Education is key.
Recently I have been thinking about how and what we teach our children, and what we teach ourselves when we are beyond formal schooling years.
Self-education is on the rise. We find ourselves in the Information Age, with an overabundance of information at our fingertips and we are empowered to do with it what we wish. The internet is the biggest informer of all time. There are online courses and you can find a YouTube clip on how to do/make virtually anything. The old school was in a classroom with books and the new school can be within us or in virtual reality on screens. This is a major shift and I do not think the adaptation of content we learn in formalised schooling can match the pace at which we are progressing.
This got me thinking about schools and the realisation that while what we learn at school is invaluable, there is increasing need for us to be active learners in the other areas of our lives, for the rest of our lives. There is the school we go to (junior school, high school, university, technicon etc), our home (we learn from our parents and homelife), our friends and other relationships, our environment, our experiences, our jobs, other countries, the internet… Anywhere and everywhere can be seen as a school if a school is defined as somewhere you can learn. So it is less about the school, and all about the lessons. We as humans need to see ourselves and each others as teachers and learners, as permanent members of the perpetual cycle of learning. Every situation can be simmered down to its lessons, and life will continue to bring them to us in various forms until we learn them.
With an expanded, more holistic definition of schools, I genuinely feel that there are certain things that are so very important, non-optional in fact, to learn. It is widely accepted that learning maths and languages shapes specific parts of our brains, and even though we won’t use all the maths we learned in various schools, I do believe that there is everything to be gained from developing our brains, especially since we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the brain and its potential. Music has been found to not just develop one part of the brain but to activate/develop almost if not all parts of the brain simultaneously. For this reason, it makes no sense that music is seen as “extra-curricular” in formalised schooling. Music is constantly being heralded for how it impacts us as humans. We all have heartbeats, we all have to breathe, most of us have voices and cycles and rhythms within our bodies – we are all musical. Potential is freed within and through music, and everyone who has ever got lost and found again while playing an instrument or listening to music knows the unique magic it holds. Spoken languages divide us, but all cultures can be united in music, as it is a language in its own rite. Music is more of a uniting language than English ever could be.
Art, like music, is very special, because while you study Physics to be a Physicist, you do not need to study art to be an artist. The subjective nature of art makes me struggle with the concept of being marked in it, and I do not envy whoever has to decide what gets an A and what gets an F when a child has expressed themself in whichever way comes naturally to them in response to an art project brief. The responsibility to expose children to art then perhaps falls more on parents, to create a home environment where children are encouraged to express themselves and create things out of other things – it teaches children perspective, and that we can change the way we see things, and that that itself can change things. See an orange in the fruit bowl? Paint a purple version and call it “Orange”. All things are possible.
There are 3 other things that I feel need to be integrated into what is learnt in formal schools, at home and certainly in relationships thereafter.
With perhaps more happening around and within us than ever before, reflection is essential for learning. I feel this should be part of life skills at school, and integrated into the syllabus holistically. The danger with just learning how to report a life with fact-based rapidfire that does not acknowledge emotion, is that we raise adults who communicate in fact-based rapidfire and struggle with admitting, acknowledging and expressing what they feel. We need to be able to look honestly at ourselves and to take stock of what happens to and within us and how we respond to it all. This is how we learn, and we certainly miss out on lessons if we cannot look at ourselves, our experiences, our actions and their consequences in a healthy way.
No one formally teaches us about relationships – we learn as we go. And relating with some people feels like no man’s land, with potential landmines everywhere, rather than an open field of potential where we can meet and be courageous together. We need to start teaching our children in life skills some key aspects of relating – communication, community, collective action and how to deal with confrontation and conflict in a healthy way. This is also largely up to parents but I believe that there is some part for formal schools to play, in the way teachers are with children and how they manage certain circumstances. Reflection is also a key part of relating, as it can help us identify patterns that could be destructive to us or others and are likely to repeat until we acknowledge and try to change them.
Children are exposed to more things earlier and earlier in life, and this cannot be stopped. Change happens around us, to us and within us faster than we can even fathom. With increased focus in our lives, whether we are children or adults, reflection and relationships can and do enhance our resilience if as much of it as possible happens in a positive, nurturing, healthy way. Even if things do not happen in a positive way, which is guaranteed to happen many times in life, the resilience we have, the support we get and give in relationships and how we reflect on a particular situation can turn something negative into a positive learning experience.
Our capabilities around all these 3 things are reflected in certain parts of our brain. I believe children need to be taught that thinking affects our brains, and that negative thinking genuinely impacts our lives. The power of our minds is an area of interest of which we are only beginning to scratch the tip of the iceberg, but this is becoming and will continue to become increasingly important.
Lastly, I think our children need to be taught sustainability in life skills, and the impact each individual can and does have on society, and that our actions have consequences. This can be distilled down to so many levels, including: nutrition; the importance of gardening for sustenance; the non-negotiable requirement to recycle (ironically this is more essential in developing countries where as much as possible should be re-used in some way than in developed countries, but it sure is the first world streaking ahead for the most part due to more resources); how and where to buy consciously (if one can afford to); how we all should know what is happening in our communities and be contributing actively in some way or another. These are just a few examples of what could fall into this umbrella subject, but I know I am not alone in understanding the long-term impacts our childrens’ understanding of these topics is.
I wonder if our children are being adequately equipped for this world by all the “schools” and “teachers” around them. All of us would benefit from learning more about the above topics. I feel conscious parenting is where a lot of the charge lies, in lieu of a holistic syllabus at formal schools. And for us as adults, we need to reflect honestly and see what we feel we need to learn about at any point in our lives.
The young minds of today will shape their own as well as the young minds of tomorrow: We need to be aware of who we are and what part we play in this cycle.