TED Conversations

Shahzad Alam

Program Coordinator, New Era Teacher Training Centre

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Schooling must develop in the students the capabilities required for being engaged in a life-long process of learning.

We are at a very critical juncture in history. We have resources available to us unimaginable in the past- financial resources, knowledge, technology, human resources, wealth of experience etc. We are also facing crisis very unique to our age. Everything we thought we knew about ourselves and our universe is constantly evolving and/or changing.

The most important role schools can play now is to prepare individuals who know how to learn and who take ownership of their own learning and development of the society around them. The schools themselves need to be in the process of constant learning and they also need to learn to create environment where individuals can learn to learn- both individually and collectively.

The question to ask ourselves are: what changes are required in the structure of schools? How can schools start focusing more on capacity building rather than information accumulation? What kind of environment encourages ownership in learning? How can schools be themselves involved in learning?

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    Nov 13 2013: I feel that many people have difficulty overcoming a certain obsession with conformity. Many people think that is the real purpose of school--it's to make us all alike, get along with each other, follow the rules, do things the right way and also get the same basic knowledge before we get to "go out in the world." Why? There is ample evidence that there is more knowledge left to discover and create in the world than what we already know. Why do we place these limits on youth?
    Why do people have to wait to finish school to contribute to society? There are many examples of very young children contributing to society but we pathologically overlook that. We choose to value conformity and certainty instead.

    This obsession with conformity coupled with our pathological fear of uncertainty makes it a huge challenge to overcome. I have encountered many young parents who have a strong sense of the inadequacies of the education they grew up with and they express a desire for something different and more relevant for their own children. But when it comes down to allowing a really different path to be taken, even those parents tend to retreat back into what's familiar--usually citing a fear that their kids won't get what others are getting or what they need. It's a tough one. And this is just at the level of everyday individuals....If we get to the power-brokers and those who control all the funding then we have a whole other set of challenges to overcome.

    Schooling as we know it is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Maybe we should just let it fade so that alternatives can rise up?
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      Nov 14 2013: Contributing to society must in fact be part of the education as only then will the students be truly able to evaluate their understanding and develop their capabilities to contribute to the betterment of society. Contributing to society and individual development must happen simultaneously. For this to happen, the structure of schools, as they exist today, must certainly fade away and be replaced by new structures.

      However, many of the individuals who will bring about such changes are still participating in the current system of education and therefore they too cannot be overlooked at the moment and we must try and do whatever we can to salvage their development.

      Perhaps as more and more courageous people take the new path we will reach a tipping point that will then slowly make the current system of education obsolete.
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        Nov 14 2013: Actually I think the current system is already obsolete. I feel that maybe some evolution is happening only because these kinds of ideas we are talking about are becoming more acceptable in the mainstream. We are not the lunatics we used to be. So maybe little by little new structures will become more prominent and more widely accepted. It's probably inevitable but I just wish it could all happen more quickly.

        About the contribution to society issue...I totally agree it needs to be part of education. What bothers me a lot is that adults don't really take that sort of involvement by younger children seriously. We often go in with the assumption that we have to decide what the contribution will be and we have to structure everything for kids; we have to choose for them because, well, they are just kids after all. It's well-intentioned, but I feel it's also wrong-headed. This is one of the barriers to real change.

        We adults have to open ourselves up to the possibility that even very young children can chart their own course when it comes to learning and contributing to society. It's amazing what can happen when we don't tell kids what and how to think all the time. Thanks Shahzad for bringing up the idea....

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