You get the education system that you deserve

When I showed my previous post about learner motivation on FB, it sparked off some ‘intense’ discussion among teachers and non-teachers. The main difference in opinion lies in whether we should purely follow children’s interests (thereby teaching them only what they want to learn), or have them learn what we think is useful to them. One non-teacher mother has this to say:

“To want to learn, the child needs to see a purpose. …… In my ideal world, children should be allowed to learn what they want to learn. As they go through life, they would come to realize what they lack and proceed to acquire the knowledge with ferocity. To be honest, I learned fairly little all through primary and secondary school. The hours I sat in a classroom bored out of my mind (sic) was a waste of my time and social resources. Of course, every child is different.”

There is obviously a conflict between the intrinsic purpose of education (to bring out the best in each child), and the social purpose of education (to develop each child as a contributing member of society). If we subscribe exclusively to the former philosophy, we let each child learn only what they’re intrinsically interested in. If they don’t want to learn Chinese, or English, or Maths, etc., we don’t force them to. If the latter, we impose a school curriculum on every child, and we teach what WE think is useful to them in later life. One example I like citing is Maths. How many children are intrinsically interested in Maths? I’m guessing the number must be quite small. But society considers that Maths is ‘useful’ to every functioning citizen, and so we subject every child to 12 years of maths learning in school, whether they like it or not. So, what should we do? Totally child-centred (in the sense of totally succumbing to their interests), or compulsory schooling with a state-mandated curriculum? To me, there is no easy answer.

A teacher challenges the rigidity of our present education system:

“ Indeed I sometimes pity children when the school system fails to help them see the values of their learning. School is indeed pretty much like a prison. They are forced to go there. They need to follow prescribed rules. They need to follow fixed schedules. They don’t have the right to say no. Having that thought in my mind would remind me how important it is for us to motivate them and make learning enjoyable so that schools do not resemble prisons.”

Unfortunately, our whole education system is so rigid that it’s the child’s responsibility to catch up with every phase of schooling. The system has no patience to wait for every child to develop according to their own interest, and at their own pace. Even homeschooling is against the law in many countries. The US is moving towards even more regulating of schools’ and students’ academic ‘performances’, ensuring that all students reach certain pre-set standards. But I won’t single out the education system for blame, because the education system is also an epitome of the whole socio-economic system that people desire. To me, at the end of the day, we must ask the most fundamental question instead of just blaming the education system: What kind of society do WE want to live in?


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