Probably the only factor that separates the human race from other animals is that humans aim to make sense of the world by increasing their knowledge and understanding of the world at a much higher rate. At the same time, this drive for more knowledge is the only relevant end of humanity’s existence and lays at the core of most of our actions, though it may not always seem to be that way. That being so, humans always tried to answer the questions they were puzzled by – either as individuals or in groups. With the development of administrative structures, humans started to feel the need to institutionalise the transfer of knowledge to the next generation. Over the centuries, the amount of information that a person needed to know was just too much to be casually taught by elders. While knowledge on social norms and habits are almost automatically transmitted to children through their social surroundings, learning technical knowledge requires a more structured approach. Hence, the school was born as a hybrid of administrative, social and economic innovation. Over the centuries, schools served more and more purposes. Not only were they aimed at transferring knowledge, but soon they also became a place to invent new ideas and further develop existing ones. Moreover, different variations emerged, such as specialised schools and institutes, universities were found and at some point states started to centrally organise the institutional transfer of knowledge by crafting laws and frameworks for schools and universities to become what we today call education systems. However, as it is with many great inventions, the school was also misused to create social separation, as access to education was not universally granted. Even today, the economically powerless, ethnic and religious minorities and women have limited access to education or they are disadvantaged within the system and have to face great barriers to reach what is the holiest and most precious goal for our race: knowledge. Although specifics will inevitably vary from nation to nation, this article looks at some basic aspects a school needs to fulfil, in order to properly educate its pupils.
the right environment
It may sound very simplistic, but a clean and cozy environment is immensely important for the proper development of children. Just like the connotation of words in an article subtly influences its readers and their opinions, the architecture of the school building, the quality of the equipment and learning materials and even the colours of its interior design influence the psychology of the pupils. Moreover, it is important to remember that the pupils have different economic backgrounds and for some the school might be a way to escape their modest standard of living at home. Additionally, schools should have possibly large windows to allow for a lot of light to enter the classrooms, which are the battlegrounds for enlightenment against ignorance – a technical and symbolic detail. Further, the design of schools should always incorporate as much natural elements as possible. Starting from having a school garden and greener playgrounds, to limiting the use of plastic materials as chairs and tables, all the way to sticking to classical blackboards rather than using white boards. Especially the ban of technology is an important aspect in the psychological design of schools, as it increases calamity and focus.
Another aspect that is an essential part of a pupil’s environment is its social surrounding. In almost all countries in the world, there are separation mechanisms in place that pre-select pupils by grouping them together based on their social, economic or even ethnic backgrounds. While in some countries, pupils are categorised in primary school and sent to different secondary schools according to their “cognitive ability”, in other countries, the division happens through the strong presence of private schools. Whereas the former case is heavily prone to racial and social bias on the part of the authorised people that send the pupils to the according secondary schools, the latter grants pupils educational advantages based on the economic strength of their families. In order to even the playing field, these systems need to be abolished. Moreover, the learning curve of all pupils will greatly improve, because they are exposed to many different influences from the heterogeneous social environment. This will subconsciously promote empathy, which is a substantial part of a person’s emotional intelligence.
Routine has always been key to economic conduct. Whether we think about rigid working hours, rigid procedures at the work place or bureaucratic procedures in general: they are efficient, but only useful to maintain the status quo. Contemporary schools aim to prepare pupils for the economy, but, in essence, schools should serve an entirely different purpose. Here, pupils should be granted the opportunities to explore the world and, more importantly, themselves. Routines inherently counteract sporadic and impulsive developments and, hence, hamper the natural process of cognitive unfolding. Accordingly, most of the content taught in schools should be project-based and result-oriented, rather than schedule-oriented. This will also add to problem-solving and organisation-skills of the pupils. Schools should allow for shorter and more flexible classes. Further, the teaching methods of different subjects should be designed in a way that suits the content of the respective subject; in many countries, the amount of topics, the time of learning between examinations and the form of examinations are the same for various subjects – only the content changes. Breaking these routines and making the learning experience a daily challenge will add to the pupils cognitive and personal development.
Mode of Testing
Most education systems heavily rely on the quantification of the learning process through the process of timed examinations. The main argument in favour of such a method is that it creates a certain level of comparability among pupils, but also for pupils to track their own progress. Certainly, the idea of such a mode of testing makes a lot of sense, but the right methodology is of immense importance here. Unfortunately, the authority to compose those exams lays with the respective teacher and the quality of the examination, as well as the quality of the assessment of the results, is completely tied to the teacher’s capabilities. Knowing that people are generally biased, it is impossible to assume that teachers can make and assess exams in a professional, unbiased and consistent way over their whole careers. As a solution, schools should have a department that is entrusted with the task to design exams according to the contents of the respective subjects. The department should consist of professionals in the fields of research methods and methodology in general. In this way, the results of exams become much more representative of the learning process. In other words, under such a system the answer to an exam question will not be a random sentence from a textbook, which the teacher expects the pupils to memorise. Further, the exams should be anonymised, which will help to eliminate personal bias.
Another important aspect of testing is that many education systems have some sort of final graduation examination. Depending on the points obtained in this exam, or series of exams, pupils will make choices regarding their future – whether they attend a university or not and which university they will be able to apply to. It makes little sense to tie such an important step in one’s career to one moment in their secondary education. The vast majority of pupils will be under 20 years at the time of their graduation exam and might not be able to fully grasp the importance of it. Further, it is simply not representative of a person’s capabilities. Hence, the entry requirements for universities must focus less on the points of the final exam and have a more nuanced selection process that incorporates the person’s self-representation, additional activities and personal circumstances. Such a system is, for example, in place in the Netherlands.
The right guidance
Another pillar of education are the teachers. The quality of teachers is a highly important determinant of the quality of education. The quality of education, in turn, is the most important factor that secures a nation sustainable long-term growth in political, societal and economical terms. Therefore, teachers, including university professors and pre-school teachers, fulfil key functions within a nation that seeks to continuously improve. Due to the high number of teachers in each country, it is very difficult to ensure that all of them perform on a high level over a long period. However, to ensure a high standard of teaching, schools should be responsible to properly monitor their teachers and proactively work on their personal development, too. In order to do that, schools should have a separate department, which is somewhat analogous to a company’s human resources department. Here, the professionals constantly evaluate the motivation and teaching quality of teachers based on non-quantitative data, meaning that they are not merely looking at the scores of the pupils and say: “Well, she is doing a great job”. As mentioned before, the ideal school has already established an independent examination department, which means that the results of exams are already somewhat representative of the teacher’s performance. However, a teacher assessment department would help to identify potential weaknesses of teachers on the social side of their work, which is essential to avoid when we think about pupils personal development. Further, such a department should constantly seek new ways to offer teachers seminars, workshops and other educational activities, in order for them to develop personally, too. In that way, even good teachers are pushed to become even better teachers.
All in all, a school should be more than just a bureaucratic institution. It has the most distinct function within every society and is under-utilised in each and every one of them. Departing from the predominance of rigidity and seeking to establish a more organic approach to learning, teaching and developing would help to increase the utilisation of potential of pupils and teachers alike. We can also think about it in this way: with change being the only constant in our world, dynamic learning processes help us to internalise the logic of change from the very beginning.