How would you describe a school? A place to discover yourself or equally, a place to loosen your mind? It’s difficult to say, as everybody thinks differently. I would not be able to say what goes on in your mind, just as you would not be able to say what goes on in mine! One thing is clear: our minds do not just passively store and receive data. This is something we should remember when we think about the school system.
According to braintracy.com, “the conscious mind is thought of as the fertile soil in which the seeds germinate and grow”. The seeds are the information that are grown in the mind. This applies at school too: what you learn at school become seeds of knowledge that grow in your mind to become new knowledge-plants. Ideally, this should create a multiplier effect where your understanding of one subject builds onto your understanding of another. For each theory you have learnt in school, you can test new theories or improve the world with them. We should not only remember knowledge only to rehearse and garbage it out during exam. No! It’s a seed that should grow. For example, the French physician René Laennec realised that sounds expand when they pass through solid objects, allowing him to invent the stethoscope. Knowledge goes beyond exams. In school, the way we use our mind uses just the basic function: to store information and retrieve during exams. The saying that we often use less than 20% of our brain is correct. We don’t even use the rest of the 80% when all that schools expects from us is to be able to reproduce what I have in my notes during exams. Exams may be a true test of memorisation, but it’s absolutely not a true test of potential. How could you validate my own intelligence strictly by the facts discovered by others? Am I a failure or inadequate just because I don’t remember certain facts during exams? Do I even remember such facts after exams? Or are the facts only useful for me then? The school setting should be more centred more on the individual. If I want to measure my weight, I wouldn’t need to compare it with other children in my class. Why then should my mental progress be compared with theirs? Children of different backgrounds with different IQ are put under the same teacher using the same approach whilst expecting the same results. Do we all have the same mind? If you think about it, hospitals have different drugs for different patients, so why shouldn’t schools use that approach?
In Nigeria, anybody can choose to be a teacher. There are no well-regulated guidelines for employing teachers – even if there is, it’s not adhered to. Some medical schools in Nigeria require high scores of up to 250 or more in UTME. This compares with colleges of education which accept scores as low as 120, which encourages people that teaching is not meant for the highly motivated. It is usually those who are unable to secure entry in the very competitive courses who end up choosing teaching careers. Few people become teachers out of will, because many teachers are paid less than minimum wage! This obviously kills motivation. Admission into colleges of education must be as rigorous as medical schools. Are teachers not doctors of destinies? It’s a travesty that some governments resolve to degrading teachers – the ones in whose hands God places ‘tomorrow’ in! Some governments build big hotels and small libraries. But don’t they know that education is the nucleus of a living nation! In many countries, it’s the private schools which sustain educational integrity. The State doesn’t pay adequate attention. Hence, public schools are usually eyesores. If I had my way, I would abolish private schools so that every child, rich or poor, will receive equal opportunities. If education is free but poor, then we don’t need it. There’s no point giving free education without good quality. We need schools that will build and groom us for the purpose in which we study. Furthermore, our education should be based more on the practical, not learning theories for years and going to learn practical knowledge after graduating.
In most schools we end up becoming someone else. Nothing changes for most people after school, only that they had lost the ability to think clearly from memorising facts and ideas by others and less of their own independent thoughts. Some teachers even hate giving answers outside the class notes, your own original idea! Such teachers kill our sense of ‘self’. According to Pastor Fidelis Amos, there are two kinds of teaching: productive teaching and reproductive teaching. The school obeys Foucault’s argument which adopts reproductive teaching, killing our sense of self – our minds. Of course your mind is what you should never lose! In reproductive teaching, teachers read to us the law of gravity for instance and make us copy notes. They would only grade us 100% if we are able to reproduce facts which he or she have read to us in class during exams. Each year, we go through school reproducing the thoughts of others not learning how to produce our own. Let me give an example of the productive approach. Imagine a scenario where a teacher asks the class: ‘students, have you heard of Isaac Newton? He once sat under an apple tree and when a fruit fell he started asking himself why the fruit didn’t fall upwards but downwards. He kept thinking about it until he discovered the law of gravity, which states… Now, my students, in order for you to become a good scientist, you have to go out and ask yourself questions on things yet to be explained. I will mark your work based on your new discoveries. This will be 50% of your exams.’ Wouldn’t this stretch our minds to produce new knowledge under such teaching? They would go on to unravel scientific mysteries and produce new knowledge. If not, they would at least have a deeper understanding through this active approach with the students-centred teaching.
Productive teachers tailor lessons towards students’ strength, while reproductive teachers focus on the teacher’s strength. Good teachers are like a whetstone, sharpening the mind to allowing students to drive knowledge and not be driven by knowledge. This spurs curiosity, in-depth thinking and innovation in a way that compels students to look within and bring out the ‘gold’ in themselves. That’s how we identify thinkers, philosophers and inventors who can then be mentored properly to bring out their unknown inner beauty, creativity and strength.
But rather, the school insists the memorisation of facts which stops our progress. They even sets exams to validate our own quality of thoughts through the ideas and thoughts by others. This kills our own ability to think: as if we could think nothing better than that which was thought. If you graduate with first class, it is for yourself, but whoever births new knowledge helps the world. The world won’t remember you for what you were able to memorise, but for what you have left for others to be memorised. The school is killing the ‘self’ with its reproductive teaching approach just like Foucault who finds it unnecessary to know who we are. It’s so funny to me how curricula are designed, with little to no space for self-discovery. Everything you should know is all spelt out before you are even enrolled – that’s a cage! How about the things you can’t find in the teacher’s notes? The behavioural objectives of an average teacher always begin with: ‘each child should be able to learn…,’ rather than ‘each child should be able to realise and discover…’. It is as if to blindly regurgitate all of what the teacher says. Is there nothing more in learning than memorisation? Even class projects are direct applications of class notes — nothing novel! If you enrolled into school as a human and you are not careful, you would graduate as a robot. I can almost bet that if you leave an average university graduate in a situation where his university certificate won’t help him, he would be lost, because he has never tried to find a new way out. He only knows the ways of others which has earned him the certificate. Furthermore, students don’t try to find out who they are to realise their true potential. They make career choices not because they are trying to empower themselves to drive change and better their community. Nor do they do it out of inner drive, but out of others’ expectations.
Once more I must ask, what is a school? A place to discover yourself or a place to become someone else?
“Use the mind of others to find your own, not to kill your own.” -Ayegba Emmanuel