– Puleng Mosholi
Puleng is a Marketing Manager with a B. Political Science: Analysis and Communication from the University of Pretoria. Since 2008 she has been involved in education initiatives like Friends of Bopasenatla tutoring program and the Thlompanang anti-gender violence education group in her personal time.
I’ve always loved learning…and was bored by school. On my own I learned about dinosaurs, ancient Egyptians, pop music, astronomy. I was a voracious reader. I still have a head for general knowledge and seemingly random facts. Outside of school, I was an enthusiastic learner. The situation was quite different in school.
I went to some great schools. I’ve experienced different school systems in different countries. I’ve had incredible teachers and few awful teachers who ‘phoned’ it in, yet every situation was the same for me. The one thing that was consistent across my school experience was how we were required to learn and how we were assessed. Over a decade and a half since my high school graduation, I still have the same aversion to the process of formal education!
‘Puleng has the potential to be an A student if she applied herself’ was a staple of my report cards from elementary school to high school. I didn’t like how we had to learn in school so I put little effort into my school work, studying for tests and even participating in class if we weren’t talking about something I found particularly interesting. To make matters worse, I had a head for facts and analysis so I could maintain a B average without trying…so I rarely tried. My teachers were all right, if I’d applied myself, I could have been an A student. Unfortunately, what my teachers didn’t see, or weren’t able to do anything about, is why I didn’t care enough to try. Had I not had a head for facts, I would have been lumped in as part of the ignored majority of ‘average’ students.
The mechanic of learning, that has been the standard, was the problem for me. I bored easily when I was learning a subject or topic that I didn’t pique my interest immediately, I all but tuned out. My internal monologue read something like: Why do I have to do this? I’ll never need this in the working world? Why do I need to learn long division, I’ll just use a calculator when I grow up?
A teacher standing at the front of a classroom, giving out information with limited student engagement, is easy to drown out and ignore. Most formal learning is passive. The teacher gives information the students are intended to receive and absorb. They find out whether the student has received the message when homework is handed in or tests are written. Once retention/ learning of particular concepts have been assessed in this way, they are often not touched on again, reinforcing the idea that the knowledge is irrelevant and unimportant in the grander scheme of things. If you only need to know something to pass a test, then you’ll only put in so much effort to learn it. You’ll memorize facts, diagrams, processes and theories without trying to understand them.
Many people have experienced the process of formal education the same way. There’s a disconnect between the perceived relevance of what they are learning, the importance of what they are learning and how they learn it. Imagine learning mathematical concepts with an understanding of how they fit into the broader discipline and how they are relevant to modern society and our own lives? Imagine having the understanding that mathematical concepts are not just for future mathematicians but that maths is part of graphic design, engineering, architecture, palaeontology, archaeology, used daily by business owners, etcetera? Wouldn’t that make you look at theorems and formulae differently?
There are many, highly effective ways in which we learn daily: through experience, self-study and investigation, discussion and collaborative work. One could argue that most of what we know is learned through these methods: social skills, our acquired professional skills, most of our general knowledge about the world. Yet at school, the process of academic learning doesn’t often include these methods of learning in a meaningful way. We are still feeding knowledge in a one-way process, holding the teacher as the font of knowledge and overlooking the potential contribution of the students to their own education. We are missing a vital opportunity. Fostering a love of learning should be as important as the actual acquisition of knowledge, the former should feed into the later.
The process of being formally educated should build on the innate curiosity and enthusiasm to learn that all children possess. Learning in the world outside of school is an active, dynamic process. Instead of accepting that the majority of students in a class are simply average students, we need to reconsider whether this label of ‘average’ is a condition of an education model ill-equipped to effectively tap into the potential of each child.
It’s time to change the narrative of school being tedious and boring, a necessary obligation that will not yield the desired results for most of us ‘average’ students. It’s time to look critically at prevalent education models and shift to a model that is effective for the majority, not just the few who for various reasons thrive in the traditional model. It’s time for an education revolution!