Our principal Roger Collins calls for a shift from seeing education as an end goal to an attitude that embraces the joy of learning.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, called the pleasure of learning and finding things out “a kick in the discovery” – the boundaries of what you can be interested in are limitless, and the digital revolution has democratised our access to information. Today, a teenager with a smart phone has access to more information than the richest man in the world had just 30 years ago. We are better placed than ever before to get a kick in our discovery.
I am increasingly encountering the attitude from youngsters that there are learning options which are of “lesser” value – study choices that indicate they have lower abilities. I spoke to a recent school leaver who performed exceptionally well in her school career, doing everything that was asked of her, but finds herself a little lost. She has no idea where she fits into the world. She knows she wants to study. She just does not yet know what to study.
I recommended she pursue some short learning programmes, perhaps even look at doing a higher certificate – keep her mind engaged, learn new skills and possibly discover something that excites her. A higher certificate? The idea horrified her. Her response deeply disturbed me. She argued that with her ‘A’ pass in Grade 12, a higher certificate was beneath her. She suggested she would be judged poorly by taking this path of study.
Really? Is that where we are in the 21st century? We look down on those who have studied what we consider a “lesser” path? We all love seeing our name on a certificate, but this is far less important than enthusiasm, the love of learning, motivation and persistence.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately and wonder where our youth are getting this parasitic idea. I may have some insight, and I place some blame on the way in which we have structured our Grade 12 (matriculation) certificate. You see, we have various levels of passing – a national senior certificate pass, a higher certificate pass, a diploma pass and finally (the pinnacle) a bachelors pass. This structure has created the impression that if you pass at a “lower level”, then you are only allowed to pursue a particular “lower level” qualification. We have equated the level of achievement with various qualification paths. It is a rather odd equivalence.
This message has been so successfully cemented into our perceptions that when I have spoken at schools, some principals have instructed me NOT to talk about higher certificates because ALL their learners attain bachelors passes and go on to “top” universities. Just think about that statement for a moment. Let that message sink in. Let it sink in,
knowing that almost 50% of first year students drop out, many because what they have “chosen” to study does not excite them.
Now I’m not saying that one should not pursue a degree; but I am asking whether many of our school leavers should be looking at this path immediately after school. For these students, reading for a degree later in life has far more value, and the journey is embraced for very different reasons – reasons that add relevance to the journey.
Today’s careers will not be tomorrow’s. The impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution has levelled the playing fields, and the ability to put knowledge and ideas together in interesting ways will drive the next big industries. Our schools must start introducing learners to platforms like edX, Coursera, Udemy and Khan Academy. These platforms give youngsters the exciting opportunity to explore short learning programmes in any area they choose, whenever they choose, enabling them to unearth areas of interest and discover the love of learning. This is the future of lifelong learning and success. It is time to start thinking differently and instilling in our youth the idea that the process of learning is far more valuable than the end goal.
Just as a BA degree is not a lesser degree than a BSc, so short learning programmes or higher certificates are not lesser paths of learning – rather, they are different. They prepare us to take advantage of the future. Once we shift our purpose from learning as a means to an end, and start pursuing knowledge for learning’s sake, then we will open ourselves to a solid kick in the discovery – and this will make all the difference.