As we continue to plod forth focusing on the students’ futures, here’s (amongst many other things) what we’re dealing with from their educational pasts, which are present both in Rwanda and in most students across the globe:
- As in many classrooms in the world, students are often required to copy notes and memorize them to “learn” content. Teachers often tell them what to do, when its due, and have small, individual incremented assignments for students.
- Generally, students have used limited technology in their learning—even in countries where it’s available, the cost, teacher training, and just change itself can impede the use of technology.
- While group learning has become more common, most students will arrive at their post-secondary institution having completed far more individualized assignments rather than work with others for desired outcomes.
- Students also get used to set dates and concrete assignments that are submitted and often never looked at again. They’ve never (or rarely) had to complete a task where there may be unclear or missing pieces of data sets, nor do they get a returned assignment requiring refinement to meet a high standard. Generally, schools are places that remove ambiguity through their rigid structures and often-fictitious problem sets that don’t mirror what our students will actually have to face in work.
Schools are hierarchical, and students take their roles in the classrooms, as do teachers and the principal. In my last ten years as both a K-12 and university educator, I found many schools to adhere to hierarchies that often don’t let students exercise real leadership, stymie teacher innovation, and ensure that each student appropriately takes his or her place in the educational hierarchy (and doesn’t challenge the teacher, administration, or institution). As a result, there are only a few students that graduate with the skills to lead through influence—perhaps those that played on a sports team or had a role within a club. But for most students, the educational system’s curriculum has our students learning how to function within a hierarchy that lacks fluidity. The reality of today’s workplace doesn’t mirror strict hierarchy—multiple projects sometimes require leadership, sometimes to be an active team player. More importantly, leadership no longer works well simply through title. Leaders need to know how to use influence to get the most out of a team. Most students will leave school and enter the workplace without having the chance to develop this skill. Instead, the few lucky who either participated in an activity to develop authentic leadership or are “naturally charismatic” will be competitive in the job market.
In educational institutions all across the world, students are required answer questions—in class, on exams, in projects, in essays. We rarely, however, ask them to think critically by asking questions before arriving at a solution. Reflecting of my own education, I can recall few experiences or assessments asking me to process HOW to think about a problem rather than to simply find a solution. Thinking through the different angles from which to solve problems are key steps in the critical thinking aptitude that employers resoundingly report are missing from today’s university grads.
So what to do about all of this? While of course there are exceptions, generally at the university level, educators are faced with a group of students that have been conditioned in individual, route learning, with little practice in critical thinking, working in groups, leading by influence, and most have used technology much more out of the classroom rather than as a learning tool.
It is easy to gripe about these shortcomings from a desk, in a discussion with colleagues, or to write a fancy model that will beautifully address the gaps that today’s university students arrive with on the first day of class. It is another, however, to go through the daily grind of reversing these factors of educational conditioning through curriculum design, delivery of instruction, curriculum modification, analyzing student data, and carefully examining student outcomes, which is what we’re doing to the best of our ability at Kepler.
We’re seeing great improvements in our students. But, we’ve already had to revamp schedules, reconsider how we cover content in lessons, and re-think our overall scope and sequence to address these concerns. Additionally, some of our master teachers are hard at work on a pilot program for our upcoming third term to study how we can move students through at more individualized paces–offering opportunities to push forward hard when students are showing mastery and utilizing appropriate methods to support students more fully when the habits of hierarchical, route learning creep up from their educational pasts. There’s no doubt our students are developing at an exponential pace. But our task is creating improvement fast enough to ensure success once they enter the workplace. Undoubtedly, reversing 13+ years of the educational past in the short time of post secondary education is no easy undertaking. I truly believe we’ll make it happen, but it will require a constant refinement to ensure student outcomes match our goals. En masse, the ebullience of this work comes from the ways in which students will master undoing their previous educational habits, while also surprising us with those we thought would be easily overcome, but required additional support and “un-teaching” in ways we didn’t expect.
Once the pilot is finalized and underway, we’ll report about our specific successes and areas for improvement. Would love to hear thoughts on how others are addressing this challenge, or how they think it can be best addressed.