COMMENT: The changing face of education

Arlen MacLaine
By Arlen MacLaine
September 5th, 2013

With summer holidays over, and the return to school for many children, memories of our own educational experiences may come to mind.  However, there is a large disconnect between our experiences and memories of what school was like, and the reality of what education in today’s society is all about.

Even at the post-secondary level, the times, they are a changin’, and quickly too.  It can be tough for educational institutions to stay ahead of the curve, or even be aware of the curve for that matter.  There are so many more options available to kids now compared to the not-too-distant past.  In order to keep pace with the ever-evolving demands of our culture in this technological age, we must do our best to embrace and be open to change.  To resist, is to fall behind into irrelevancy.

As the son of a high school teacher, my experience of public education may have been different from most.  I got a bit of a behind the scenes look at how teachers dealt with the new technology that was coming out.  When I was in high school (not to date myself), there were no such problems as using cell phones and facebook in class because no one had them, and facebook didn’t exist.  

Some teachers were still advocating for uniforms and no hats in the classroom.  The older ones wanted to deal with new technology by banning it from their classrooms, while others wanted to embrace it and use it to their advantage. There was a shell of an online program, but it was only seen as an option for kids who couldn’t hack it in a ‘regular’ classroom environment.  Obviously, things have changed.

With psychological research providing new insights into child and adolescent development, coupled with technology that seems to advance daily, the standardized world of public education is quickly becoming a relic from another time.  But the question remains: how do we deal with these advances?  How can we standardize and regulate education so that there is a level playing field when the kids are thrust out of school and into the world?

Perhaps the focus shouldn’t be to have a level playing field.  There are many more options for education and specialization available to kids at the high school level.  Kids can start planning and training for a career in the workplace before they graduate.  There are obviously pros and cons to this.  On the plus side, kids can customize their own education fast track their way through school, focusing on their strengths and desires.  On the negative side, with all of these choices comes a paradox: The more options available to someone, the harder it is to choose one.  The other problem is at that age and stage of development, a lot of kids aren’t ready to make that choice.  However, one must keep in mind that, as with many things in life, finding out one’s interests and desires is a trial-and-error process.

If we give up the idea of needing a certain level of education completed by a certain time, we open the door to the process becoming more explorative.  With all the options available at the post-secondary level, kids should be allowed to follow their interests and choose a path they enjoy at the time.  We all know kids learn better when they are interested and engaged in the subject, so why not allow and encourage them to follow a path of their choosing?  They will be much more passionate, dedicated, and responsible.  The possibility of them changing their mind after a few years and the idea of ‘lost time’ are non-issues.  

People’s desires and interests change constantly–at any age.  If someone wants to change their career, there are countless options for upgrading and retraining.  With programs such as blended learning, early entry for trades, and more early specialization, the lines between secondary education and post-secondary are becoming blurred.  Gone are the days of moving from high school to post-secondary to a career.  Education is a lifelong process that shouldn’t be impeded.

When it comes to the changing face of education, I’m reminded of an ancient Daoist principle.  It states that it is foolish to try and make a river flow uphill, but by working with the natural flow of the river, much can be accomplished.  It may be hard for many of us to comprehend how learning can take place in these different forms, at a young age or any age, as it is so different from our own experiences, but this does not mean that we should fear or resist it.  Change is inevitable. How we deal with change is what matters most.  Embracing change can lead us to new and exciting insights that can have far reaching implications.  

Resisting change can get us stuck in the past, and perhaps swallowed up by the river.

Arlen Maclaine is the lead reporter for the Rossland Telegraph.

Categories: GeneralOp/Ed

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