Unleashing students’ inherent creative potential ought to feature at the very forefront of what the education system stands for. What is proving particularly disconcerting in the 21st century, however, is how increasingly time-consuming and addictive technology has infiltrated and corrupted our schools and universities, detracting from academic vibrancy and crippling social cohesion. Rather than using their own ingeniously-designed, biologically-endowed brain power, staff and students alike are more than ever over-relying on computer technology to complete and research even the most simplistic and rudimentary of tasks. PowerPoint presentations proliferate into almost every classroom while students are being forced to read at length on issues behind a computer screen and as a result jeopardizing their health through chronic back pain, headache, insomnia and the like. In future, schools should make the move in earnest from an industrial model of education that treats everyone essentially the same, and transition, slowly but surely, to a holistic system that appeals and engages all six senses and always pays close attention to the individual student and their innate potential. This is the role of the teacher: to discover this potential otherwise lying dormant in students. For a well-rounded education bears in mind not only memorizing facts by rote, but also somewhat less utilitarian aspects of learning. Aspects like creativity, motor skills and higher-order thinking.
In addition, careful consideration needs to be paid and directed to students’ so-called “triple-bottom-line” of biological, physiological and economic needs. With human ecology studies now evidencing loneliness and social exclusion to be just as damaging as smoking and obesity, scholars are only now beginning to fully comprehend why there is this desperate need and renewed role for people to become social again. Even if only in ways that are slightly more subtle and go beyond furiously partying and getting senselessly drunk. And so, the education system should aim to achieve greater equality and, following on from this, improved awareness around vexed social issues such as loneliness, homelessness and autism in order to avoid stigmas and contradict certain clichés common in social cliques.
When Kevin Rudd funded schools by providing every high school student with a free laptop during the GFC years, it seemed in many ways the perfect panacea and addition to the curriculum at the time. However, use of the personal laptop has recently caused controversy amongst adults and teachers, surrounding how technology continues to distract students from staying focused in class. This is hardly news. The education system must rethink the consequences students face as they prepare to sit their exams at the end of the year, having no clue as to what they have to do in order to achieve the results everyone ought to be aiming for.
The actual aim of the laptop was to offer students a broader range of opportunities to organise their work, whilst simultaneously encouraging a more intimate interaction of teachers with their students. And yet, a recent study from the University of Western Sydney has revealed that, ever since the introduction of laptops in schools in 2009, dropout rates have increased – exponentially. That’s not to say that the laptop alone is to blame. Oh, no! Employed sparingly, and appropriately, the laptop can assist the student to aim higher, strive higher, and achieve higher. Indeed, it is much more a question of how the laptop is used and with what attitude.
And so this ongoing development, this arrogant thrust of technology, has entailed as much an intellectual as well as a social loss, as students’ gazes seem inextricably strained and fixated to their inanimate screens, their concentration span now only marginally longer – just about four seconds longer, in fact – than that of a goldfish. Indeed, long gone are the days where students were once directly acquiring lived, visceral experiences of the world around them, let alone climbing up trees, or having adventures on a day-to-day basis. Enrollments in environmental studies, geography, the earth sciences, for one, would seem to have now stalled almost entirely. That is, compared to an otherwise established, undisputed field of the likes of engineering. (After innumerable iterations and respectful impressments saying that I study geography and wildlife management, people still question, incredulously, if I do, in fact, study engineering…)
Meanwhile, environment-related problems such as salinity remain either on hold or on an irreversible rise, and new social problems, catastrophes, dilemmas, shortages – call them what you will – appear to arise and feature prominently in the news just about every day now. Which is precisely why, sometime or other down the road, schools are going to have to re-connect the youth with the natural world around them. Because only in this way can the environment be preserved for future generations and saved from impending, permanent doom. I’m not talking about separately designated, clearly demarcated “national parks” here.
If we are going to successfully educate our children for the 21st century, then it is only sensible to contain the idea that computers and technology are commonly referred to as ‘evil things’ in our collective imagination. We must move away from this conception and rather move toward the real dilemma: the inappropriate use of technology in conjunction with online game-playing, leaving students incapable of gaining any attention and mojo from teachers in charge of the classroom. So, what I’m in favour of is a complete overhaul in our thought process, a critical and unbiased reappraisal of how our schools and universities can be better designed to facilitate and promote a lifelong learning journey. But a blanket band aid response as of right now is not the answer. Education must cater to students’ inherent strengths and what they actually want to learn. Otherwise, they just can’t be bothered. Otherwise, the education doesn’t work. This model that prides itself on, and enthusiastically embraces, each unique individual, also makes for a much smoother transition from year 12 in high school onwards to tertiary institutions, where in the latter institution students are all of a sudden subjected to a radically different learning culture, ever-changing modes of thinking, let alone a new mindset that forms the basis for self-reliance in education, and, finally, in the workforce.
Moreover, teachers need to rekindle confidence and a lifelong interest in finance. Money-making skills should be a leaving requirement for every student; for without suitable skills to master the money-making art, and by way of nonexistent and stunted survival instincts, (sadly) living and subsisting and thriving outside of the workforce have all been rendered next to impossible.
On the reverse, students need to learn to accept and appreciate other human beings for who they are at heart and see the light and innate potential and positive side in people. Of course, that’s not to say that students all of a sudden are to eschew all bad character traits and blindly enter friendships and relationships with reckless abandon. Well, no, of course not. But in such tumultuous times where war, hate and crime abound a plenty, encouraging acceptance and love and a sense of kinship and decency between your fellow man and woman is doubtless almost always a good thing. And so it is the central contention of this essay that the education system, especially at the tertiary university level, must do its utmost to work against segregating students according to class, race, socio-economic status and/or the subjects they may (or may not) be pursuing. After all, none of us know everything, but if only we would work together and collaborate in earnest then we as society can, in fact, come a lot closer to knowing just about anything. Diversity needs to be actively fostered on campus, and spatial and social interaction across faculties should be encouraged, not just in social clubs, societies or groups.
In sum, education is an organic process that must consider each and every child for who they truly are at heart. Above all, education needs to educate students’ entire body, not just their head. Technology, if employed at all, should be effectively limited in exchange for real-life skills and of course to avoid detached, insipid, irreverent students.