As if to answer the question I left hanging last week, “Is that what education really means?” — referring to a student’s ability to satisfy a teacher’s or a school’s requirements and get a diploma — news came out of our performance in the PISA 2018 where our students ranked at the bottom of around 70 countries.
The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an assessment tool of the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) administered to 15 year olds and “examines what students know in reading, mathematics and science, and what they can do with what they know.”
Since the result has been out for a few days, there has been all sorts of panic in the education-sphere. “Oh look how bad our students are,” or “Oh, we need to do something about this,” and “We need to spend more money on education,” “We need to teach more math and science,” and so on.
The typical educator’s knee-jerk reaction to this sort of thing is to think that it needs more teaching, with the assumption that it will lead to more learning. Expect more projects, extra reading and homework in math and science in these coming months because the “brick” that people seem to think that a good education is made of has math, science and reading as its main ingredients, and schools want to produce as much of these bricks as possible in order to do better in the next round of PISA.
Let me repeat the question I asked, is this what education really means?
I am not saying that reading, math and science are unimportant. They are quite important and useful but they seem to be hogging all the attention right now, as if our performance in them is all that matters, as if education is all about doing well in these areas.
We pay a lot of lip-service to the idea that children develop at their own pace and have their own strengths and interests. It is lip service because, believe me, because of this PISA report, and because of misplaced pride and a sense that “we ought to do something,” a lot of money and effort is going to be poured into these 3 areas. A lot of kids are going to be forced to do well in reading, math and science by age 15 because that is what will be expected of them to raise our PISA scores and restore our national pride in our “education.”
But what about emotional stability? What about intentionality and self-direction in life? What about knowing one’s self — one’s own strength, weaknesses, and inclinations? What about sound decision-making? What about being kind and considerate to others? What about respect and responsibility? What about social interaction and ethics?
A child may be able to factor a quadratic square trinomial, or perfectly balance a chemical equation, or explain the Theory of Relativity, but if they cannot manage their emotions, if they lack empathy, cannot handle stress, and don’t have a clue what to do with their life, then none of that other stuff is really going to matter.
A child is not another brick in the wall, not something to be shaped by adults into an image of their liking. A child is a human being, like you and me. And just as we expect others to respect our individuality and humanity, so must we respect theirs.