Are schools robbing students of their childhood?

More often than not, students cannot wait for the next school holiday (Yahoo! file photo)

Through my work of empowering students to make the most of their education, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with thousands of students.

I’ve observed that most students are unmotivated, stressed out and unhappy.

They drag themselves to school. They think school is boring. They question the relevance of school. They’re constantly sleep-deprived. They can’t wait for the next school holiday.

Clearly, there’s something wrong with this picture.

Here’s what school ought to be like:

  • Interesting
  • Engaging
  • Useful
  • Meaningful
  • Fun
  • Purposeful
  • Challenging

Does that sound too good to be true?

Yes, especially if the education system remains the way that it is today.

Great work, teachers

Don’t get me wrong; I greatly admire the work that teachers do. I think that teachers are some of the most hardworking and dedicated people around!

But there’s only so much that teachers can do within the current framework.

Tweaking education policies isn’t going to cut it. We need to rework the system from the ground up.

We need an education revolution, instead of mere education reform.

We need education, but do we need school?

As we consider how to rebuild the education system, the key question we need to ask is this:

Do we even need school at all?

If the answer is “yes”, then we need to be clear about why and how school alone can meet our needs, both at an individual and societal level.

Just because we went to school and our parents went to school doesn’t automatically mean that school is a necessity.

Education is a necessity, but school might not be.

3 roles that schools should fulfill

If we decide that school is indeed essential, then it ought to fulfill the following roles, numbered 1, 2 and 3:

1. Schools should teach students to navigate a changing world

Information is being produced at an astounding rate.

According to Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, every two days we create the same amount of information as that which existed from the beginning of civilization up until 2003.

Take a moment and think about how incredible that is.

The more quickly we create knowledge, the more quickly the knowledge we currently possess becomes outdated.

You don’t go to school to get an education

Students are being flooded by information, both online and offline.

Thus, schools need to equip students to navigate this sea of information, as well as the fast-changing world that’s the result of this Information Revolution.

Schools must nurture students to become independent learners who proactively seek out knowledge and opportunities, rather than dependent learners who sit passively in class, waiting quietly for the teacher to feed them the information they need to know for their next exam.

In this way, students will understand that they don’t go to school to get an education. Rather, school is just part of their education.

2. Schools should teach students to fail intelligently

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, there will be many more opportunities to take advantage of, assuming that you have the right mindset and skill set.

Regardless of a student’s future profession, the Information Age belongs to people who have an entrepreneurial mindset (but who aren’t necessarily entrepreneurs): Lifelong learners and effective communicators who are determined, creative, resourceful and resilient.

Viewing failure as a key to success

If you want to develop new ideas, projects, products and services, you’ll need to know how to fail intelligently.

Failing intelligently is about viewing failure as an integral part of the success journey; knowing how to bounce back from defeat; understanding how to turn setbacks from stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.

Through the projects and assignments they undertake at school, students must learn these crucial skills and develop these precious character traits.

3. Schools should teach students to care intensely

Now that there’s such an abundance of easily accessible information—just at the click of a mouse button—if you really want to learn about any topic, you can.

Within the infinite walls of the Internet lies an education that you can create for yourself, simply through intentional exploration.

But students will only create their own education if they care enough about what they’re learning, about what they’re doing, and about the world around them.

If students care enough, there’s no doubt that they’ll become truly educated, because they’ll actively seek out the information they want.

Helping students to care about learning things that are “outside the syllabus”

Schools can teach students to care intensely by helping them to take full responsibility for their education.

Schools can encourage students to make conscious choices about what they’re learning, instead of trying to force them to learn things just because it’s in the syllabus.

(Most students are only concerned about information that’s “in the syllabus”, because anything outside the syllabus isn’t going to be tested. There’s something terribly wrong with this approach toward education.)

In addition, schools can ask students to commit to their own education, rather than treating them as passive participants in their own learning.

In closing…

Are students better off not going to school at all? Probably not.

There’s still a place in society for schools, but the school system needs to change. Fast.

The world is changing rapidly. If the education system doesn’t change at an equally rapid pace, it’s going to get left behind.

Worse still, our students are going to get left behind.

The Information Revolution has already begun. It’s time for an Education Revolution.

Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.