Our Educational System is a Funny, Contradictory Mess

Photo by Richard Philip Rucker
Photo by Richard Philip Rucker

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

As a former teacher and now a parent, I cannot help but observe a few things I find dissonant in how we educate our children.

A child usually starts out in pre-school, and a lot of pre-schools adopt or adapt some principles of the Montessori system or some other progressive system. The basic idea is we encourage pre-school children to explore, play, and socialize. We are happy when they become interested in learning. We ooh and ahh at their drawings. We answer their incessant questions as best we can. We give high marks for leadership and communication when they can talk to their classmates, carry a conversation, or spearhead a game or activity. When they assist their classmates, we tell the parents, “Your child is very helpful.”

When they enter grade one, however, those natural inclinations are curbed by more rigid rules and schedules. Learning is encouraged as long as it is within the bounds of the teachers lesson plan. If the child is curious about cooking or carpentry or how to train a dog, he is told to be quiet and learn his addition, or to memorize the different legal holidays in the Philippines.

When the child starts drawing in class, she is told to stop and instead pay attention to the teacher’s lecture on the different kinds of rocks. When they talk to their classmates, they are no longer possessing “good communication skills” but instead are now labeled “talkative.” When they assist their classmates or when they ask for help, they are now thought to be cheating.

So for the next ten years or so of his life, the many of the child’s desires are suppressed and he is forced to spend most of his day (and night) learning six or seven subjects that we adults have deemed important for him to learn — even if we ourselves have forgotten most of those supposedly important things. If they are really that important, why have we forgotten them? And if they are not important after all, why inflict them on our children?

I mean, seriously, the average adult does not know the difference between metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rocks, and yet my daughter was taught these things in first grade. She had to memorize the definitions because they were going to have a quiz the next day. They were not even shown pictures or told why it was important to differentiate those rocks. Most likely, the teacher taught the lesson just because it was in the book. Up to this day, I cannot understand why we need to torture first graders with this lesson, most of whom will not grow up to be geologists anyway.

Before you know it, it’s time for college — time to choose a school and a major (which we call “course” in the Philippines). And we adults wonder why these teenagers cannot decide what to take. Why should we even wonder when the school has systematically drummed out most of their desires and has not even exposed them to a wider array of things to learn? Yet we now expect them to choose between hundreds of possible courses with names such as Industrial Design, Management Engineering, International Studies, Multimedia Arts, Management Economics, and a lot more. Is it any wonder they are confused?

What’s even worse is that once they have decided on a course, we expect them to stick to it, even though most of the time they chose it because it was their parents’ desire, or they just imitated their friend, or they just simply could not choose and had to do eenie-meenie-miny-moe. Shifting is highly discouraged and mostly looked down upon as a mark of indecisiveness, lack of focus, or lack of direction.

We end up with a lot of graduates still not knowing what they want. We have musicians who are engineering graduates, or nursing graduates who are graphic designers, or math majors who are English teachers. And wonder of wonders, we have flunkers, cheaters and dropouts who are highly successful business owners.

Our educational system is a contradictory mess. It is funny, but it is also sad. Make no mistake. I am not blaming our teachers but the system itself. The teachers and administrators are victims themselves of the system. And my next few articles will attempt to explore this in more detail.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me, but please don’t send rocks.

I Have Nothing To Say

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I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry.

– John Cage

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