“What do you think about our education system today?”
This is quite the controversial question: loaded with heated opinions from teachers, students, parents, and multinational education companies.
But no matter what your opinion might be, we all have a nagging sense of discontent with the education system. It’s outdated, it’s boring, it’s inefficient — whatever your complaint might be, the worst part is that no one seems to have a solution, no one’s actually doing anything.
A bit of background about me: my father moves often because of his work — so while I’m still a rising junior in high school, I’ve gone to about 9 different schools. When I was younger, I just subconsciously adapted to the different curriculums without giving it much thought; however, as I entered high school, I started to compare the education systems and think about what education should really look like.
This is the journey of a high school student that transferred from a strictly Asian education system to an American one — and had first-hand experience with what the future of education should actually look like.
The Japanese education system is strictly regimented — exams are based on intense memorization and analysis of textbook information, classes consist of quiet lectures and students frantically taking notes, and there’s an emphasis on hard work and dedication. I was a hard worker; but I just could not understand the purpose behind spending hours on end to memorize every inch of the history book. The exams tested the most meticulous details — specific dates of events and ridiculously long names of historically significant conferences — and spending my weekends regurgitating all this information felt pointless. Especially when I forgot most of this information a week after the exam, I often wished that teachers would tell me the purpose behind learning this information, and how it would benefit me in the real world.
I actually loved writing dystopian novels in middle school and my passions were deeply rooted in the humanities — but as I dedicated any free time to practicing calculus practice problems instead, my love for writing slowly faded away. I was well-rounded but bored, disengaged, and school started to feel like a time-consuming obligation.
After 3 years in a Japanese education system, I moved to Hong Kong because of my father’s business. Transferring to a different high school in a different country, education curriculum, language, and values was a drastic change in my life that caused me to rethink my preconceived notions on education and my abilities.
The first two months at American International School in Hong Kong was like a sigh of relief. The classes were based on broader concepts and were significantly easier, I had more time to pursue writing in my free time, and I fell in love with English class. At one point, I remember asking the English teacher for extra assignments so I can become an even better writer. This is the same girl who found school to be a “time-consuming obligation” just a month ago — it’s amazing what passion can do to someone.
Although the American curriculum allowed for more flexibility in my schedule, and I genuinely enjoyed the classes, I still had a lingering feeling that something was missing in the education system. I realized that I was still unsure of how this all connected to my future.
This was when I experienced Real World Learning Week by OWN Academy — a truly life-changing experience where, for the first time in my life, I felt genuine hope regarding the future of education. I distinctly remember this “aha!” moment — where I realized that this is what education should look like.
I have to admit that at first, I was skeptical about Real World Learning Week. So many schools claim to “prepare students for the real world”, that this had merely become a superficial tagline in my mind. I imagined this program to consist of long lectures by career professionals, followed by a “reflective essay within 1200 words”.
Real World Learning Week is a one-week program that brings the industry experience into the classroom. My group was assigned to a company called On Air Collective, an experiential marketing company, and we were given a business problem to solve within a week. During this week, we conducted our own research by creating a survey and interviewing people on the street, we did market research on our client, and received professional advice from the mentors. At the end of the week, we pitched our solution to the company — and my group actually ended up coming in first. I was selected for an internship from both On Air Collective and ThinkCol (a data science consulting firm).
During the summer, I completed my three-week internship with ThinkCol.There’s one moment that stands out during my internship — I was told by my mentor to create presentation slides for a potential client. I remember feeling confident as I got to work, until I realized that I had no rubric that outlined exactly what I had to do. What was I supposed to do to create “A+” quality presentation slides? I was so used to following specific directions and doing whatever teachers asked of me that I was completely at loss when I had to think for myself. I also realized that students are bound not to fail — there are reassessments, extra credit work, and so many safety nets to ensure that we do not fail. In the real world, failure is inevitable and often the best way to learn. Throughout this internship, I became better at thinking critically and independently.
I learnt more about the real world in these three weeks than my ten years at school.
This is what education should look like. There must be a clear link between what I learn at school and how these skills are applied in the real world; because otherwise, I’m unable to see a bigger purpose behind what I do, and I am left completely befuddled about my future options. The Japanese curriculum taught me the importance of hard work, the American curriculum gave me more flexibility in my schedule to pursue my hobbies; but students need a way to see how this connects to the real world.
The internships I was able to land through OWN Academy completely changed my thinking and helped me gain clarity about my future — this was the first time I had learnt about the real world, in the real world. I always assumed that this kind of exposure could wait until I was older and more knowledgeable; but the 21st century values soft skills — like emotional intelligence, creativity, and adaptability — which can only be trained through real world experiences. Schools, I know these skills are difficult to measure and quantify, but that isn’t a reason to avoid teaching it altogether.
These real world experiences do not replace school, they simply augment the knowledge acquired at school. It is only when we see the bigger picture about our future, that we see purpose behind what we do at school.
A year after my interaction with OWN Academy through Real World Learning Week, I’ve come back and written this piece because the impacts of this program still shape my thinking today. This program unlocked something within me — intrinsic motivation and a sense of purpose that all high school students have the potential to feel. Having gone through OWN Academy’s program and internships, I am living evidence that there’s something about this program that really works.
Schools, corporations, parents — I speak on behalf of all the high school students when I say that we are unprepared for the future. It’s easy to sit back and accept the problems in the status quo because change is uncomfortable. I agree — someone else can instigate change, it’s easier to just wait.
But as a student whose entire outlook on life was transformed because of the change that OWN Academy, American International School, and the companies were willing to make, I truly believe that some change is worth fighting for.
By Yui Kurosawa, Age 17