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What can be done to get the most out of one's schooling? What would you change about your education experience?

From other people's opinions and my experiences in the American Midwest, it seems most schools focus on their students' test performance and few classes prioritize true, authentic learning. I was disappointed when the classes I took during my first year of college -- or perhaps the aspirations of all but a fraction of my classmates -- were a continuation of this mindset.

I think I'm missing something and would love to hear your thoughts. What can students do to get the most out of their education? What do you wish you had done differently, if anything? Is this something I have to discover on my own? Thanks in advance for your insight.

  • Sep 6 2011: What should change in schools?
    -Stop treating children as though they are stupid
    -Stop offering all students exactly the same education - consider their abilities and interests instead
    -Stop teaching students skills and knowledge that they will never need and start giving them useful skills
    And most importantly
    -Stop telling schools what they have to teach and leave it up to them and their students!
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    Aug 31 2011: Going off the beaten track and daring to take courses not everyone typically does, not taking classes just because your friends are, finding your interests and looking at education as a way to help you develop them?
    I see a lot of students treating school as more a social experience than a learning one (i.e., switching electives just to be in class with their friends) so I think we really need to highlight the value of school as a learning experience, strange as it may seem that we need to emphasize that. :) We try to get kids interested in school by emphasizing activities like football games or senior proms when maybe we should try going for the value of learning itself--one of the most powerful motivators there is.

    What I would change about my education experience:
    Currently I'm both an online and brick-and-mortar student (I take the majority of my classes through a public online high school and will be taking Biology and AP Art History at my local school). I've been frustrated by the amount of paperwork and red tape around creating a "blended learning environment" for yourself (taking both online and physical courses); I think schools need to make it easier for families and students to select learning options that fit for them. Whether that's all online, blended, in-person, etc. Right now it's just too much on the extremes. I would really love it if there were more learning networks--a lot of students feel that the classroom is a really insular place where they're isolated as opposed to connecting.

    So: getting students interested in school based on the learning, not the social, experience; giving more choice in how students "go to class" (online, blended, in-person); connecting classrooms to the world and showing that what you learn in school can actually help you make an impact in the "real world." Those are my ideas. :)
    • Sep 2 2011: All excellent ideas!
      I'm excited to experience a "blended learning environment" this fall; I signed up for Stanford's free online artificial intelligence class. It might be of interest to you if you haven't looked into it already!
      Unfortunately you're right that the classroom often feels isolated -- students aren't just separate from the "real world;" in my opinion they're often separated from each other because of competition. Very few classes I know of interact with the community, and I think we'd all benefit if that were to change!
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      Sep 3 2011: Adora,
      I agree that "going off the beaten track" and daring to do something different is a good place to start. In order to do that, students need to have confidence in themselves. It is sometimes easier to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing, or take courses to be with your friends, as you point out.

      I love your idea of many learning options and to make that successful, we need to look at each and every student as an individual to help them determine what works best for him/her. It seems like our educational systems are becoming more like assembly lines, where students are expected to produce the same results (grades) in the same way. We KNOW that people learn in different ways, and it would be helpful for us to use that knowledge in cooperation with students, teachers, parents, and all of society:>)

      You keep talking about it Adora, because you ARE making a difference. In addition to making an impact in the world, we can do it with joy, as you so wonderfully demonstrate:>)
    • Sep 3 2011: Staying on "the beaten track" is just that...the same path taken by everyone else and the lowest common denominator in terms of education potential.
      How you approach university (or any post secondary school education) is how you are going to approach life in general (after all, university is just a microcosm of society). If you just to the normal stuff and don't try to stand out, you will never stand out in life either.
      In my university days, I had to retake first year math (the wanted me to go mon/wed/fri at 4:30 in the afternoon...I mean really!) but I also took a graduate level course off my major, switched majors (in to honours geology with out taking the prerequisites), retook math and to some graduate level geology courses out of sequence. I'm not actually sure I took all the prerequisites to graduate but after four years they were happy to see me go.
      I rarely did the labs and assignments in a straightforward manner, I did them my way. I took on a shit load of extra work and found a way to include math and computer into a field that at the time, did not recognize the potential.
      You have to decide how YOU learn and force the system to work on your terms. The system will flex, but not without some passion on your part.
  • Aug 29 2011: Not sure just how universal these are, but coming from an engineering background ....

    - Never settle for just learning the surface material. Rarely is something as simple as it seems and the most interesting material comes when you start to peel off layers. If something really is so simple then you would have learned in high school. This skill is applicable pretty much anywhere.

    - Learn what you don't know. Maybe this is too specific to engineering, but while early classes teach necessary fundamentals to increase core knowledge the best students will start to realize in the advanced classes that they can't possibly learn everything they need to know in college. The best you can do is to understand what you don't know so when you need to know it you know to research it (that's a lot of knowing!). Asking the right questions to ask is usually more important than knowing the immediate answers. Again, if it really were that simple you wouldn't be asked to solve it in the "real" world.

    - Look for the connection between seemingly different ideas. Only through this lateral thinking can you break out of the standard mold and do something truly great!

    - Lastly, it's your education and, therefore, your responsibility. Take care to recognize if you're not getting what you expect and, if so, do something about it.
    • Sep 2 2011: Hi Tyler, thanks for the great advice. I think your insight is quite universal -- it certainly resonated with me, an Art History/Computer Science major! It's impossible to pick a favorite idea out of the four you provided, but looking for connections is a great one. Most of the time, subjects are separated into different classes; only once as a senior in high school did I take an interdisciplinary class on Time that really got students to think and apply their knowledge from a wide variety of areas. Opportunities for this kind of study are opening up in college, so I thank you for the reminder.
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    Sep 3 2011: HI Claire

    I was attempting to advise a young person about to start a university degree course just two days ago. I failed to come up with a simple piece of advice. Your question here and the advice given below has prompted me to look again.

    When I "know" I have stopped looking. When I recognise that I do not know the adventure starts again.

    My University tuition insisted that I acquire a number of "knowns". I would have been better nurturing and cherishing the ability to recognise that I did not know and willingly going out to explore these areas of life.

    If I am learning for or to please or to impress anyone other than myself I may as well stop.

    I think that if you learn in order to get a piece of paper you have missed the point. Learn because there is so much to find out about and explore - take the duration of your course to study all that you can - it is a unique period of life.
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      Sep 3 2011: I agree Richard, that when we think we "know" then we have stopped our exploration, and when we recognise that we do not know, the adventure starts again...or continues. It is interesting that many people are uncomfortable "not knowing", and I feel it is the most unlimited place to be in ourselves:>)

      All of life is a "unique period", and always an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve. Life for me has always been and will continue to be an exploration. I would not deny myself that opportunity:>)
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    Aug 30 2011: This conversation may be of interest to you:

    I can identify with that feeling of disappointment you talk about; I also experienced it during my college years. I can't say I would change anything about my experience because it has contributed to make me who I am today. However, what I would say is that even though you may be let down by the system's incompetence, sometimes your teachers' incompetence, your peers, your grades, etc; don't let that put you off.

    Learning is an ongoing thing, it keeps you young and vibrant. If you have a passion for a particular subject, aim to fulfill it, don´t settle for less than you are capable of just because your environment may fail to support you in some way or another.
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      Aug 30 2011: Hi Helena:>)
      I would not change anything either, because all life experiences have led me to where I am today. That being said, I agree with Silvia, that with our formal education, we need to help motivate people to learn because they want to and not because they have to!

      As you say Helena, learning is an ongoing experience, which we can grow with our entire life, and sometimes we need to take the initiative to educate ourselves if the established systems are not adequately supporting our goals.

      I am not good with formal education, so I have created and accepted opportunities throughout my life that support me in learning in a way that I prefer to learn. Many of the learning experiences started as volunteer work, and grew into an educational process. Sometimes, we can look beyond the traditional institutions of learning with our quest to fulfill our own desires:>)

      Perhaps the only thing you may be "missing", is that a dependency on the established educational system to give everyone everything s/he needs regarding learning in this life journey, could be limiting?
      • Aug 30 2011: Hi Colleen, thanks for your comments. And yours too, Helena -- I appreciate the advice and reference to the conversation about grades!

        Colleen, I agree with you that learning should take place inside and outside of the classroom. After considering your ending question (a great, thoughtful one -- thank you!), I believe I depend on the established system in the sense that I certainly expect to get something out of it, and its demanding schedule takes time away from my ability to pursue other things during the school year.

        However, I try to educate myself outside of school through books, language (Spanish and Italian... German is the next project :) ), films, trips to museums and Chicago, and now TED. I'm also involved in an international service project which has taken me to Ghana twice to help former child slaves.

        I'm sorry if listing these activities is off-putting; my intention is merely to see if there's something different that you've found useful and informative. I think I've covered the basics, but I'm sure there are many, many more resources of which I'm unaware. Thanks again for your insight; your question certainly gave me something to think about, and in the future I'll be sure to keep your wisdom in mind!
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          Aug 30 2011: Dear Claire,
          Thank you for your kind words:>)

          Your list of activities tells me that you are wholeheartedly exploring life:>) I have found many things that are useful and informative in my life exploration, and you will discover what you are seeking as well, when you are fully present in each and every moment with an open mind and heart. Listen to your heart, and when you are ready to take the next steps, you will "know", with every part of your mind, and heart/intuition/gut feeling :>)
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          Aug 31 2011: You are most welcome, Claire.

          I thought it was a very interesting conversation and found it relevant to your query.

          Would you care to share some info about the international service project you are involved in? I am very interested in knowing what it's about.

          Thank you and all the best with all your very interesting activities.
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          Sep 12 2011: Thanks for the link, Claire!
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        Aug 31 2011: Hello Colleen,

        Nice joining in conversation with you again. :-)

        I absolutely agree with you on the need to help motivate students to learn because they want to and not because they have to, it's not just the teachers' responsibility to aim for that.
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          Sep 3 2011: Hi Helena,
          I's not just the teachers' responsibility to encourage and motivate students. Whenever there is a shift in an established system, it needs to be an effort by many different participants. Students, educaters, parents, and all of society need to be aware that our educational systems as they are now, are not working well, and we all need to shift our mind set, re-evaluate, and re-structure. The good thing is that we're talking about it, and that is one of the first steps toward change:>)
        • Sep 6 2011: Hi Helena,

          At the moment the project leader, Eric, is setting up his own foundation, so it's hard to find information as he's still creating his website! The organization I originally supported through Eric is the International Organization for Migration Thanks for your interest!
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    Aug 30 2011: I'm a homeschooler, so I've had an experience beyond this stereotypical problem, and have heard this opinion before. So, how can one fix it? I don't think that there is just one solution. however, I do think that one's perspective towards their education is really helpful. Attitude can be something, and possibly even everything.

    I also believe in this concept that homeschoolers love to call "Lifestyle of learning". this is a lifestyle that allows one to learn from everything, and enjoy it. By having this perspective, you are able to enjoy school more, and create a longer education style.
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      Sep 7 2011: I agree Christopher, that education can be a life style. I believe that each and every life experience is an opportunity to learn, so I'm open to the possibilities in each moment. Attitude is a key element, as both you and Richard insightfully remind us:>)
  • Aug 30 2011: I think, more than anything, we have to encourage the sense of curiosity and creativity in our kids. If we do that, and try to keep them engaged - finding the things that interest them to drawn them into learning - we spark a desire to learn in our kids that lasts their whole lives. I've been amazed to see just how much young kids can do and accomplish on their own - and how empowered they feel when they have to figure it out themselves without parents getting involved. I have volunteered for years with Destination Imagination as a volunteer coach (great organization!) and when the kids sign that Declaration of Independence that their solutions and creations must be KID POWERED - no parental involvment, they actually cheer! and are excited to read their parents the rules of no intervention. And they have amazed me each and every year.
  • Aug 29 2011: My theory has always been, "learn concepts not details".

    Take the minimal amount of information you can and think about where it leads, and how it develops. Always think outside of what is being taught. Schools must teach details, it is the only standardised way to teach, but if you want an appreciation and true understanding of the subject matter, don't focus on memorisation, focus on basic concepts.

    Personally, from a maths point of view at least, this way of thinking ultimately meant that I didn't need to memorise a lot of formulas etc. that other people needed to. Because I had a better understanding of the concepts, many formulas became unnecessary.

    While it won't always get you better marks (although it often can), I believe it gives you better lasting knowledge, which I see as the goal of learning.
    • Aug 30 2011: Julian,
      Your theory reminds me of when I read A Brief History of Time. Though I would never be able learn all of the formulas behind the ideas Hawking presents, it was great to have access to the concepts in the book without knowing the specifics.
      I often get caught up in the details, so I think your advice is really helpful. It's especially effective in art history classes and the like. Thanks for sharing!
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    Aug 28 2011: I think schools and universities would teach more effectively if they develop lesson plans encouraging learning from the actual environment and work on a community project that has value to the community and to the students rather than just spending time doing homework that has no benefit to them or their community. The school could encourage the students to work on ongoing projects each year so they learn how to change their strategies with changing conditions and how to build an idea up step by step over time. The schools and universities could make history classes and science classes much more interesting if they utilize the internet, TED and interesting documentaries to convey information. Students could get involved in national and international joint project where they work collaboratively on a common theme ie creating international student films on how mankind may achieve world peace or feed the world or save biodiversity etc. The school could be made completely green and teach students how to function sustainably and to prevent a possible mass extinction of life on Earth . Possibly the students could contribute to something like a TED EDx and we could encourage them to speak out and try to change the world. It would be nice if the students could learn how to grow their own organic school lunch and breakfast meal. Urban farming, composting and creating a green economy could be taught to city students. Some concrete and asphalt around the schools can be pulled up and grass, soil, plants, trees and ecosystems can be brought in giving students a new opportunity to learn about nature. There are endless ideas. We can find hundreds of great ideas right here in the TED Talks.
    • Aug 30 2011: These are all great ideas; some of the opportunities you mentioned (using different resources in class, teaching about the environment, and a class where students developed and executed their own community service projects) were available at my high school- we even had a small organic farm on part of our roof! Unfortunately, these classes weren't as popular because they didn't fit the bill for a "strong" college candidate. For most, the classes were too risky to take in the place of the standard, competitive courses that would look good on applications. It seems the ideas in your post are slowly catching on, though, so I hope they'll grow in popularity among students and college admissions reps.

      If you haven't heard of it already, Dr. Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program reminds me of this discussion. In high school I hoped to exchange student-made environmental PSA videos with schools in Tanzania, but unfortunately the plans never got off the ground. Here's the link if you're interested:
  • Aug 28 2011: If I knew then what I know now I would have:
    1. Combined math & art, especially geometry & origami
    2. Taken classes that taught the new technology & if they weren't offered go to where they were.
    3. Staying at one school may NOT be the best thing to do. Going where the classes are offered is.
    • Aug 30 2011: Hi Gale,
      Your first point in particular caught my attention; I’m also interested in learning about the overlap of math and art, and how math can be applied to art. Do you have any recommendations for useful resources on the subject? Thanks for your comment!
  • Sep 11 2011: I went to a boarding school. The problem with my school and I think many of the private schools in the UK is it is a business.

    Obviously, they wanted the students to get the best grades so the school would be more desirable for prospective pupils therefore more money would come. Unfortunately, they were so driven to mould us into this ideal image they had in their mind they didn't regard how we felt or how we would react. They thought they could manipulate us into their "way".

    What happened. We studied from 8:30am till 4:30pm and then we had to 2 hours of homework. We weren't allowed to play outside in our free time so majority of our day was spent inside. I was burnt out. In the end, I had to be removed but they were desperately negotiating with my parents to stay. There were many of my friends who went off the rails and eventually had to be removed too.

    I went to a private day college for those who couldn't conform in a normal school environment for what ever reason; illness, expulsion etc. We didn't wear uniforms, we called our tutors by their first name, homework wasn't compulsory and we didn't have a full packed day of lessons. 2 hour lessons in our chosen subject without un-necessary rehearsals of the information given. I managed to study for my exams within 6 months (Usually it is 2 years) and I got A's and B's.

    Now I think that proves the effects of letting a child grow and discover and find their own motivation. Some children are better in a disciplined environment and others are better in a relaxed, open environment. Schools need to vary their approach and attitudes.

    Think about the kids and not the money.
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    Sep 5 2011: Ok I am a bit concerned about causing students to give up on their main subject of study to the detriment of their intentions.

    What is your intention in pursuing study?

    Be very clear about this. Also be very clear about your path to employment afterwards - if the profession you are entering requires good grades and are uninterested in your varied interests then get back to the study program - and decide that that is what you need and want to study. I know that in the UK there are many students entering into degree courses who are going to emerge after three years with a good degree and still not find work. As you enter your studies I think it would be wise to start thinking about what you are going to do when you emerge. Go visit the kind of place you think will be your workplace and ensure that you like what you see. Test your chances of getting into that job. Find out how many other people are applying for that job. Find out what the winning candidate had that the others did not. Do not wait for them to come and find you - they might - but it is unlikely. If you need to be employed you need to find out what will make you employable.

    Also job titles are not reliable - you may be given a great title - but find out what your duties are going to be - find out if what you are learning (and probably enjoying doing) is what you will actually be doing when you get a job. If it is not, then it may be that after you have been working for a while you will get the job you actually want - again find out what proportion of the people ever get to the job you are studying to achieve.

    In my profession - architecture - we were taught to be architects - designers of great and wonderful buildings. Few of us ended up ever deigning what we had a chance to design at university - the discrepancy can be shocking when you only get to project manage or design window joints. Fine if you are happy - not so fine if your heart is still in designing great buildings. Time to get real!
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      Sep 5 2011: I agree to with you on this. Majority of students entering colleges and universities do not carry with them a clear idea or grasp of what they're getting into, add to that the fact that many of them decided to pursue a certain course or degree for far-off reasons such as but not limited to the following: out of a whim, because it is a trend, forced by parents or relatives, etc. etc. etc. When choosing the degree to take, students need to put a lot of effort into evaluation and planning for the long term, i.e. what happens beyond college.
      "I think attitude is a key element." - Richard
      As per the above excerpt, attitude is one of the key for an outstanding educational experience may it be primary, high school, college, etc. How we view learning and the rewards it would be able to give us in the long term will give us a different perspective of education. I'm not saying that we should all be bookworms. What I'm saying is that there should be balance. I always tell myself (even way back my college years) that learning is not confined in the corners of the classroom. Up until now that I'm employed and working, I still continue to learn and educate myself. One lifetime is not long enough to learn all things but it certainly is enough to learn the tools that I'll be needing for my trade.
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    Sep 5 2011: Hi Colleen.

    Further to this is seems that knowing creates the end of the road.

    Not knowing what to do blocks the road.

    I was feeling very blocked the other day and took the dogs for a walk through the woods. I could not see out the woods as there were so many trees and yet I travelled through the woods without (obviously) hitting any one of them.

    It occurred to me that there were thousands of trees in front of me and I did not walk into them. I wondered how many problems or "I don't, knows" I had in my life and realised that there could at very worst be only a few dozen - or if I got really down - maybe 100? And yet despite this I was walking headfirst into every one of them. It was time to start side stepping at least some of them and as I started doing this I saw that the problem - from another angle or looking back at it - was not that big of an issue.

    The time had come to start sidestepping more problems. I do not mean avoid them - just stop walking into them. My headache has subsided a lot since this realisation!

    A while later I walked up another woodland trail. It started to rain quite heavily and I soon met a trickle of water running down the path towards me and was delighted that I was witnessing a stream as it started to flow again. I walked on again and found that the stream ran out - I had gone past it's source. A couple of steps further and I found the leading edge of another stream flowing down to join the one I had just passed. It occurred to me that rivers and streams do not start from the source and flow to the sea. They start in many places and join each other to form the larger rivers. The same is true of learning. Your knowledge is starting in many places and flowing together to create a body of knowledge. Sometimes you can predict where it will all come together and re-inforce the flow - at other times you just have to let it flow.

    I must head out to the woods again it teaches me a lot!

    So Claire - I think attitude is a key element
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      Sep 5 2011: Hi Richard!
      I am really agreed with you. I have many interests outside the class. Sometimes I have to spent more time to develop my intersts than others. It makes me confused that i don't seem sucessful than others. My classmates drow their all attention preparing for tests while i would rather wonder at many other areas.
      I belive all i pay will pay me off someday, like all streams from different direction will certainly gather in sea.
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      Sep 7 2011: Richard,
      Thanks for sharing that lovely exploration and discovery! I also find peace and new discoveries while walking/hiking in the woods and mountains. If we suspend our thinking mind occasionally, while exploring nature, sometimes we get lots of information about the "flow" of life. It really is very simple, and yet is everything...and flows with us...or not...depending on our willingness to learn...or not. I totally agree Richard...attitude is a very key element:>)
      Thanks again for sharing your beautiful exploration:>)

      When I was younger, I had a similar feeling of not being goal oriented enough. While most of my friend knew exactly what they wanted to do, and worked diligently toward that goal, it sometimes felt that I was wandering around exploring EVERYTHING! As I aged, I began to realize that while on one level, my explorations didn't seem connected, on another level, they were all VERY connected...just as everything in life is connected. We can take all of the information (flow from the little streams) and bring it together into the "river" of our lives...or not. It is about awareness of our "self" and the choices we make in life...or not:>)
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        Sep 7 2011: Thanks a lot, Colleen! I think I should be more confident about myself. Everyone is special and has his own goal. These days I am wondering whether one's own strong belief can lead to his success.
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          Sep 7 2011: Rainey,
          A strong belief in ourselves is always helpful, in my perception:>)
          Do you think/feel it depends on our definition and perception of "success"?
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    Sep 5 2011: Number one change in my opinion would be for the teachers to stop treating their students like their ideas couldn't surpass and step over their own. Number two would be an honest learning enviroment. I'm often reminded of the Harry Potter series when proffessor Umbridge takes over and doesn't allow the children to use their wands and may only focus on text books and theoretical knowledge. I'm not saying theories are bad, I'm saying if we don't put them to the test they go bad. All to often I feel that's what happens, the knowledge is available the experience is not. It's like knowing how to ride a bike and having the training wheels plastered on, it's really holding our youth back, look at our test scores and drop out rates for proof.
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    Sep 1 2011: I am Bakul Valambhiya, C.E.O. and Fonder of Resilience Creatives it is all about redefining education and redefining innovations. The whole Idea of mine is to influence students of schools and colleges the real meaning of education, that is far more wider and vivid in nature, rather then narrow focused to getting better grades and secure careers! Through different initiatives I want to change whole perception of education that is why I call it redefining. Look at the adversities, more and more parents across the world look at their children as the products rather then simple human being, it is more prevalent in third world where competition is so high in securing a better job or career! But the ultimate sufferer is the child , the student, that is being pushed to be an excellent and successful "Product" through which one can secure his or her future as well as of his her parents! The motive is clear to make student think for themselves that there is more to merely books, and memorizing! I want to make them engage in more practical world during schooling, so they can overcome fear of failing in their major exams! This way they will exposed to various conventional and unconventional career options, trades and techniques practically. Similarly world over one notion is gripping more and more individuals that through scientific education of technological education and masters or doctorate in these streams, one can be a good inventor, the innovation is being taught as the domain of those who excel in science and technology! But in this mad run of Science and Technology education we are loosing out the creativity of innovation. Take for example of Leonardo Da Vinci, he was neither scholar of science nor technology, he was simply an excellent imagination in various spheres of life and its necessities, and we know that invariably he invented quite a few things that are practically possible as Gadgets and products. So I want to communicate students of all age loud and ...
  • Aug 31 2011: A kindergarden teacher started teaching her students origami (The art of folding paper to create animals etc). When decided on a design & started folding the paper to create it she also add the angle onto each fold as it was created. The students would see the angle numbers as they folded the paper but the teacher only mentioned them casually.
    As time went on the students became very adapted at making objects out of paper & the angle numbers had seeped into their brains as a matter of course. Summer vacation the students were given paper to take home withe the angle numbers on them which they used & had fun with. Once these same students were in first grade, this same teacher wrote the angle numbers on the board in order of a folded object, the students were all able to create a paper object just by seeing the numbers (Numbers were not on the paper this time).
    Knowing perspective, shapes, percentages, shading amts. & angles helps to create a painting that is pleasing to the eye.
    Look at any work of art & you can see the math involved (even old masters). The artist may not have been a good hard math student but when you check out a good artists work, you can see they had a great eye, not only for the work in general but math too.
    I happen to be an artist & know from where I speak even if I can't explain it too well.
    An artist also takes a dreamer's idea & draws it. Look around you & everything you see (developed by humans) was created by an artist.
    • Sep 2 2011: Gale, thanks for elaborating! Your explanation was easy to understand; I'm a bit artistic (haven't picked up a paint brush in nearly two years, though), so perhaps that helped, but your ideas are clear.
  • Aug 30 2011: Education needs to prepare us for more than just a job it also needs to prepare us for the working environment.
    Additional life skills would also be useful like budget management , positive attitude , presentation skills and group dynamics illustrating things like negotiation skills and body language .Just a few things I wish I knew when I started work. Last thought we should all get a good grounding in politics to prepare us for corporate environment should we find ourselves in one.
  • Aug 30 2011: 1. Teach not what to learn, but how. How to do research and experiments; where to find information; what questions to ask to solve a particular problem; how to judge the reliability of sources; and, perhaps most important, how to gauge media spin.

    2. Have a course in self-development/reflection (most definitely including a learning styles test). I think many of the mistakes we make in life are caused by not knowing ourselves well enough.
    • Sep 2 2011: Thanks for the thoughtful response! I can especially identify with your second point -- several times I've found myself commenting "if I knew myself better, then ___." A course like the one you mentioned has the potential to be a great help, and could make students more productive and/or motivated -- I know it would help me!
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    Aug 30 2011: What we can do as teachers (because I am one) is to provoke intrinsic motivation and get the students to learn because they want to and not because they have to!
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    Aug 30 2011: Education is overrated.

    Learning is a talent we are hardwired with right from the get-go.

    Formalised education needs a purpose and that purpose was lost a while back in amongst all the rampant bureaucracy.

    Politicians and bureaucrats are the main problem with education systems today. The don't value the qualitative, only quantitative. THAT is what needs to change for this new century.

    No models or systems or directives from parlliament. Trust the people that are involved.
    • Aug 30 2011: I think I feel the lack of purpose you described; these days a lot of learning is motivated by the goals of having top grades and being able to impress others with the books you've read and the concepts you've studied. Certainly I've been guilty of buying into this system, but I'm trying to change and find better learning environments. That's part of the reason why I joined TED! Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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    Aug 29 2011: There is little I can do as a student. In most schools a student can’t take charge of his learning experience. You don’t choose what courses you take, what textbook you are using, when to study, when to take exams, what assignments to do, when to do it ,to what depth you are going to study. But I would have been very happen if I had learned in a Result only learning environment (ROLE)
  • Aug 29 2011: Even a physicist might failed his GMAT test.
    All I can say is Hong Kong education system is a total failure.
    I think we should learn each subject individually according to one's standard.

    There are people who can only focus on two to three subjects at a time , and these people will be dropped out even if they were genius in particular subject. I personally feel that I learn much faster by myself after I was dropped out of school.
    • Aug 30 2011: I'm sorry to hear about your experiences in Hong Kong. That reminds me of what my friends have told me about South Korean education, where it's expected that you excel in every subject. While it's important to be well-rounded, it's a shame the current system doesn't accommodate all kinds of learners.
  • Aug 29 2011: I like the idea to integrate more sustainability components and green learning.
    Also I believe todays school system is way to unfelxible to prepare kids for life in the 21st century. Integrating more interactive means and increasing the number of excursions could foster a learning-by-doing approach. Also we cannot just leave kids behind if they have issues in some subjects - I think in Sweden they provide extra tuition if teachers feel particular children are not able to follow the work load, and it's free of charge.
    • Aug 30 2011: I agree. I also like the idea that if kids are struggling in school, it's not because they're not smart -- it might just require more work to master the material (I know I'm that way with calculus!). Maybe if we taught students they'd be prepared for hard classes with a strong work ethic, with less emphasis on natural intelligence or being "gifted," that could increase motivation. Just my two cents.
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    Aug 28 2011: I'd go to school for my self not to fulfill someone else 's notion of education.
  • Sep 20 2011: If we look at the overall process from beginning in a family and moving on through kindergarten, junior school, high school and so on, one thing hat gets learned, largely through osmosis is how to belong.

    In earlier days, when our contexts were comprehensible, that worked fine. The family, the school, the village ... were all obvious to the growing child. Obedience was the first thing one learned, mostly without acrimony. 'It takes a village to educate a child'. The skill of belonging just happened. But now where are the suitable 'villages'?

    Teachers now need to attend to helping every child to learn to belong. What skills are about belonging that are needed to be able to feel that one belongs to these invisible groups, organisations, communities - the whole human race indeed. What organisational structure? What kind of leadership is needed? What activities help? And so on.

    Africa has something to teach us. How do they enable children to learn to belong as a fundamental part of their learning? They have a concept of Ubuntu (look it up!): how do they use it?

    When I don't feel I belong and the place I am in does not belong to me I'll rebel. And I have done lots of times - and never regretted it. I'll give everything I have when I feel I belong. I bet I'm not alone!
  • Sep 12 2011: The schools should introduce Transcendental Meditation. Otherwise the students should learn it themselves. I wish I had it in school!
  • Sep 6 2011: first of all, i think it's important to point out that schools don't focus on anything but what they are ordered to by government bureaucrats, psychologists, and the school board. the second important point is that these bodies are full of people who don't have any experience in education. it's amazing how ridiculous the situation is, teachers know what works and how to ensure students get a good education, yet they are overruled by people who are not teachers and in most cases never have been.

    doubtless we wouldn't put an artist in charge of economic policy, nor a banker in charge of policy, nor a news anchor to head a comedy act, so why is this situation tolerated? as a student i think the best thing you can do is get your fellow student riled up and demand that these people with a load of opinions and not an ounce of actual experience are removed, and for actual teachers to be setting the curriculum and teaching methods, based on what they find works in their own classrooms.
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    Sep 5 2011: I am a sophomore this year. The other day I had been looking for a part-time job. For me I just want to make the most of my spare time and earn some pocket money. But seeing that my classmates who take a job have little time for study, moreover, she feels badly tired. I think everyone has his own life and study style.
    When it comes to the school education, I think it's usual for most schools focus more on students' test performance though their primary arm isn't that. Teachers always tell us to enlight our eyes and learn more. However, the cruel competition of our society force us to drow all our attention to our study. My ideal school life is a mixture of interesting books interesting people and intersting travel. "Soul and body, there must be one on journy." A student should not only stay at school all the time, he should soak in the sociey, learn new people and new thing. He should read as much books as he can to develop his mind.
  • Sep 5 2011: I would like to say that every student should choose their particualr subject according to the interest.One may be good in math not in science.In my school time i had more interest in math not in science but in my education env was differnet than my interest.
  • Sep 5 2011: If I could change schooling then I would stop forcing students to study what the government thinks that they should study and instead give them knowledge that they can actually use to make some type of impact on the world. I would also stop dumbing school down because children are capable of things that many adults couldn't even do.
  • Sep 5 2011: Teacher all students how to communicate their thoughts effectively. Teach student to say what they mean and mean what they say (action). Pick a real world problem to solve at each grade, big or small. Work on solving it at another grade...maybe a prototype will be necessary...a speech...collaboration...math, reading science, or history..definitely research.

    Also require that all student get involved in an extra-curricular activity...this can actually be online for some...
  • Sep 5 2011: Theres too much pressure on schooling. Not everyone can do as much the gifted kids. Your education is your education. Learn what you have learn to complete the task that is put infront of you in life.. If you want to kill people learn to kill the best way you can if you want to save people learn the best way to do that..
    It takes 6 hrs a day for everyday for a thousand years too truly master anything or you can do is go on the journey and hope that what you learnt makes your path.... easier.....

    when i was at school i never tried, never once did a peice of homework. i mean i payed attention in class but anything above that i didnt do, never failed a test under 60%. I couldn't commit myself when i was a teenager there was too much external factors that cause to much havoc on my soul. when school finished. i realized it doesn't matter what you learn at school its just the commitment any employer cares about. but still everyday i study. to reach enlightenment.
    The journey is the most important thing a peice of paper at the end that most people dont even use properly.
    i wish i was in a military school just dedicated to learning so i couldnt be distracted. discipline is what i needed. but kids now days take discipline at a insult to them and think its unfair. Life is fair thats the problem.
    if your education isnt doing it for you then stop and learn something else.
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    Sep 2 2011: Well I, for one, would have tried to go to a school that didnt' set aside the 'special' subject classes just for some students; Science Classes (more than just typical Biology), Computer Classes etc. are subjects that should be offered (actually that should be made mandatory) to all students. They weren't at the high school I attended. The discrepency in materials, subjects and utilities in our school systems are indicative of our fractured (dare I say prejudicial) society. I strongly feel that had I been exposed to more science my whole career, maybe even life would be different today. I am certain there are many others out there just like me.Oh and don't ask me what I think of magnet schools because I will tell you that all children should get an excellent education and those who are 'extra' smart should be mentallly stimulated more 'within' the same schools they attend. Why not make all schools great? Why not offer social/psychological as well as academic resources in all schools? What kind of world would we live in if all of us received excellent training and edcuation? A better one, that's what.
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    Sep 1 2011: clear that "Necessity is the mother of invention" not science or technology, if we can come out of the belief that Innovations in any area is simply a creativity and creative gesture which can emanates from any one's mind, we can learn much more in schools then in our professional life after completion of education. I am on my way to implement different projects in these areas and I am already successful in attracting some sponsors too. The reality is that there are 50% students who are studious in terms of Grasping from book and memorizing different lessons, and rest 50% are those students who are practical in learning everything, they are not at all interested in learning from book, the highly prevalent system of learning in the world over. There are systems to gauge talent of those students who are well versed in grasping and memorizing school curriculum, but is there any system in the world to recognize the abundant practical knowledge in rest of the students? Mostly not particularly in schools but mostly possible in collages! So this is what I believe and out there to make a change. You can talk to me on: e-mail at
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    Sep 1 2011: Some random thoughts....

    Education is etymologically based on the Latin "to draw out", but the word has come to encompass a lot of distinct meanings in everyday life. I can't help but wonder if all the confusion about the "purpose of education" isn't due to this conflation. One type of learning is that involved in perfecting a golf swing or riding a bicycle and is based on drill and a model (ideal). Another type of learning is mastering abstract logical thinking, best seen in 'higher math'. A third is kind of learning is the mastery of verbal skills. I could go on and on and on. The word "education" is so full of unrelated meanings as to be meaningless.

    A lot of the educational regimentation characteristic of formal education involves *precisely* what society demands of humans: mindless obedience to norms. Who wants a worker who sees some pretty flowers on the way to work and sits down at his/her computer for an hour to find out the Latin names for them -- and arrives on the job site an hour late? Point: Part of education is making the pieces work together, and we are (in part) cogs in large social organizations.

    Creativity is of some social value -- but its value is created by those who consume it. The mindless worship of 'creativity' overlooks this. Drawing out the creativity of people can be negative in lots of contexts (e.g. how many people admire 'creativity' among torturers or murderers?).

    Finally (running out of characters, not ideas ), a guiding light regarding education: "If you don't know where you're going, all roads lead there." Though quoted as if it had only one meaning, it actually has two. Sometimes the only way to know where you are going is to go down a road and see where one ends up. This is called exploration. Yes, it's also something to which those in the "education industry" give lip service, but hate. If involves deviance and those creating plans hate deviance.

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    Aug 31 2011: I can understand what you have passed through and the fact that the kind of education one wants , he is not being able to get that perhaps..but this doesnt make here a point just to criticize the system..rather you work harder and harder and get to a position from where you can change the system. It is rightly said that "What you don't like,strive for it,reach the top and change it"..
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    Aug 31 2011: Dear Claire,It is not only the students who feel this frustration but educators as well. I teach at university, following a curriculum or preparing for tests can leave little time for the other areas you would like to develop with your learners. However, you are not alone and many people just need an opportunity and a supportive environment to experiment. I think that is the key. You do not need to know the answer right now but to experiment and explore who you are, and what interests you have. Here are several ideas I use with my learners:Blogging-writing about things that interest you-you really get to know yourselfReading about everything and anythingAnswering this question: If ı could learn one thing what would it be?If you would like to see my own exploration of the same topic please feel free to visit my blog. I have been asking the same questions as an educator with my learners. There are some suggestions about blogging: great thing is is that you are questioning your education and those questions will lead you to amazing places of exploration. I know because I was the same as you and I think I have learnt more since I left college than when I was there.
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    Aug 31 2011: Education today is a morass of political correctness, ideology and misplaced progressivism, from K through PhD. Kids need to be given the tools to teach themselves, to evaluate themselves, to act as sentient independent beings capable of comprehending social necessity. I look forward to the day when every two year old kid is given a laptop by the state and a range of gradient instruction GAMES whereby they GAME themselves to genius.
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    Aug 30 2011: I would have loved to have been able to follow my own interests younger instead of a forced curriculum. its easy to learn basic arithmitic and reading, america proved it. buto have been able to focus my studies earlier in to what I wanted to learn, would have not made me so resentful towards our education ,private and public, systems.
    • Sep 2 2011: Hi Joseph,
      I can relate; it's definitely frustrating at times. Oh the other hand, being required to take certain courses is beneficial in the sense that students can discover they have interests they weren't aware of before. Based on my school's system, it seems the best compromise would be to lessen the requirement -- rather than take two classes in each area, students could take one and have more time to explore their interests or take electives (or take up another major -- I know I'll have to stay in school a little longer to get my second one). That's what I wish they'd do, anyway! Thanks for your comment.
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    Aug 30 2011: I came across one solution for our lack of tools to help our teachers and students with all their courses from kindergarten to graduate level Univ. subjects free to world @ are based on complete Opencourseware from MIT, UC Berkeley,Stanford, Yale, U of Mich along with many of the World's finest University's and other educators. Just one of the many solutions to our mess we call public education,, I know how to complain about the obvious? Why not give our children solutions to what we have done?
  • Aug 30 2011: Follow up and understand substance and point of classes during classes themselves. If you are unable to do so, then you are, in my opinion, not fit to attend those classes. But, much can be done during home study - that's a very good strategy for hard working people or restoring/fortifying "forgotten knowledge". It is however true that most schools prioritise and value scoring high on tests - but on the contraty how do you quantify one's knowledge/success if not with souch tests (even tho some may adapt to well to this type system) it is still a very good indicator of student's competence/knowledge level. I for instance was preforming minimal ammount of work for school up to high school/college US equivalent (because I was following up during lectures) - I only needed 10 or 15 minutes of time before test to learn it/restore it, but in the free time I had at home (in which most of my peers studied) I was pursuing study of themes/other, often unrelated subjects I was more interested in. But you can also go more in-depth with the subject you study (understanding is imperative). I never really cared about the grades. Of course souch style of learning has it's downsides (problem is you cannot remember everything - even tho you follow up and understand during lectures) - it cost me 1 year at university (physics major course) as I had retained much of those habits. So I guess at university - if you are signed on relatively hard course this learning style will not work unless your IQ is >=170-180 (I estimate) - but even then you may need to work a lot for more advanced classes. So, I guess all you have to do at university is repeat stuff from lectures (same day) and do some practice (studying something more may not be immediately very helpful [as in time of colloquiums]). And study hard during weekends (lots of practice). But you may need to abandon that plan if you have colloquiums in next weeks etc. We'll see next year how that theory works :P
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    Aug 29 2011:

    She (Pierson) believes there's an equation (ok, actually an algorithm) that can be used to prescribe a unique education path for every student. While I think she's on to a very interesting idea, I also think every student has to take responsibility for their own learning. She's correct in pointing out that every student should follow a unique path guided by any number of outside variables (style, background, location, etc.), but I'm not sure a single algorithm will ever account for every variable. My advice is to take as much control of your own learning as possible. If you don't think you're getting what you're paying for, stand up! If you think there may be another answer, ask the question! I've found that If at any point you think there may be room for more critical thinking and skepticism, then you have a lot of investigating to do, and that's the best part because you emerge with not only new knowledge but the confidence to question again.
    • Sep 2 2011: I finally got around to watching your video; thanks for sharing it! Pierson has some fascinating ideas and I'll have to watch out her name in the future. Your advice to keep asking questions and gain the confidence to do so are things I can --and should-- work on! I'll put them to use once classes start; thank you again
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    Aug 29 2011: I recently saw a local Tedx event and heard a talk by an amazing woman who addresses this very issue. Her philosophy and concepts on education are truly revolutionary and I wouldn't be surprised if her name becomes known on a much larger scale.
  • Aug 29 2011: I may be unpopular for my opinion, but IMO balance. A life focused too heavily on learning and tests will result in social problems. A life focused too heavily on friends and fun will leave you in a minimum-wage job at best. Aim for a B average and be there for your friends, whom you should pick carefully.

    Also remember your parents only want what's best for you, they are likely the only people who ever will.
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      Aug 29 2011: The greatest minds historically (Einstein comes to mind) were more enthralled with their education than any student today, and I think their contributions are noticeably significant. I used to take the "B average" approach, but recently decided that specific focus is much more rewarding. I think the greatest advice is to follow who you are and follow it with every bit of energy you have (be it, socializing, studying, etc.)
      • Aug 30 2011: um, Einstein did very poorly in school, his passion for education came later in life... though you make a good point, it's those who specialize who change the world - not always for the best.

        I started with the A+ approach, but the lack of peers eventually led me to the drop-out approach. Better to learn who you are, then specialize IMO.
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          Aug 31 2011: I said nothing of his educational accolades, only that he became very focused on his interest, and this focus provided us with a new way of viewing the universe that still stands today. You make a very good point that change doesn't always come for the better from this sort of specialized approach, but the arrow of positive progress most certainly seems to be going in the right direction. Avoiding evil and conflict is inevitable.
          Learning who you are, and the courage to stray as little from it, is certainly paramount, but once you've made this revelation, I think the combination of specialization and self realization can be very liberating and rewarding.
      • Aug 30 2011: Hi Taylor, thanks for the comment. I wish I could follow your advice, and for a couple years I've been trying to focus my energy on something while maintaining broad interests/studies. At the moment I'm not able to settle on one concept/interest or one of my half-formed ideas, let alone come up with a solid definition of who I am. My question is, what does one follow when they have yet to figure out who they are? I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks!
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          Aug 31 2011: Claire,
          I can't help but to completely empathize with your situation. For the longest time I felt like I was just spinning my wheels. I've always done well in school and was always able to keep jobs and be financially stable, but I never felt like I'd found a passion that I could devote my life to. Then I realized that I was really specializing in skepticism and critical thinking for years without ever explicitly coming to terms with it. The "who you are" IMO doesn't have to be so explicit (ie. pilot, physicist, etc.), but rather can be a mindset or philosophy. I love a broad range of topics, as I'm guessing you do, but the who I am comes in the way I approach my life and my love of skepticism. A big turning point for me was the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast. Look it up if interested, I highly recommend it!
          Not sure if that helped in the slightest...I'll be interested to hear your reply :)
    • Aug 30 2011: Chris, I've actually heard variants of your opinion in the past and think it's fairly popular. You offer some very useful advice -- learning to choose friends has been an interesting process. Like you said, it really is all about balance and learning inside and outside of the classroom. And lastly, I love that last bit about one's parents; I'll have to remember that! Thanks for sharing!