teachers in the ‘School of Tomorrow’ will be empowered to design the curriculum and constantly revise it.

Which brings me to the final point: what kind of teachers do we need in such a school? We need teachers who can blur the boundaries between subjects and the real world. We need teachers who are insightful, wise, and experienced in the ways of the world. We need teachers who are not just dispensers of instruction, but a source of inspiration.

If you think that’s a utopia, you are mistaken. In the past, the teachers were indeed creative, talented and wise. Legend has it that Vishnu Sharma, the creator of Panchatantra, created the fables to teach three princes about life and society. Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, founded their own schools, where they taught the kings, among others. Closer home, Tagore founded his own school in West Bengal.

Ironically, to build the School of Tomorrow, we need to take inspiration from the schools of the past.

The writer is the founder of The Levelfield School, an innovative and futuristic school, located in Suri, West Bengal.

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Printable version | May 23, 2020 11:03:41 AM |

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