Do You Have Kids In School? Then Read This… BY AGBA JALINGO

In Breaking News, Opinion

Do you have kids in school? Have you noticed the obsession of parents and the pressure on the kids to come first, second, or at least third in a class of say, 40 students? In many homes, attaining these premier positions or obtaining excellent grades in class is of more importance to parents and pupils, than gaining the ability for practical problem-solving. They are programmed to define their success by other people’s failure.

Even at the advanced level, this competitive strand has so much grip that the emphasis is more on getting a first-class or second-class upper, that students are doing everything including cutting corners just to make sure they get good grades instead of good problem-solving skills. So they spend a total of about 25 years studying for grades and end up in the practical world without adaptable skills to find answers to prevalent problems.

Let me give you an interesting gist. Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, surprised so many people in 2014 when he pulled his five children out of their private school in California and hired a teacher to launch his own Ad Astra School in Texas. All the pioneer pupils were children of SpaceX employees. Ad Astra, according to Musk, means ‘to the stars.’ Ad Astra School has its own custom-designed curriculum for the pupils. It does not grade the pupils. They simply put them hands-on with problem-solving in their area of interest from that young age and watch them grow at their own pace.

The school, run by Musk’s charity, X Foundation, enrolled 16 kids in the 2021-2022 school year and has since evolved into a mostly online program called Astra Nova, which teaches about 200 kids. The foundation also announced its plan to spend $8.9 million by the end of the year ending in June 2024 to start a University to hire 11 faculty and have 50 students enrolled by June this year. The University will mix in-person and virtual instruction with hands-on learning experience including simulations, case studies, fabrication and design projects, and laboratories. The University will also not have grades.

The Acton Academy, which started in the same Texas in 2009 by oil millionaire, Jeff Sandefer and his wife Laura, also runs a curriculum that does not allow teachers to lecture the students. It rather features Socratic discussions supplemented by tech-centric, independent learning using video lessons, and has since grown to include more than 300 small schools. Socratic discussions involve a shared dialogue between teachers and students. The teacher leads by posing thought-provoking questions. Students actively engage by asking questions of their own. The discussion goes back and forth.

These two examples are not the only attempt in this direction. There are specimens of fast-rising advocacy and a global movement that is seeking to reevaluate the impact of the current school structure and curriculum and how they respond to prevalent problems. There is a consensus amongst believers of this movement that the current educational model has outlived its intent and can no longer produce the problem solvers that will respond to the existing and imminent challenges of mankind.

They are sourcing for alternatives. It is not something new or anything to be worried about. The idea of school, grouping students in a location for the purposes of learning has existed for thousands of years. From ancient Greece to ancient Rome to ancient Sparta to ancient India to ancient China to ancient Arabia to ancient Africa to medieval Europe, there have always been different methods of education employed by people to pass down knowledge.

But the person who is considered to have invented the concept of the modern school is Horace Mann, a pioneer of educational reforms in the US State of Massachusetts. Mann persuaded his fellow modernizers to create laws that supported tax-funded education in their states. These ‘Common Schools’, were created to educate all children regardless of region or district or class. All teachers had to have the same standardized basic training and must attend teacher training colleges to learn how to teach. Mann’s vision was to unite children from all social classes through education, creating a shared learning experience.

Having spanned all these centuries, it is now time to reassess what the emerging challenges of the world are and what is the best approach to tackling these challenges. What are the new methods of responding to these challenges? And what best ways can these methods be transmitted to the generation that will solve them? This goal won’t be achieved merely by acquiring college degrees or by just obtaining good high school grades. It must be by hands-on problem cracking and this trajectory should be encouraged in our own best interest.

Citizen Agba Jalingo is the Publisher of CrossRiverWatch and a rights activist, a Cross Riverian, and writes from Lagos.

NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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