It’s 2020, and the world is experiencing a pandemic the likes of which have never been experienced before. People are actually encouraged to stay home and refrain from socializing, can you believe it? Goodbye travel, so long random meet ups with friends, and hugging and kissing? Don’t even think about it!
The point is that with countries shutting down their borders, cities on lockdown, and the global economy at risk, everyone is being affected. The education industry is no different. Schools at all levels have closed in an effort to contain the virus, affecting approximately 1.5 billion students — that’s roughly 90% of the world’s enrolled learners.
Despite the evolution and so-called modernization of the education industry, schools are not adapting fast enough to the changing landscape of society. Case in point, this mad scramble to keep education going during COVID-19 is just one example of how far behind these critical institutions are.
Even with the integration of technology, schools seem to be unable to break away from their Industrial Age roots of rote learning and memorization. In an earlier essay titled, The Education System: How Far Have We Really Come? we detail the history of education, tracing it back to our hunter and gatherer ancestors and the Ancient Greeks. Looking at the origins of education, we can see how learning was more a way of life than a social construct, with the divide between meaningful learning and education getting wider and wider as millennia passed.
The World Bank puts it very succinctly by saying, “The world is facing a learning crisis. While countries have significantly increased access to education, being in school isn’t the same thing as learning. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of children reach young adulthood without even the most basic skills.”
What Do Students Think?
According to a survey done by American nonprofit company YouthTruth from 2012–2017, “Less than half of secondary students feel that what they’re learning in class helps them outside of school… Only 48 percent of secondary students feel that what they are learning in class helps them outside of school.”
In a 2013 Gallup report that surveyed nearly 500,000 American students ranging from grades 5 to 12, it was found that, “nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated in the poll are engaged with school. By middle school that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged.”
Students are also worried about what the future holds for them and how schooling (or the lack thereof) can affect their futures. In a survey done by global education non-profit HundrED, “The survey revealed that being prepared for their careers was the top concern for students, with 83% of students selecting this option.
As 12th grader Jadaci Henderson stated in an interview with The Atlantic, “The role of school is to educate me, so that when I go out into society I can become productive. I can be a functioning member of society who can work, who can educate someone else, who can be a role model. That’s what I always thought it was. Now, I’m seeing the role of school — of education — [as] basically a pastime, like a public babysitter for whoever feels their children should be here.”
So What Now?
What can we do to fix this, to bridge this huge gap in the education industry? The picture seems bleak, we know. And we’ll be honest and say there’s no easy way to go about fixing something that has been around for millennia, especially something that seems to be very well entrenched in its own roots. But change has to start somewhere, and the first step to getting there is to rethink the education system.
We shouldn’t just take education at its face value. If we want change, we have to question the system, analyze it, determine its strengths and weaknesses, reach out to people outside the education industry, look for alternative fixes, and have open-minded discussions with industry leaders. No problem was ever solved by leaving it be. If we want change to happen, if we want a better future for education, students, teachers, and the world of learning, we have to start a revolution.
Are you in?