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Schools stifling our intellect

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While learning has its plus points, there are some who think that the modern school system does not extol the benefits of education.

MODERN, public, free and compulsory schooling was first introduced by the King of Prussia in 1760.

He introduced schooling to shape the minds of the people into being docile and obedient to his rule. Shortly after, this concept mushroomed throughout the globe to be adopted by the French, the Americans, and eventually the whole world. Napoleon Bonaparte also embraced this concept 50 years later. In his very own words, “I want to create an educational body that will steer the way the French people think!

Even at the core of its early foundation, indoctrination and brainwashing became the main objective of the formation of the school. Apart from the basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, schools were to ensure the despot rulers stayed in power.

The schools today with timetables and syllabus and division of classes by age, are very much like the Prussian schools.

The early intention of the formation of school is thus a betrayal to the word “education” itself. Its goals were to deplete the human mind, imprison them and train them to be workers in the Industrial Revolution. It was to mould people into becoming submissive servants; and it still does so, albeit in arguably subtler ways.

Schools today see children being told to memorise answers and solutions to problems, and subscribe to the idea of success that is defined by winning over others, paper qualifications and dollars and cents.

Did you know that 98% of children aged five are geniuses? This finding was concluded by scientist and speaker George Land, who also found that this number dropped to a whopping 30% when a group of 10-year olds were tested.

Only 12% of 15-year-olds are considered geniuses, and out of tested adults, only 2% are geniuses. So what could probably be wrong?

Let’s roughly consider what happens between the ages of five and adulthood. We grow up, we experience new things, we meet more people and most importantly, we go to school.

Now, blaming school for the decadence in human intellect is of course a grossly simplified hypothesis, given that so many other variables also come into play.

But, have we ever considered why the school system has been made so synonymous to education in the first place? We know education is important, but why is school so important?

The human brain is apparently elastic and can be very flexible.

Neuroscientists describe the brain’s capability to biologically adapt to changes and new knowledge as “plasticity”.

Plasticity allows humans to learn new things, new characters and also adjust to prevailing situations wherever necessary.

Thus, any normal and healthy individual should be clever, as long as they are allowed access to the new knowledge or experience.

The question is, with the imposition of school on humans, did we do justice to plasticity or did we rather inhibit any progress to their intellectual development thereby limiting their true potential?

Children are said to live in the moment and without worries. They are endowed with brains that are ready and eager to learn like an absorbent sponge. Self-learning in human is innate.

A child’s first three years is where growth is steepest. The child grows and is capable of communicating in one or two languages, decipher simple problems, formulate questions and possess the drive to do things on his own. What happened to the rate of the human growth in later years up to adulthood? Why are only 2% of adults, geniuses?

Nature versus Nurture

In Latin, tabula rasa means blank slate. It is the epistemological theory that individuals are born with an “empty” brain and all their knowledge comes from experience, perception and learning.

In essence, proponents of tabula rasa favour nurture over nature, as coined by polymath Francis Galton.

It is in contrast to opposing theories which hold that human intellect can be genetic. On top of the nature vs nature view, one should not discount that, divine intervention is also a major part of learning and intellectual attainment.

From an education perspective, tabula rasa proposes that children build personalities, establish behaviours and become intelligent, as a result of nurturing. In essence, it is implying that intelligence and desirable personalities are neither fated nor incidental.

Education bodies worldwide have continued to remain committed to early twentieth century educational philosophy.

They have not been able to significantly challenge this tradition. Words that suitably describe this current philosophy include “conveying”, “imparting” and “telling” of information and facts, instead of “discovering”, “encouraging”, “provoking” and “nurturing”. It has always been about teaching pedagogy and not about learning.

Learning involves failure and making mistakes, things that the education systems these days no longer seem to tolerate.

Similarly, there is a litany of words used to describe teaching such as “pedagogy” and “andragogy”, but synonyms for learning exist not in the same abundance. We have always been trying to produce skilled teachers, but what about skilled learners?

Brazillian critical educationist Paulo Freire suggested a solution; a two-way relationship has to be introduced to learning from both teacher and student.

He promoted the teacher-student concept, where the teacher is the mentor who learns, and the student is a learner who teaches.

Teaching versus learning is best concluded by renowned scientist Albert Einsten when he said, “I never teach my pupils, I only provide conditions in which they learn.”

Foucault, Kant and Freire viewed that education should not act as information transferring to the masses. If this were the case, children would then be considered as educated or intelligent through how much information they could absorb.

The products would be children who are good at answering quizzes, not adult citizens with problem-solving skills, innovation and human compassion.

Here’s the conundrum: can we arrive to the conclusion that our existing modern schools can largely be considered obsolete and outdated?

Its main shortfall is the focus on teaching, rather than learning, freedom of choice and the inculcating love and human linkages within a body of individual and collective development process.

The call to rethink education is now vital to ensure that plasticity of the brain is fully capitalised and translated into greater outcomes from the school-going child.

Children must no longer be taught based on resulting education materials, rather be made involved in the process of reaching those conclusions and attaining those materials.

Educators and governing authorities responsible for the schooling system must call for a shift of focus for the school.

Now is the time to move towards equipping children with tools of freedom through critical thinking, selfinduced intellect, self-reliance, cooperation and compassion for others.

A major enabler for this goal is having the school incentives systems slowly revamped; from chasing after cold, hard academic targets, to softer, nurturing and encourag ing key performance indexes.

This is to allow children to discover their own answers, instead of imposing answers onto them.

Education should be fun and exciting.

Imagine schools that encourage children to be curious, discovering, reading outside of textbook requirements, asking difficult questions, creating new things and most importantly, schools must start to “humanise humans” again.

The result of such an education or nurturing system, onto society will be game-changing for sure.

As Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire said: Studying doesn’t consist of devouring ideas but of creating and re-creating them.

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