COLUMN: Learning by doing is key
The Canadian education system has been ranked as one of the best in the world, in both the grade-school and post-secondary levels. Though our students are definitely performing highly on tests and our universities are regarded prestigiously throughout the world, there is room for improvement.
As a student, I have experienced both the positive and negative aspects of our education system. Where does the future of education lie? In becoming more responsive to the needs of students and introducing greater experiential learning components into the classroom.
Youth representation is key if we plan on better reflecting the voices of students who experience the education system. As I have discussed in a previous column, student trustees should be allowed in B.C. school districts. But it isn’t just school trustees that B.C. needs. In Ontario’s Ministry of Education, for instance, a cohort for the Minister’s Student Advisory Council is selected each year, and 60 students share their opinions with the government. This is certainly a path that needs to be taken in B.C.
When discussing educational improvement, it is time to re-imagine how we view the whole system.
Experiential education, which encompasses a wide spectrum of learning-by-doing, co-op, research involvement, and entrepreneurship, is certainly the future of education. Though experiential education has become a buzz word in academic circles, it still deserves greater attention from university and high school administrators. And what needs to augment this promotion is the structure of the classroom.
Building a representational architecture is the first step, so education can continue to match the needs of students. The problem the education system in North America often faces is a type of lead-lag relationship in which a former student who later becomes a successful innovator is able to then comment on his experience of the education system – as is the case with successful individuals such as Peter Thiel and Steve Jobs. If we can incorporate current students into the decision-making process, we would get a better sense of the flaws in the system.
To create students who aren’t just memorizers, we need to begin the experiential education pathway in the high school environment, while continuing to strengthen it in the post-secondary system. Some of the most innovative schools, like High Tech High in San Diego, are building future leaders who work on innovative projects, such as writing books and creating multimedia projects, through team-based learning. At High Tech High, 99.5 per cent of students go to university.
Programs such as Junior Achievement encourage innovation in Canadian schools, but Canada is still waiting for its model of High Tech High. The recent creation of concepts like an Academy for Integrated Mathematics and Science is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
According to some sources, a significant number of jobs in 2020 don’t even exist today. We can only prepare students for these mystery career pathways if we provide them with the necessary skills, instead of forcing them to memorize facts and dates. And it isn’t just the future of our students that rests on the need for more innovative teaching. Massive Open Online Courses are allowing the world to access free courses from universities like Harvard and MIT.
Even from a purely economic sense, universities must be willing to offer students an experience that gives them something greater than rote learning. Lecture times must become engaging and collaborative, instead of the outdated sage-on-the-stage model. Tutorials shouldn’t become micro-lectures, but rather playgrounds for innovation and group work.
A combination of student representation and innovative coursework will truly enrich the minds of our future leaders. As John Dewey wrote: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”
Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.