The global pandemic has caused drastic changes in the way we live, learn and work. The world was ground to a halt – schools and factories were closed, businesses shut down, and everyone was ordered to stay at home during an extensive lockdown, for months. This was certainly unprecedented and governments around the world have had to learn on the go, what they are dealing with, how to deal with this emergency, and when to open the countries up, and how? In this unsettling environment that is still playing out right now, with countries still fighting tooth-and-nail with the effects of the virus, and its impact on the people – what is to happen to the future of work, livelihood, schooling and socialisation?
Let us turn the clock back 20 years. The year was 2000, the start of the new millennium. The world was euphoric at the notion that life would be better due to advancement in high technology. New possibilities were pictured in the horizon – people would work from home on their computers connected to high-speed internet, children could learn from home with information at the touch of a finger, multi-million dollar businesses could be done remotely with better and speedier softwares for all kinds of transactions, and people could communicate with one another faster, cheaper and easier than any time in the history of mankind. But did they happen? Yes and no. Yes because there were some countries that adopted them, and no because the take-up rate is far from making enough impact on the lives of people, their work, schooling, and most of all, on the environment. With this pandemic, it can clearly be seen what needs to change in order to halt the rise of future pandemics and the grave effects of climate change, and to propel the ideas that construct a brave new world grounded on values steeped in kindness and compassion for others.
A revolution in learning
It was also 20 years ago that my family had embarked on an experiment called homeschooling. Because the idea of an autonomous education free from bureaucratic limitations on what, how and when to learn something, was more than sufficient reason for us to adopt the philosophy and pedagogy of homeschooling wholeheartedly, without an aorta of doubt. Here are the facts:
1. That learning is most effective in an environment of love and tranquility – that is free from needless competitions, judgmental peers, and being tested like lab rats – and instead be allowed to flourish at a self-paced and self-directed manner, full of curiosity!
2. That the child is seen with compassionate eyes of kindly educators whose role is to draw out each and every unique talent and natural ability of a student, instead of seeing them with a blinkered vision that they are merely empty vessels to be filled only by the all-knowing teachers.
3. That through hours of daily joyful play is how the young learn the important skills in manoeuvring their way in their world, and that to restrict their right to free play and in its place, to demand that they sit down for hours of desk work, just like their parents, is to do great harm to them. For it destroys their zest for learning, and at times, even extinguishes their will for living.
4. That it is more than sufficient to equip a child in the love for learning through imagining, questioning, exploring and experimenting. In the process they will fall and fail many times, but if we adults do not make a fuss of them, they will happily pick themselves up and try and try again.
5. Reading and writing can come later if the child chooses them. There should not be an obsessive desire for children to start reading and writing at ages 2 or 3, before they can even hold a spoon properly! There will be early readers (like my first-born who started reading at 2) and there will be late-readers (like my second-born who did not start till she was 10) but they are happy learners learning at their own pace and propensity.
6. That learning is within our control and not affected by changes in educational policies every few years with the changes of ministers each time. Whether or not math and science are to be taught in English, or the standard 6 exams to be done away with, or that schools are to be closed due to a prolonged pandemic, learning still continues unabated at home for the homeschoolers.
7. That mastery is not quantified by some periodical standardised tests that are administered with great seriousness and profundity, with cheaters severely punished yet they do it anyway because the stakes are just too high where failure is not an option. Instead, opportunities are created to allow for the presentations of ideas and skills to be evaluated by experts and peers.
8. Learning from industry experts, mentors and environmental activists, provide real expertise for meaningful and sustainable work in a future that requires us to fix past mistakes in the manner we treat the world like it is infinite in its riches that we have worked so hard to pilfer for its precious minerals and gas, all in the name of development.
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner gives us a clearer understanding of what intelligence entails and opens up learning opportunities for learners who are not predisposed towards learning in only one particular way. This opens up the door for a vast majority of learners with different learning abilities that do not sit nicely into the rigid schooling system. So instead of fixing these learners so that they can fit in, we should look into how to fix schools so that these differently abled learners have a place of pride for them to be recognised as abled learners to be learning alongside everybody else. This can only happen if schools change the way they teach and open up spaces to include all the differently intelligent students. And the first thing to change is the way students are measured and tested and categorised.
Having an understanding of different teaching approaches from which we all can learn, as well as a toolbox with a variety of ways to present content to students, is valuable for increasing the accessibility of learning experiences for all students. To develop this toolbox, it is especially important to gather ongoing information about student strengths and challenges as well as their developing interests and activities they dislike. Providing different contexts for students and engaging a variety of their senses — for example, learning about fractions through musical notes, flower petals, and poetic meter — is supported by research. Specifically:
- Providing students with multiple ways to access content improves learning (Hattie, 2011).
- Providing students with multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills increases engagement and learning, and provides teachers with more accurate understanding of students’ knowledge and skills (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
- Instruction should be informed as much as possible by detailed knowledge about students’ specific strengths, needs, and areas for growth (Tomlinson, 2014). https://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-research
We have come to a juncture in time where opportunity presents itself to us once again, to steer education towards a reimagined world ahead of us. If and when schools reopen, how are students going to learn differently? What should stay and what should go? With the looming economic downturn ahead of us, with the trajectory declining towards an economic depression, and the number of unemployed at astronomical points, this is a crucial time for the transformation that should have happened but did not happen, at the start of the new millennium – the revolution of education in the 21st Century.
Perhaps the time has come. And the time is NOW. The time for rethinking education is over. Educationists have been rethinking education for the past 2 decades since the new millennium started. But nothing much had happened. Which is the main reason why millions of families around the world have resorted to alternative education for their children. Many of these children have grown up, gotten married and are contributing members of society. They are living proof that alternative education works to include everyone towards a future that is inclusive, kind and compassionate in a world that is rapidly regressing towards self-destruction. The question now is: how do we revolutionise education for schools, for the disadvantaged and for those who have been left behind by the system?
I think those of us who have been successful in giving our children an education without schooling have much to contribute to the current narrative on changing education to cater to 21st Century multiple-intelligent learners. It is time we join forces to make it happen. Are you coming onboard?
What are you thoughts, ideas or suggestions for change?
Do share with us, we are looking to compile and publish/share them and to drive change from the ground up!
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