The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. — Martin Luther King Jr.
In today’s times, we need to equip ourselves with skills that can actually help us benefit from the 'Information Revolution'. Yet, a major part of our education system still follows the model developed during the Industrial Revolution.
Advancements in the field of education have led to the development of many new models and products that claim to be 'educational'. However, most of them do not meet the true needs of children, whose brain are developing rapidly.
As a result, our children are not well prepared for the real examination called LIFE, even though they may do extremely well in academics.
Addressing real needs
In the past, scientific, technological and social advancements took place gradually over a long time. Therefore, earlier generations had time to adapt to the change.
However, the last two generations have seen the world progress in every sphere of by leaps and bounds in a very short span of time. But, a major part of our educational system hasn’t evolved to meet the changing needs.
Therefore, we need to identify and understand the skills that we need to equip our children with to help them meet the challenges of the future.
- Adaptability: This is one of the most important skills we need to teach our children. They should be encouraged to keep an open mind, steer change consciously and comfortably adapt to changing situations. This adaptability should not be for mere survival but to spur true innovation and transformation.
- Environmental awareness: Our education system places very little emphasis on environmental issues such as deforestation, soil erosion, pollution, use and abuse of plastics and global warming. Barring a few schools, most educational institutions do not take up the cause of the environment. A detached and sterile approach to life should be replaced by a more inclusive and conscious lifestyle that will help children realise the seriousness of the problem. It will also encourage them to come up with solutions that arise from true understanding and behavioural change.
- Health, safety and wellness: Text books of almost every class will include chapters on nutrition, hygiene and health. However, the majority of children only memorise the questions and answers given in these chapters. With the alarming increase in lifestyle-related illnesses, it is essential for children to know how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
- Emotional intelligence: The ability to be aware of emotions and effectively regulate them is the most important skill to teach a child. To help our children handle problems such as suicide or sexual abuse in the right manner, we should strive to develop their emotional intelligence. Better emotional intelligence will make a child consciously aware, responsible and consistent in action, and go a long way in defining 'character'.
- Values to value addition: In most schools, not more than an hour or a class per week is devoted to teaching moral values and ethics, with more importance given to academics. This limits the time available for nurturing essential moral values. Also, a child can only learn values in a stress-free environment where she feels that she has added value to the whole.
- Product versus process: The present system of education glorifies grades and certifications whereas true learning is rooted in mindfully engaging with the process. One of the biggest needs to be addressed in the field of education today is mindful engagement with failure and success. This will lead a child towards innovation, development and excellence. Several Ivy League Schools introduce concepts like intelligent fast failure into their curriculum to push the child to be more creative and productive. Fast failure is simply a technical term for failing frequently, as each experience offers an opportunity to learn from mistakes. Sadly, our system places a premium on grades, which inevitably leads to regressive practices like rote learning.
- Empathy, gratitude and compassion: With shrinking spaces for play, fewer siblings to grow up with and faulty role models, many children need support to develop feelings of empathy, gratitude and compassion. These values not only improve our interaction with people but also create support mechanisms neurologically to insulate us from stress and other long-term degenerative disorders. Play is perhaps the single most potent tool to enhance all the three skills early in life and this can be slowly supported through planned activities in groups.
- Critical thinking: This skill has been has almost been sidelined, thanks to the marks-based competitive system. Rote learning and memorisation has taken priority over thinking skills. And, opportunities to develop skills like analysis, planning, problem-solving, comparison, reasoning, and logical sequencing are few. In the information revolution, there will be more and more data. The absence of proper critical thinking skills will make our children more susceptible to fake news. If these critical thinking skills are made a part of everything children study, they will be more likely to question flaws.
- Financial literacy: Money management skills are essential in any society, yet we do little to teach our children about money. Special efforts should be made to help children understand concepts such as savings, investments, budgeting, taxes and loans. Children should also be made aware of the effects of advertising, and trained to distinguish between things they actually need as opposed to things they merely want.
The scope for introducing better skills and qualities within education is vast. The academic learning we focus on, is but a tiny part of the massive potential that education has for shaping young minds. As parents and educators, a simple and logical route would involve starting with skills surrounding the physical body, and then moving to relationships and interaction with the environment. Ultimately, children should be capable of rising up to meet challenges and gaining an overall understanding and regulation of their emotions, attitudes and behaviours. When they acquire these skills, they will also acquire the knowledge needed to master them.
Aarti C Rajaratnam is a psychologist specialising in childhood and adolescent mental health, a best-selling author and an innovative education design consultant.
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