Is this what we want for our children? Part 2 Houston, we have a problem ...
In my previous post I wrote about the typical school day of my boys, asking whether a 10 hour day, 6 day week is really what we want for our children. Here I'd like to explore why I am rather concerned about it, in a third blog I will contrast the present with a possible future.
There are two main reasons for my concerns. First, do we not often here that teenagers do not know what to do with their time? Well, hardly surprising when from the word go they are put into contexts where others constantly decide what they are to do with their time: from nursery to primary to secondary school. Are we not creating mindsets that wait to be told, that are not used to taking responsibilities and making their own decisions? Mindsets that lose the ability to imagine, to explore and experiment, based on their own thinking? And yet we hear so much about the need for more entrepreneurial minds and that entrepreneurs are our future.
Having grown up in Germany I was home around lunch time, with free time after homework was done - which is probably why I react strongly to what I observe here in the UK, and that I notice it in the first place. As I like to say, normality is what we experience on a daily basis... and what we consider normal we tend not to questions. (By the way, it concerns me that in Germany too there is a move towards 'Ganztagsschule' that occupies children the entire day.)
Yet being the entire day at school, is it for the benefit and best of the children or for the convenience of grown-ups? Has it become a necessity because both parents have to work to finance the family, because there are so many single parents, or because both parents seek stimulation and fulfilment in their professional lives? If this is so, should our children then not at least be allowed to leave their 'work' behind when returning home, ie do we really need homework? I will come back to this in my third post in this topic.
If my first reason concerns the consequences at the individual level, the second is about the consequences at the systems level, the consequences for society as a whole.
The times we live in are characterised by what I call the 5C: increase pace of change, increased connectivity, convergence at many levels, changing consumer behaviour, all of which leads to increased levels of complexity. (If you are interested in finding out more the 5C, there will be another post on this soon).
In such times it is in my view absolutely essential to have time to reflect, time to think, time to understand what the implications of all this are, and what they mean for our future. A future which we may not be able to predict or plan yet which we influence through our actions and decisions today, individually and collectively. Do we want the future to just happen to us by not being aware of the implications of our actions and decisions? Do we want to travel in the accustomed roads that were appropriate in the past when our context is changing so much and so fast? The answer or anyone who has children ought to be: No.
In order to become aware, to make deliberate and conscious decisions we need time to reflect and think. We also need to give our brain the space to make connections subconsciously, while being relaxed or sleeping; may of the connections made in such a state we would not be able to make consciously. This kind of stuff can only happen when we are not keeping out brain busy otherwise; it happens when we are day dreaming, and when we sleep. In short, we need to have some space and time to just be. As dear friend of mine once said, "I think we seem to have forgotten that we are supposed to be human beings, not human doings."
Does our current systems of educating facilitate this essential ability to just be? More than ever before children - all of us - are exposed to a constant flow of stimulus: radio, television, computer, smartphone. We are always 'on' and contactable, we are busy and kept 'doing'. Who is not available via their smartphone 24/7? Who dares to leave their phone and computer behind during weekends or holidays, and how many of us consider it the smaller of two evils to respond to emails if and when they arrive rather than coming back to an inbox that sends stress levels sky high before we have even started work again?
Where in all this is the time to reflect and understand and be, something I believe we need more of, not less. Do we want the next generations of human beings to grown up, not knowing how to just be? If indeed we want our children to learn to ‘be’ as well as to ‘do’, then our current system of education surely has to change.
In the third post in this trilogy I take a look at what I consider key aspects of the current education system and propose what we might want instead.