Do schools teach us to “stay in our boxes”?

I’m aware that the question “Do schools teach us to “stay in our boxes”?” is a highly debateable one. I have studied in several different streams of education and I can tell you that many of the generalisations do exist: From the age of 7-11 I went to an Indian School. It was English medium but the fashion in which we learnt was very much rote learning. I’d spend hours memorising lengthy answers to different questions. I could read Hindi but not understand what I was reading, purely because I was taught how to recognise the alphabets and not actually interpret the words. I then went on to study in India (at an international school) and it was pretty much the same. Mug it all up, parrot fashion. When I was in school in Dublin, things changed. We were taught in a different method. In math, for example, you got points for method and not just the answer. There was a transition year between what is equivalent to GCSEs and A Levels and during this year we were encouraged to participate in different projects, go on field trips and develop a broader view to learning, outside of the classroom. Other generalisations like American schools are creative but not academic, etc. often stand true for many people I know.

Essentially though, I don’t think it matters. Some of the smartest entrepreneurial people I know, didn’t go to university. And some very smart MBA people I know, are out of jobs at the moment. In the end, I don’t think “success” is defined necessarily by how well you did in school, unless your field is very specific (but that’s a post for another day).

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The reason I ask this question today is because of something that happened in the last week. At the start of the week, a friend asked me to vote for her niece who was taking part in a school project in Hong Kong. The project was about preserving the water system in Hong Kong. The school said that the winner would be the project that got the most likes on Facebook. So after looking at what she was proposing, I voted for her and then shared the status on my wall. Other people voted for her from that and shared the status. Anyway, a few days ago, my friend was over and she was on Face Time with her niece. So I asked her how she did and if she won and she told me she was disqualified. Why? Because she’d found an app that gave you free likes for every picture of theirs that you liked and so in the end she got over 2,000 likes (and obviously would have won!) Sounds ingenious doesn’t it? Except the school didn’t accept it and disqualified her.

In today’s cut throat world, thinking outside the box, like she did, would be seen as an asset but at school, she was disqualified. There are many educational institutes who recognise that classroom controlled learning isn’t exactly what children need to survive in the real world and are instead taking their children outside the box. Examples would be the Waldorf Steiner school and the Montessori system. The belief is that children will learn at their own pace and in their own ways and so the classrooms are child led rather than teacher led.

I’m not totally convinced of these schools, only because I do believe that some sort of structure is required in a classroom. But, I also believe traditional schools need to start allowing for more creativity and out of the box thinking. You only have to watch any of the big TV shows (Greys Anatomy, Suits, Scandal, etc.) to see how important out of the box thinking is, even for professionals. The simple fact is…books can only take us so far but it’s the way we think that can change our lives.

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