21 June 2018
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Millions of young people fall through the cracks because they believe they are inadequate within a subject when in reality, the teaching focus’ and environment isn’t one that cultivates them as an individual.

Back in 2005, I had just finished my undergraduate degree and I didn’t want to leave the nest of university, so I signed myself up for a masters in Library and Information Management. After 2 weeks I said to myself, “no, I want to go and get a job and get some money.” I informed my disappointed course leader and was told I had to go to the finance office.

As I told the people in the office about my situation, I was taken into another room to do some paperwork.

It was here where I was told, “Oh… you can leave whenever you like. It’s your money, you’re the customer.”

“I’m what? A customer? I thought I was a student. You know… a scholar! Haven’t you seen my glasses? Some of my mates have satchels and I want one too. I’m here to enrich and develop my knowledge for a brighter tomorrow for all humanity, you know!”

“No, you’re a customer. Please sign this and send these forms to your bank.”

It was then when it slowly dawned on me that perhaps university and higher education are not some cool separate worlds where those dedicated to a subject go to develop within it. Instead, it’s a profit-driven business providing education to their ‘customers’.

UCAS reports show that last year (2017) the total number of students accepted on to degree courses equated to over half a million people. The entry numbers of students teetering near the highest they’ve ever been, but there are still so many departing having to undertake unpaid internships, complete further degrees or work roles with no real connection to their degree.

This is what led me to question: is this route of education still the right fit for our society in the 21st century?

There has been a plethora of research taken place, resulting in the knowledge that there are many different types of minds and a variety of preferred styles of learning. Often university degrees accommodate the teaching approach using lecture theatres with high amounts of ‘teacher talking time’, connecting with auditory learners but perhaps losing the visual, linguistic and kinesthetic. Some young people prefer to be spoon fed information in classrooms; they do fantastically well in their grades, yet fall apart when they are asked to think independently. Some people hated school, yet loved independent learning. There are many different types of intelligence too, like emotional intelligence, social intelligence, creative, linguistic, logical, the list goes on.

Millions of young people fall through the cracks because they believe they are inadequate within a subject, when in reality, the teaching focus’ and environment isn’t one that cultivates them as an individual. For example, I went to a ‘posh’ school. The year I joined the school became grant-maintained, the year before it was a fee-paying school. There was no way I could have gone if it was a fee-paying school. So, all of a sudden there was an intake of working-class boys in a very middle-class environment. One way or another we all felt excluded, or ‘othered’ and rebelled in our own ways, yet none of us understood why. This affected our grades. This affected ourselves.

However, with so many of us continuing to follow the traditional route of education, it comes hand in hand with government-controlled focus. And government controlled focus sends the masses in the same direction. So to see outside of this is often a barrier to other options and ideas surrounding how to be educated, and what makes you tick. Therefore, how might we be able to improve our current education system and allow all learners to strive?

Nurture and develop a curious and questioning mind; The arts in schools are under great threat of budget cuts with pressure instead on SATS results, leader boards and ‘core’ subjects being at the forefront of importance. The ability to think creatively is a skill that transfers to all industries and subjects. The movement from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to STEAM, now inclusive of the arts, was a welcome upgrade of the original abbreviation. So, instead of seeing a decrease of importance and funding for the subject, a real focus and energy being placed on it would support different subjects and future work spanning across all industries by nurturing and developing inquisitive minds.

Create a hunger to independently learn; Self-investment is never a waste and very often provides the biggest return than any other investment one can make. Incorporating into our education system how to understand the concept of ‘self’ and to gain real self-awareness, build self-confidence and sense of purpose would create the self-investment all students need.

Create productive collaborative experiences; Environments should be inspirational, not dictatorial. We often talk about the importance of our workplaces providing collaborative experiences, could our education system do the same? If a person is sparked, they can do a hell of lot independently and then come together to share and develop ideas.

Preparation for failure and for success; There is a movement in teachers becoming facilitators, which I hope continues to grow and be implemented across all forms of education; taking the approach of nurturing what a student loves, rather than directly instructing them how to do it. It should be more about refining questions rather than demanding answers.

Teaching adaptation to changes; There is an enormous amount of possibility in the modern world. The past 15 years has seen fantastic technologically-driven tools created for independent learners. Tell them about where to look, give them a reading list, give them communities online and offline to talk about their thoughts and development, and then tell them why they need to go to standard lectures and seminars.

The topic of education today is becoming increasingly more interesting to talk, as the people who didn’t take a liking to it may potentially be the best placed to handle the modern world’s challenges. Although this isn’t a requirement to work within the education sector, the more that we speak out on our experiences of education, whether that be good or bad, the more awareness there is of where problems lie.

In turn, this awareness transitions into conversation, and conversation sparks action. And that’s what we need, isn’t it? Actions to change the opportunities of learners and their journey throughout education and how they are educated. My experiences may not be positive; but like many others, I’m incredibly eager to watch how our system may change.

Article by
Matthew Gleeson
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