About education

by Social Resistance

Nesibe Balta is freelance writer and author of school books. In this series of columns, written for Social Resistance, she claims that we need radical change in our education system. New alternatives should be supported in order to guarantee a better future for the children of today.

Several years ago, I stood nervous before a new class. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone with my degree: an interim function in a technical direction (high school seniors). I would have a chance to share my passion for computers with them. After reading the curriculum already taught,  my expectations were very high. I expected many difficult questions from these genius minds.

But when I was standing before them my expectations fell apart: the students barely knew the curriculum and they weren’t motivated at all! After a few classes I learned that most of them weren’t interested in technology. Some chose this direction because it was known to be easy, others to make money and some because their parents wanted it. Just a minority liked technology, but like the others, they weren’t very interested.

The same thing happened with other courses in other directions. The students were more interested in their watches than what happened on the black board. Many students secretly hoped I wouldn’t make it to the classroom. Maybe I would break my leg on the stairs? I wondered where their lack of  interest came from. My colleagues told similar stories. What’s wrong with education? Why do we keep sending our kids to school? Are there any alternatives at all?

What’s wrong with our education system?

The first question is very easy to answer: everything and nothing. The quality of the education system in the Flanders is well known. Our pupils score very good on knowledge. But where’s the problem then? The problem is that they know a lot, but do they really master it? Many employers have to re-educate young adults. In most cases the knowledge of the young adults is shallow and outdated. It’s even worse in some other countries. But is that a reason to be proud of our education system?

Many youngsters are tired of school and the amount of drop-outs is relatively high. Children don’t develop their talents and hide themselves behind a mask of indifference. This has consequences for the child, but also for our society. Imagine a society where every child could develop all its talents fully! A society where a child is treated like an individual with its own talents, abilities and limitations. A child that grows up in such a society can contribute something beautiful to the community. He does his job with love and passion. There would be more wealth, less crime and less depressions. Maybe it’s a dream, but isn’t it worth trying?

Why do we send our children to school?

Many generations wrote songs about school. Some sang about the stuff they learned and others addressed negative emotions towards school and teachers. Why do we send our children to school if we were bored ourselves and considered school to be useless? Easy: because we think there are no other options.

Just a few people know how the education system works. The majority sends their kids to the nearest school or chooses a school for some other practical reasons. In Flanders, going to school isn’t mandatory, but the law requires children to learn.  Only a few people know this and even less know how homeschooling works. That’s why the majority thinks they have no other option but to send their kids to school. School is necessary and you just have to do your time. There is no other option? Or is there?

Are there any other options?

There are many other options. In Flanders we can home-school our children. You only have to prove that your children are being educated. In other countries, the rules are stricter and not every parent is allowed to home-school. But homeschooling isn’t the only alternative. There are a lot of “alternative” education systems like some method-schools (Freinet, Steiner and Dalton) and private schools based on other principals like Montessori, Sudburry, Eigenwijs / Iederwijs and Natuurkind in our region. The traditional schools also show interest in other methods and are beginning to experiment with methods that put the child in the center.

But that’s not enough: in a system where the child can fully develop, he’s not the only one in the center. The teachers also deserve our attention. Teachers are the ones who guide the learning process and who meet the learning needs of the child. This profession is a challenge for which their education hasn’t prepared them. They have to teach about a world they barely know themselves: most teachers start teaching straight after their own schooling. They have no working experience and have to learn a lot by themselves.  It’s a profession that is highly undervalued.

The education system has to change a lot. There should be more respect for the individual and the society we live in. Children should be taught within the society by teachers who want to pass their passion. Teachers should be able to use all of their creativity for the benefit of their classes. Therefore they shouldn’t be bothered with non-educational work.

Yes, we need to change a lot. But we are on the right track: there are a lot of voices of teachers, parents and students asking for a better education system. We don’t need a system build on teaching facts, but a system that truly prepares youngsters for their adult lives. It’s coming: there are small changes that ripple throughout the pond of education. And there are individuals who believe in a different and better education.

Changes always start out small. We mustn’t forget that the children of today build the society of tomorrow. The world will be shaped in the way we educate our children. If we want a better world, we should start with better education. We can change the world by teaching children how they can contribute. We can teach them how to make a better world. And isn’t that what we all want? A better world for ourselves and the generations to come.

Nesibe Balta is columnist at Social Resistance and freelance writer