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New challenges for education New challenges for education
by Joseph Gatt
2019-10-01 10:21:00
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Social media has dramatically changed to face of education. And because teachers, principals, school staff and education board and education ministry officials are often too old to use social media, they are not noticing the trends. So here are a few challenges with education, and how to fix them.

Challenge number 1: formal vs. casual

When I was in the 6th grade, I remember vividly a lesson about formal vs. casual speech and behavior. We were taught that when talking to a police officer, a teacher, a nurse or a doctor, we should act and speak formally. With a grandfather, uncle or older family or friend figure, we should use semi-formal speech and behavior. And with friends or brothers and sisters, casual speech and behavior will do.

educa01_400Now with social media where most interactions are casual, a lot of the younger generation has no idea how to use formal speech. So the challenge would be to teach children how to act, dress and speak formally and semi-formally.

Now I remember I was only taught how to use formal or casual speech twice in my life: in the 6th grade and in the 9th grade. Now the interesting thing in the 9th grade is that we were taught that casual speech was not just four-letter words, that slang or street talk was also casual speech.

If I worked for the labor board, I would ask to meet with social media giants to address this issue: how do you get kids to distinguish the formal from the casual?

The problem is a lot more global and complicated than that. First, there's the huge problem that by snooping into social media, teachers can now see the bare buttocks of their students in some cases. There's also the problem that a lot of times kids don't know that provocative social media content can have the wrong consequences inside the classroom. There's the issue of social interactions among students on social media. And finally, there's the issue where students often write content for the classroom that really belongs to social media.

Challenge number 2: Public vs. private issues

Throughout my school years, none of my classmates, or teachers, knew that I was alone on the boat, that I was an adoptee who lived in foster homes. One of my classmates lost his father and I only found out a couple of years later, by accident. Another one of my classmates' parents divorced and family was evicted, didn't find out until later. Another classmate struggled with drug addiction and few people knew about that.

Point is, if anyone taught in the 1990s or 2000s, Oprah Winfrey-style problems and discussions were left out of the classroom and school setting. At school, you would try your best to focus on classroom materials and get the best possible grades. If you had personal problems, you would fight hard to overcome them and give your education your best shot.

Now back in my school days there was this girl who did dramatize her personal problems in defense of poor grades. But that was just this one person. Today, everything from bipolar disorder to OCD to ADHD to financial problems to identity crisis to Asperger's to everything else is being used as an excuse for slacking around at school. And being late or absent is no longer considered an issue in some places.

So my recommendation would be that in this day and age where tools for studying have never been so plentiful (in my day and age all we had was a small library of 3,000 books that closed at 4:30 PM) the mere abundance of learning materials should make for even fewer excuses not to study.

Challenge number three: distractions

We had our distractions back in the day. Bur our distractions had filters. You could only listen to so much music, only play so many games, only focus on your love interest so much time. So today the question would be: how do you make learning math, science, history and literature interesting in the age of distractions?

First, I would recommend that new media be part of the curriculum. That it I find it ridiculous that we use 20th century textbooks in the 21st century classroom. That is I find that today's curriculum has something of a break with today's reality. Today's reality is one of apps and social media and digital media, yet we still teach 20th century literature and science that is somewhat, slightly outdated.

I would suggest that we get together to discuss the best ways to include the 2010s revolution in the curriculum, while also finding ways to get teachers to use digital media in the classroom. But for that to work we would need to find ways to make teachers comfortable with that kind of media (a lot of teachers were students in the 1970s and would not be very comfortable with it) while the students can also adopt such innovative learning techniques.

Note: I asked a sample of about 200 middle and high school students if they had ever heard of something called “audiobooks” and not one said “yes.” 

Final challenge for the day: will the day finally come when we teach skills in the classroom?

Did you learn any skills in school? Writing, OK maybe. Reading, perhaps. Accounting, perhaps. Some people did learn languages. Problem solving, perhaps.

Here's my problem. Some of you, perhaps many of you will disagree. Colleges are encouraging schools to dumb down their skill education so students can go on to college, pay hard cash to earn those skills. Some of my older friends remember the good old days when you could work as an accountant straight out of middle school, and a lot of 15 year-old accountants were actually skilled.

The reason I'm saying this is not because I'm trying to get greedy colleges to lose hard cash. I'm saying this because the best years for people to acquire skills is the 8-15 age range, and that by the time you're 18, your brain starts rusting a little bit. The best construction workers learned their trade in their early teens, so did the best accountants and some would even say the best lawyers. Yes indeed, back in the day there were 13 year olds slowly gaining their legal education, and no one told them it was too early to do so or to save their energy for college. 


     
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