The Drive to Learn

To different degrees, all these week’s readings deal with the issue of students’ low efficiency of learning. In Wesch’s words, education has lost “significance” to students. Other authors also expressed similar concerns of the inefficiency of present education. While I admit this observation has its insight, I would argue that this issue might have been over-exaggerated due to one reason or another.

I think part of the reason that contemporary education is not as efficient as it is expected to be actually arises from the question itself. Modern education’s assumption is based upon this fundamental assumption: all children should be educated. While this assumption has been taken for granted, it was not true in the past. From ancient time to very recent centuries, most adult human beings on our planet were simply illiterate, or close to illiterate. The vast majority of kids would not have the concept of going to schools at all. Keep in mind that the first major book was only printed in Europe as late as 1455. Education in the past was indeed a high privilege of the very well off, if not the very top members of human societies. In this situation, people would pursue education only if they not only had the resources, but also possessed an absolutely strong drive to learn. It is not hard to imagine students in the past would make every effort to absorb knowledge. Curiosity and interest were probably not a relevant concern at all. Simply put it, kids in the past drove themselves to learn.

In recent centuries, however, the tide was reversed. Education has stopped being a privilege; instead, it is assumed to be a basic human right and education has become an industry. A class is like an assembly line and teachers of different subjects are workers standing at different spots. Students are the products. The more students a class has, the less attention each of them can receive, given the number of teachers fixed. Ken Robinson in his video mentioned the importance of individualized education and appreciated the education of Finland. It is easier said than done. With their oil money from the sea and their small populations, of course it is easy for those Northern European countries to hire enough teachers to perform “individualized” education for their kids. This is hardly practical for countries with large populations like America, not mentioning those crowded countries like China.

That being said, a growing number of students going to school should not be the excuse to downplay the quality of education itself. After all, education quality is part of living quality in a general sense. If human beings’ general living conditions are improved in history, there is no reason to leave education behind. If you can make students attracted, why bore them?

5 thoughts on “The Drive to Learn”

  1. I really liked the factory metaphor you used to describe schools in which classes are the assembly lines teachers are the workers and students are the product. This is really what is happening in today’s education without giving more attention to individualized learning.
    I also totally agree with you that individualized learning is impractical in highly populated countries. For example in Egypt where the population is approaching 100 million, on average a class will have about 60-90 student and the ratio of teachers to students is about 1:25.

  2. Thanks for this post! I really liked how you gave some historical context (very valid, in my opinion), and I am in total agreement with you. Obviously, I am very pleased about education being available to all, and I think our schools have lots of room for improvement. However, like you said, this is easier said than done.

  3. I also thank you for the historical perspective on how human societies have valued formal learning. The kinds of “school systems” articulated throughout much of the world today are products of the nineteenth-century industrializing economy (which needed trained workers. N.B. training is not necessarily the same as education) and the expanding liberal order (which linked formal learning with upward social mobility and economic opportunity. We are struggling with that legacy today. We speak of the “knowledge economy” and have some pretty unrealistic and largely un-examined assumptions about the merits of providing more than a dozen years of schooling (sometimes close to 20!) to large sections of the population.

  4. Nice post! I really liked the analogy that you used in your article.
    If we are to consider that analogy, it becomes imperative that we train the workers (teachers) in order to get a better quality product (students). I think professional development for teachers are equally, if not more, important than changing other aspects of the learning environment.

  5. Thanks for the historical perspective, it reminded of how grateful I am for the educational opportunities we have now. You have a good point with how a classroom has become similar to an assembly line. We max out class sizes then end up force adding students to full classes due to graduation requirements, etc. An individualized education of course would be optimal but, I agree how do we do this for the masses? Finding a way to increase the quality of education and still allowing more students to have assess is a challenge.

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