Making Education Better

Listening to an interview on NPR with Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, makes me think a lot about a topic that has been dear to my heart recently: How can we educate our children (and all people) better?  Quality education ranks high up there for me as one of the most important things that can be provided for people.  I truly believe that the more educated the world is the better off the world will be.

The problems with our current education systems are many, as are the ideas for solutions.  I tend to have a lot of agreement with the likes of Salman Khan, that the system of grinding students through the mill of learning is not necessarily the best approach.  Learning is a complex and challenging process, and getting people, especially the young people like kids, is made all the more harder.  However, there are a lot of good ideas, and a lot of helpful tools, and so we should all be working to evaluate them and see how they can make the process better.

For my part, I wish that there had been something like Khan Academy when I was growing up.  Eliza and I have used Khan Academy extensively with Rayna and it has been a fantastic boon.  Not only is the material presented in an easy to follow format, but it can be accessed again and again and again with ease.  All three of us can watch the videos, so that Rayna is not left feeling like she is learning something alone.  Furthermore, the videos can be accessed from anywhere that has an Internet connection, which is increasingly becoming almost everywhere depending on personal mobile devices.

Khan Academy is just one example of alternate tools and approaches to education that are helping to change the landscape.  There are others too.  Personally, I think that the important thing is that the education system as a whole re-evaluates what it means to learn and how people learn.  Rote memorization seems silly to me in this day and age, because only rarely in life do we have to rely on immediate memory recall.  Furthermore, I think there needs to be a fundamental attitude shift in how we treat struggling students.  Avoiding seeing them as problems, and instead addressing their struggles in regards to their potential.  This means not punishing a kid who struggles to get good grades, but instead working to find out what is preventing them from that good grade in the first place.

Obviously there are a lot of ideas about the best way to approach education.  Unfortunately I feel like the discussion gets too caught up in politics and personal ideology rather than the consideration of the intrinsic benefits of quality education.  Additionally, it is a realm that is often blindly dictated by traditional thinking (“well we’ve always done it this way, so if must be good.”).  However, I see hope in the efforts of some very creative and innovative individuals.  In time, I believe things will get better and better.

If I had any charge of the changes to education here are some that I would try to make.

  1. Showing compassion: I truly believe, that given the opportunity, all people would love to learn more.  We are curious beings, and increasing our knowledge gives us a sense of satisfaction.  That being said, in a system where students are graded on how many answers they get right on tests, we inadvertently make them feel punished for what we call poor performance, and often deem them “lost causes.”  I like to be optimistic, and think that no child needs to be a “lost cause.”  Instead, I feel like we need a system where one size does not necessarily fit all, and where getting a passing grade is not dependant on solely performing well on tests and homework, but on demonstrating improvement in knowledge and application of that which is learned.
  2. Critical Thinking:  If there is one thing, above all others, that I feel is vital to a good education, it is teaching students how to apply good critical thinking to their world.  Good critical thinking is knowing how to dig deeper into claims, how to ask relevant questions, and how to adhere to the basic principles of logical reasoning.  Critical thinking is not synonymous with skepticism or rebelliousness, but instead is the reasonable approach of asking, “is this believable or useful information.”  I often feel like if more of us would apply more critical thinking skills, the world would flow in a much smoother manner.
  3. Balancing external interests: The first and foremost interest of a quality education system should be to the students which it serves.  However, no education system is totally free of external influences, whether they be politics, family, economical, etc.  I think it is important not to deny these external forces a hand, but instead to make sure that their roles are balanced and reasoned, and all for the end goal of producing more educated and well-rounded students.
  4. Adaptability: Approaches to education should constantly be adapting to the best available knowledge and resources to provide educational learning.  Without question our education system has come a long way.  Additionally, we still have far to go.  Just because one technique, tool, or approach was once the standard does not mean that it still should be.  Those incapable of accepting change and adapting to the needs of the time, should remove themselves for the constantly mutable system.

I love hearing other people’s ideas on education.  Leave a comment and I will try and get back to you.  Here is to the future of quality education.

~ by Nathaniel on October 11, 2012.

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