Maybe we need a radical education

Mary G
July 25, 2021

As Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education plays such a huge role in our lives and is responsible for the development of humanity. But what if our education system is outdated? What if we’re doing this all wrong? How could we adapt the way we learn to keep up with the modern world?

In most schools, the subjects taught tend to be subjects that young people have been studying for maybe 100 years or more, perhaps with the exception of computer science. Every student studies maths, english, science, languages, humanities and arts at some point in their education. These subjects are all vitally important, but have remained in their discrete subject boxes for a very long time. In the modern world we are seeing more and more complex issues arise that we cannot compartmentalise - issues like climate change, systemic oppression, pandemics, mental health crises and more. Sometimes our teachers will try to include topics like these where they can, but our education system isn’t built for broad, multi-disciplinary topics. For example, we sometimes learn about the science of climate change in chemistry lessons, but we need a much deeper understanding of the broader economic, social and political impacts as well in order to effectively tackle the climate crisis - something the school system can’t really allow us to do. Even if different aspects of some of these topics are taught to us in different subjects, it is still incredibly difficult to draw links across the curriculum.

So what if we were to radically redesign our education system to allow us to learn about the world in different ways? Maybe we could overhaul the current subject boundaries and introduce a schooling system focused on learning rather than teaching. There are loads of different ways we could achieve this, many of which have been tried successfully around the world. Agora, a school in the Netherlands, aims to give students the freedom and opportunity to learn about things they find interesting in a way that works for them. Instead of studying the typical subjects like most schools, students are encouraged to explore topics they are curious about and work on projects both collectively or individually. Every day they write down challenges and think of ways in which to overcome them - a much more employable skill than regurgitating facts and dates. The role of teachers at this school is not to teach their students, but to challenge and guide their exploration to ensure that they are developing. Students are in charge of their own learning journey - the teachers are just there to support this rather than to define it. As one of their projects, three students at the school even designed their own software to monitor progress and development without the use of testing or exams! (You can read more about this amazing school here.)

This is just one example of what education could look like if we think outside the box. Students should be given the opportunity to learn in ways which allow for exploration, creative problem-solving, communication and personal development - all of which are vital skills for tackling the challenges facing modern society today. The world is forever changing, so why aren’t we changing our education system to keep up with this? Maybe we need a radical education to solve contemporary global problems - so why wait?