Do you teachers realise how boring you are?

By Bernard K

So said, a 15 year old girl in Toronto (2004) to her teachers at a large meeting. She accused them of treating education liked a TV dinner. The students are instructed to take a pre-prepared dinner box from the fridge, read the instructions, time the microwave and then if they follow the instructions to the letter they get the full marks.

But she would prefer it if they get to do their own recipe, and if she was wrong, through trial and error make it better and tastier. “That kind of learning would be fun and make us think. At the moment we are being taught to fit into, rather than shape, our world”.

The student made an interesting point about education. Is education about being taught or is it about learning? Is it about fitting into rather than about shaping the world?

One of the great sound bites about existing education is that it is ‘Overschooled and Undereducated’ (reference John Abbot). And this relates precisely to what the student said, they are taught endlessly but do they learn anything? Well, if they are taught, surely they must have learned something isn’t it? So what is the problem?

The problem again goes back to the student’s question. Is she taught to be a consumer, which is to take out the dinner box, microwave it, seat down and watch TV while she eats it, or is she learning to be a chef, a producer that understands the ingredients, the tastes, the creative and unique input then she can put into a craft?

The question that the student invites us to ask, to ponder, to contemplate, although that may not be her intention, is whether our education is to build consumers? And whether these consumers in order to satisfy their desires then have to work to satiate those cravings? And is education then a continuum of a philosophy of Capitalism that has an unabated appetite?

How about ever growing GDP with billionaires without regard to income inequality? How about people no longer serving King and Country without a astronomical pay? I think you can see how things in Singapore are always about market value. If there is one thing a consumer is taught, it is market value. The market value of health and housing is this and that, and you get a subsidy from the market value. An electorate taught to be a consumer understands this perfectly because she or he is educated this way.

The problem for education today is because of the kind of society we are. We are a consumeristic society with no apologies. Is there a silver bullet?

Peter Thiel, a co-founder of Pay Pal and who got really rich acquiring 10.2% of Facebook for USD 500,000 in 2004, started a fellowship in 2010 where he paid 20 students USD$ 100,000 each to drop out of college to start businesses. It had 83 total fellows by 2014, who launched companies that raised $72 million in total investments and $29 million in net revenue. Is it possible to run similar programs liked this? Some others have called for cognitive apprenticeship.

PM LHL had said our economy is ‘maxed out’. The interim measures while we try to boost long term productivity and value creation are liked an eclectic maze. And all this while PAP maintains that its value system is correct.

But this value system which in my opinion is an offshoot of the Reagan-Thatcher extreme capitalism-individualism has been blamed by many eminent economists, educationists and environmentalists for its unsustainable growth which must surely be reexamined.

If our political and social structures are geared toward ‘why not collect more money’ then what do you expect us to teach our kids? To even have a hope of getting our education right, we must first get our values right. Do we know how boring we are to our future generation?

This article was first published over at TR Emeritus on 23 March 2016. It is reproduced with permission.


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