Bridging the Classroom to the Real World: A Student’s Perspective

“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 It’s outdated, it’s boring, it’s inefficient — whatever your complaint might be, the worst part is that no one seems to have a solution, no one’s actually doing anything.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

Find your OWN way

We’re bombarded by messages all the time. This profession makes good money, that profession works long hours, this is good, the same thing is bad etc. There are so many opinions out there — but are these opinions framed in a way that’s truly beneficial for those who really need them?

Students today have guidance counselors, university visits, and access to the abundance of information on the internet to guide their career decisions. However a common sentiment is “I’m not sure.” If there’s all this information out there, why are students still lost?

Lack of real-world experiences

Some students have the privilege to be exposed to different people and experiences. They’re much more likely to understand what field they would like to do — because they’ve experienced more. It’s easy to know you never want to be a vet after interning at a vet’s office, because you get a comprehensive look at what it means to be a vet.

So, what should students do to be less lost?

1. Ask yourself questions

It all begins with you, internally. Believe that you have all the answers already, and they’re simply waiting to be found. What do you like to do you in your spare time? What brings you joy? What do you do purely because you enjoy it? What do you offer to help your friends do? What do you dread? What type of lifestyle do you want to live? Where do you want to live? Come up with a summary and find patterns. Discover multiple positions, in different fields that meet these patterns. For example, if you like talking to people, you could be a counsellor, talk show host, cashier, tutor, taxi driver, consultant… and a lot more.

2. Intern

Try it out. How do you know until you try? Keep evaluating yourself in the setting. You may hate it and be great at it, or be horrible at it but love it. Come up with some conclusions.

3. Network

Network around. Ask others for their advice. What do they like? What don’t they like? What do they find to be challenging? What do they recommend? Is it the same for you?

4. Find your tribe

Similarly to the networking, find like-minded people and further develop yourself within an area. Realise you hate all the people around you? Time to switch to something else. Realise you’re the same as everyone else? Maybe it’s a good fit.

It’s a journey figuring it out, but know you’ll get a little less loss over time.

Value of Handling an Event from our student volunteer.

Value of Handling an Event and being an OWN Academy student volunteer.

Audrey is a student volunteer from French International School in Hong Kong who did exceptionally well in managing OWN Future Fair 2018. This is a testimony of what she learned and experience with OWN Academy in managing an event.

I was part of the administration team in organizing the FIS OWN Future Fair and this just may be one of the most informative and insightful learning experiences of my life.

The OWN Future Fair is OWN Academy’s flagship event where speakers are brought in from different industries to educate today’s youth about what career options are actually out there as well as exposing them to internship opportunities.

Having attended a couple of these before, I automatically assumed that it couldn’t be that time consuming to put something like that together. Having brought this up with my friends, I didn’t seem to be the only one. All you really have to do is send out an email to potential speakers, allocate them rooms, be there on the day for registration and that’s it… right?

Wrong.

Collaborating with OWN Academy on organizing this event gave me invaluable real-world experience in event management. They placed a lot of trust in me in communicating with
business people through email directly, answering all their questions and coordinating with the school and the company. I realized that people’s schedules are unreliable and that as an event organizer, you always have to be ready for last-minute changes.

My skills in writing emails have drastically improved and I was taught how exactly to synthesize key information into digestible sections for these busy people to skim through and know what I’m talking about. I can only imagine how useful that’s going to be when I start looking for a job. I learnt to use different digital platforms to facilitate communication and keeping track of what’s happening, like Doodle for attendance polls and Zoom for registration-free video conferences. I had also never seen Google Spreadsheets used more efficiently than for this event; it opened my eyes to how useful these types of software actually are.

On the day of the FIS OWN Future Fair, I started to understand how to keep a level of professionalism and formality towards business people who have kindly donated their time to the cause of educating others, but also keeping it friendly and comfortable for to maintain a fun and engaging environment that people will want to come back to. Being the student in charge of administration, many questions were directed at me and it pushed me to become a better, more succinct and clear communicator.

Overall, it was a lot of work. But unlike most academic matters as school, this was truly rewarding. I spoke to some classmates that had attended the event and were in the sessions with the professionals and they all enjoyed it immensely which made me really happy.

To all the students who have the opportunity to attend an OWN Future Fair: GO. It is beyond worth it. To all the students who have the opportunity to participate in organizing the OWN Future Fair: GO. It’s eye-opening and incredibly gratifying to make happen. To all the professionals who made it on the day: THANK YOU for sharing your knowledge. To Christy and
the entire team at OWN Academy. THANK YOU for helping me develop these skills, I’m eternally grateful.

French International School students taking down notes at the OWN Future Fair 2018

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