Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Education System According to a 14 Year Old

I picked my 14 year old son up from school today and I was not expecting the enlightened discussion that we would have whilst waiting to pick up my daughter. He mentioned that the day prior, he had watched a YouTube video about education (see below) and how 'the education system is outdated and designed to train factory workers'. I was very intrigued to find out more of what he thought, especially considering his age and current school experiences. His perspective (and that of all students) is vitally important. Being a secondary school student, it's easy for him to form opinions about what he does or doesn't like about school and I'm used to him saying "it's boring". Today was the first time I think that even he had cause to really question the system he is part of.

The video in question was this one:
Now, I feel very passionate about 21st Century Learning skills and I have read a lot about them but never usually from a child's perspective. Whilst listening to my son, I really wanted to write some of the stuff he was saying down because I thought it was quite powerful and reinforced my passion. His words echo what we are hearing a lot these days about outdated teaching methods.

Before reading on though, it's important to understand that these are only opinions and both my son and I know that not all teachers are like this, he is simply speaking of his experiences. 

This is a transcript of our conversation (with my analysis in italics underneath):
What skills are students being trained in according to the clip? Well, following instructions without questioning them. When you're told to do something, you're rewarded for doing what you're told without question.
I think this is a good point that he makes; students are often conditioned to do what they're told and to not question it. To question something can be seen as disrespectful or rude to some people. He sees this in his day to day life and it's refreshing to see that he understands that to question something is actually a good thing. It means he knows that challenging a thought or opinion can lead to overall better outcomes.

What do you think are important skills now? Teamwork, being creative, knowing what to do, doing things without being told (using our initiative).
How often do we STILL see classrooms set up like this?
Does this layout foster 21st Century Learning skills?
image courtesy of Bairli1
I explained to him that what he is describing is some of the 21st Century Learning skills and that I am passionate about seeing these embedded in our day to day learning in all schools. He understands that these skills are vital for future jobs and when he spoke, you could hear in his voice the disappointment that creativity isn't promoted and rewarded as much as academic ability is. For a very creative young man as he is (and many other students are), it can be stifling to be prohibited from expressing your creativity. 

 "schools are meant to prepare you for the future but our future isn't factory jobs. It's not helping this generation of kids."
Why is it bad that teachers are not changing with the times? Because schools are meant to prepare you for the future but our future isn't factory jobs. It's not helping this generation of kids. 
How insightful of him to say this. He knows that jobs will be different in a few years time and that he needs to be prepared for that. He has developed a keen sense of what school should be doing for HIM and his peers. He sees the consequences of not moving with the times. This is obviously a big reason as to why he might feel 'bored' or unmotivated to succeed with school work. It also highlights the importance of contextualising information so that students see value and purpose in what they do. 

What would be a good way for teachers to teach now instead of the old way? Get more involved with the classroom. Teamwork activities. Improvise. Not by the book. In English for example, let you write what you want, for as long as you want and then be graded on how good that work is. Just let us be creative with our work. They can't grade every student as if they're the same. They need to treat students differently based on what they can or can't do. E.g. if one student is really good at English and one isn't it doesn't mean they are stupid, it just means its not their thing.
I like that he made mention of 'not by the book', as it has been a frustration of mine for some time. I don't like seeing teachers teach straight from a text book - it doesn't help anyone and isn't really teaching when anyone could read the information themselves and learn it. For the students to notice the poor form in teaching straight from a book is something that shouldn't surprise anyone; if kids notice then I think it's time to re-evaluate how you teach.
I also love his example of writing in English. I am a firm believer in choice for writing - at all age levels. I don't want to sit and write a fictional story of make believe when that isn't interesting to me. Why should I be assessed on that? Sure, it's good to know what the different text types are but am I ever going to write a fiction novel? Probably not. I can learn about grammar in texts that I like and I can develop reading skills from any literature source that I choose rather than what I am told to learn from. Literacy can easily be taught whilst taking into account individuality and choice. If we provide choice, surely engagement increases and learning outcomes become more positive. 

What will the jobs of the future look like? Probably mostly computer based with a lot of skills to do with computers like coding skills. Pen and paper isn't as important as it used to be and we use it less because we have phones and tablets.
This is the world we live in; typing on a computer or tablet, taking photo's on our phones, messaging people instantly via text or email. It's fast paced and our kids know it's getting faster. Sure, pen and paper aren't as important now as they once were but our jobs will be vastly different. You can read any number of articles online about what the future of jobs will be like and most kids understand it too. Sure, we have coding and see its value in schools but it's more than just coding; it's teaching children how to think, find and solve problems, collaborate and be creative. 

I think that we often forget to ask the students their thoughts of their learning environment and the outcomes that they want. Talking to my son today really highlighted that for me and I was thankful that he was thinking so deeply about this and I'm grateful that he brought it up and questioned it.  I guess this is where the challenge lies for education in general; how do we know that our teachers are preparing their students for the world of tomorrow? What can we do to change old, fixed mindsets about teaching and learning? What will happen if only some teachers change and others adapt? There's no quick and easy answer and we all have our own opinions of what works. I wonder though what the consequences are to society if we fail to keep up - who suffers? I think at the end of the day, we all do. 


  1. This is a great bog Danny and great to see Lachie getting involved. I liked reading about the way he see’s creativity and innovation as a requirement for the work age, and if we think about the skills our next generation need, it is problem solving and innovation through collaboration. This is missing from the industrial teaching methods.

  2. Thanks Ben, means a lot that you read it and Lachie says "Yay, thanks Uncle Ben" :)