“Schools ought to go back to the basics,” is something a lot of people say but rarely do they think about what it actually means. Most people understand this as focusing on specific subjects like math or science, with good manners and values thrown in because, oh, the youth should be taught these things so they don’t turn out to be like these “whiny, entitled millennials” — who seem to (unfairly) be everyone’s favorite punching bag these days.
Author and educational leader, Ken Robinson, also makes a case for going back to basics, but not in the sense that most people have about which subjects to include or not in the curriculum. Rather, going back to basics means going back to the purpose of education, and this makes a lot of sense because before we start talking about curriculum, we need to be clear about what this entire exercise is ultimately for.
In his book, Creative Schools:The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (co-authored with Lou Aronica), Robinson outlines 4 broad purposes of education:
- Economic – Education should enable students to become economically responsible and independent.
- Cultural – Education should enable students to understand and appreciate their own cultures and to respect the diversity of others.
- Social – Education should enable young people to become active and compassionate citizens.
- Personal – Education should enable young people to engage with the world within them as well as the world around them.
The first purpose – economic – is what mass education was initially supposed to address. Getting a college degree meant getting a good job with a decent pay which made one economically stable and independent, and for a few decades that was going along fine. It was a right fit in the industrial era of factories. Children were “manufactured” in school for a few years, and came out with stamps of approval called diplomas, and they were expected to have certain basic skills suitable for work in the factory or any of its support systems like accounting, marketing, and so on.
When my preschool yearbook came out, we had our photos there with toothless smiles and underneath our names was a caption with the words “I want to be a/an ____” and the for the most part, you could see the words doctor, lawyer or engineer in that blank. You might also see businessman and accountant, and for decades everyone knew what these professions were and what they meant.
In today’s world, we have jobs and professions that literally did not exist just a short 10 or 20 years ago — like social media manager, influencer, game streamer, youtuber, web developer, information architect, and these require a very different set of skills and attitudes than what is being traditionally offered in schools today.
Schools operate on mainly the same methods and principles as they did 100 years ago. That is one of the reasons why there is a huge disconnect between what students learn in school and what they face in reality, because the world has changed a lot since then.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.