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The world is changing, but can education keep up?


By Mira Khatib

Many school pupils feel frustrated and bored during the hours they have to hunch over their books feverishly memorising formulas that seem irrelevant to their lives – and most likely will be quickly forgotten once their final exams are over.

Research indicates that although standardised tests may adequately measure a student’s knowledge, they are a poor yardstick when it comes to highlighting other aspects and abilities – such as collaboration, character, teamwork and leadership skills – that are arguably more important when wanting to achieve success in the real world.

It is a heavy burden to place on the shoulders of the education system to realise that part of its role is to affect a transition from what is learnt in school to its application in the real world and to guide students on a path of discovery.

According to Marilyn Jager Adams, the internationally renowned cognitive psychologist, if the process doesn’t transfer, it cannot even be called thinking. It can be called learning, memory or habit, but not thinking.

“The purpose of a course on thinking is to enhance students’ abilities to face new challenges and to attack novel problems confidently, rationally and productively,” Dr Adams said.

To be successful at carrying over what one learns in school and university and employing it in the real world requires a good understanding of concepts and the ability to think for oneself. Memorization alone does not necessarily promote understanding and the ability to use information correctly.

In my opinion, schools should be much more than just a place for knowledge acquisition. They should be a place to discover passion, a place to discover hidden talents no matter whether they fit into the required curriculum or not.

They should allow students to find out how to make a difference in the world, how to be good communicators, how to be thinkers, how to be successful in life not just in subject matter. A big part of this equation is to invest in our educators to help them better help their students achieve such goals.

In her 2012 book The Power of Why, author Amanda Lang sets out a template for inquiry and innovation: “Curious kids learn how to learn, and how to enjoy it – and that, more than any specific body of knowledge, is what they will need to have in the future.

“The world is changing so rapidly that by the time a student graduates from university, everything he or she learnt may already be headed towards obsolescence.

“The main thing that students need to know is not what to think but how to think to face new challenges and solve new problems.”

Vision 2021, the UAE’s national agenda, emphasises the development of a first-rate education system. That will require a complete transformation of the current education system and teaching methods.

Vision 2021 aims for all schools, universities and students to be equipped with smart systems and devices as a basis for all teaching methods, projects and research. This in turn will open new doors of discovery.

As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has noted: “Support for education is support for human progress, and appreciation of educators is a measure of those who seek to effect change in our life.”

When students are given the right tools, are motivated to follow their passion, are encouraged to question and be curious and are able to show others what they have learnt and how – without the pressure of just completing curriculums – then a successful transition of knowledge will be made to the real world.

Published in The National UAE:

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