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The future of education needs a new curriculum

IsabellaThis is Isabella and she is on her way to school. It is her first day and she is very excited. What Isabella is not considering when she steps in to the school today is that she will spend about 15,000 hours in this institution.

It is her obligation to show up for class every day and in return we are suppose to give her the best education possible with existing means, for her to become a harmonious person and citizen.

Today we measure the success of our students by math and reading scores, but here we have 15,000 hours with Isabella in a group of other students, led by experienced and educated teachers. Aren’t there other skills that we would like her to have?

If Isabella was my daughter, I would see these skills as some of the most important for her future when she leaves school (in no particular order):

- Have good self-esteem and self-confidence
- Sleep well at night (not being generally frustrated)
- Have a good relation to her family
- Have a good economic understanding
- Have good social skills
- Be healthy and understand the important of health
- Have good knowledge about the responsibility of being a parent
- Have the sense that “everything is possible”
- Have the ability to adapt to new situations
- Have good common knowledge
- Long to wake up the next day to fulfill her passion

Would you like to add “unnecessary and mostly unusable skills in math and reading” to that? I wouldn’t.

So why do we continue to bang our head in the wall and force Isabella to take part in lesson after lesson with lectures that are irrelevant to her future? Teachers are also testifying that the curriculum is narrowing even further, focusing on math and language.

I agree with John Bennett that says that teaching traditional math is unnecessary for a big part of the time in school. The same could go for your native language. Why should we have studies in it from the age of 13 when there are far more important skills that Isabella needs when she leaves school?

It doesn’t matter if Isabella knows the difference between ampere and volt if she goes to bed without badly longing for the next day. It doesn’t matter if she can mention 5 capital cities in South America if she doesn’t dare to seek the job she wants because of her lack of self-confidence, or if she knows how to calculate the area of a circle if she face bankruptcy later in life because she doesn’t have the basic economical skills.

There are of course great examples of how to for instance use English in a more creative way to support these skills, like Shelley Wright describes, still meeting curriculum and goals.

But the debate today about the future of education is focused on technical aid, the competiveness of nations and raising math and reading scores. But that is just ways to try to run faster with square wheels on your wheelbarrow. We need to adjust the curriculum with round wheels for Isabella’s future.

But what should we teach her then during these 15,000 hours?

Of course she must learn how to read, write, and count and also the basic common knowledge about the world around us, the things we need in our everyday life. But that doesn’t take 15,000 hours to learn.

Ken Robinson talks about being in your right element, where your talent meets your passion. I think that is where people are truly the happiest and also can achieve the most for themselves and others. Therefore we need to assist Isabella to find her passion in life and support it. That should be the starting point for any K-12 curriculum.

If you are passionate about what you learn, there are no limits to how much information you can absorb and what you can achieve. With a curriculum based on the student’s passion everything else will fall in place. Dennis Littky talks about passion as the focus for education in the work they do at Big Picture Learning.

Of course we can’t demand of the students to find their passion in life before they leave school, but we can use these 15,000 hours to give them a chance to find it. Even if they will not find it they will be good on their way and definitely know the value of it.

Would you like Isabella to be a passionate chef that never heard of Hemingway or Pythagoras, or to be an impassionate engineer with excellent skills in math and literature?

Even if the rest of the curriculum stays, with the passion in place teachers will always have good answers to the eternal question from students – why do I have to learn this?

Well Isabella, if don’t learn math you will not be able to run your own restaurant, calculating salaries to employees, know how much you should charge for your dishes etc. You need to know about the culture in Argentina, because they have food that could add a new dimension in your kitchen. You need to know the basics in electricity, because it will help you when the stove suddenly loses power a busy night in your restaurant.

But why do I need to read this guy Hemingway? Well…you don’t! Go and find cool food blogs, see what recipes they have and try to create your own.

We should stop measuring success in school after total irrelevant math and reading scores and instead see how we can create a new curriculum that supports Isabella in her future life.

So open up a new spreadsheet, name it “New Curriculum” and get going. We got 15,000 hours to fill and Isabella’s future is depending on it.

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Posted in: Curriculum  Passion  

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