What are we teaching our kids?


Recently, I attended a discussion evening on the millennium development goal: ‘Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.’

You can read the official report card on progress towards achieving that goal on UNESCO’s site.

We had an interesting evening. We looked at some of the statistics shown on UNESCO’s page and discussed the link between a lack of schooling for mothers and infant mortality. You can read that report in the World Health Organisation’s fact sheet.

We were a group of parents, educators and business people in a comfortable western setting, in a country where we take access to education for granted.

We acknowledged that schooling is what gives children the basic toolset of reading, writing and arithmetic (that our politicians are so fond of insisting that we get back to in our schools) that give children access to society’s accumulated knowledge.

We asked ourselves some interesting questions that don’t appear to be on the millennium development agenda.

We wondered whether access to the basic toolset was enough. In fact, we wondered whether children in schools in developed countries, like our own, were being given a full course of primary schooling.

How much time are we wasting on teaching kids to perform in the standard tests that our politician insists we must administer?

How much teaching of independent thinking is going on in our schools?

How much encouragement of creativity and innovation?

How much of what we do in schools is about teaching children to cooperate with authority, to conform to the rules and to repeat the ‘correct’ answers?

How much is about teaching collaborative work practices?

How much of it is about teaching that there is only one winner? One top of the class?

Can it be a full course of primary schooling if it does not encompass social, emotional and spiritual learning?

How many schools teach the children in their care about self awareness and awareness of place?

It’s one thing to provide children with a basic education so that they can read and write and add up – but is that all we want them to be able to do? To know?

I think today’s children, tomorrows citizens and leaders, need more than that. We’ve seen what inadequate education can do – we’re living with the results of school and university systems that seem to be dumbing everything down to the basics required to get a job. We’ve given up on educating the whole person and settled for serving the needs of the economy.

In fact, if we’re honest, it looks like we’ve actually given up on teaching some of our kids the basics. Ask yourself, how can someone who spends twelve years in the school system still be illiterate after all that emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic? And these days, there are a lot more ways of being illiterate.

The consensus of our discussion group was that we need to do better, we need to refresh the curriculum and spend some real money on education, if we are to make any real progress towards the intentions behind the millennium development goals.

There in no point in having all that expensive high tech defence equipment if no-body knows how to use it. Yes, there are somethings where you really do need to read the instructions before you start pushing the buttons to see what happens.

To finish, I’d like to share something uplifting I stumbled across during the week: Kindles in Ghana.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic as a comment.

Thanks for dropping by, Peter