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How to Change the School System

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Muted microphones and turned-off cameras fill my computer screen as I sit for another online class, watching as the teacher desperately tries to interact with the nonresponsive class. Yet, I don’t remember class always being this silent. In fact, in first grade, the classroom was filled with bright, eager faces and waving hands. How did these eager students suddenly become so demotivated?

As most people know, high school is stressful. We have tests, grades, projects, and our future looming over us. Yet, in elementary school, our expectations were never to get a perfect SAT score or to have perfect grades. While the pandemic has impacted over a billion students worldwide, I never expected what would happen to my education. With more time on my hands, I began exploring the web for online resources to continue learning about topics I was truly interested in, not something that I had to be perfect in because it was part of the graduation requirements.

Additionally, in middle school, I loved history. I was eager to help the teacher just so I could quiz my skills, and I also watched history documentaries in my free time. However, the stress of high school led to my first mental breakdown, which was over an essay in history that I just couldn’t write. Yet, I’m not alone, 70% of teens believe that anxiety and mental health is a major issue among their peers. We grow and develop from stressful situations, so while I often look back and think about the things I found stressful when I was younger, it doesn’t seem stressful now, but it was a lot to handle at that age. During the pandemic, my school gave us significantly less work. This freed up time for me to explore other topics, so I found myself finding other things to educate myself in, and learning became like elementary school, fun and carefree. I felt so interested and inspired that I signed up for many, many courses and activities. For the first time in a while, I felt extremely motivated to learn and explore, something I wasn’t able to do in school as I needed to memorize the subject before a certain deadline.

As the world continues to change, many people are challenging the system of learning, a system that puts great emphasis on grades, test scores, and our ability to memorize. One program that challenges traditional education is the Expeditionary Learning (EL) system, which was founded by Kurt Hahn, who envisioned a school where children could develop their passions instead of preparing for tests. The Expeditionary Learning system encourages learning by doing and presenting achievements through public presentations and portfolios. Even beyond that, they believe in connecting students to the community through service projects to create change in the community.

Innovation and creativity inspires students to take action and build character, which is incredibly important for students. Throughout history, many things have changed, from transportation to healthcare. Yet, education hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. We still learn the same core curriculum even though job opportunities are changing, and there is an increasing demand for independant and creative thinkers.

Focused School System

I would love to go to school with hands-on experiences in the medical field, a place where I could explore real-life experiences in biotechnology. Instead of having a well-rounded education, students could be grouped into different groups based on interests. This would allow for more time and experience with a certain job, so college students won’t be suddenly thrown into the situation of deciding their future. In fact, around 80% of college students in the United States switch their major at least once, and this creates a problem because switching majors adds on to the piling student loan debt that college students face.

Students are faced with a dilemma of having thousands of dollars more of student loan debt or be faced with an unsatistactory career. With a more focused education, students will be able to explore their careers at an early age with more freedom to explore other choices, while also increasing motivation and interest in school. This may be helpful for underprivileged students who may not have had the opportunities, for example internships, to explore their career. In addition, a possible system could require students to take classes in all core subjects to learn the fundamentals of those subjects, but put an emphasis on the student’s interests.

For example, in medical school, students aren’t required to major in a particular subject, but these students have gained experience in the medical field through the pre-med track. A similar system could be established for high schools, where students still have to learn the core subjects, but are allowed to specialize to gain experience in their field of study.

Well-Rounded School System

However, there are benefits to a well-rounded education. While some students may prefer to learn science and mathematics, having a basis in language arts is still important for those fields. For example, experience with essays and communication is important for writing scientific papers and speeches. To summarize, having a basic understanding of the fundamentals of different subjects is important.

Additionally, a well-rounded education has been proven to improve student performance, because according to Scott Sargrad and Laura Jimenez (2018), “Background knowledge in [arts, humanities, science, social sciences, English, and math] allows students to transfer the ability to read into other subjects and experiences that require them to make meaning of what they read. Therefore, a content-rich curriculum is not just a necessary building block for educational attainment but for comprehension beyond the classroom.”

To conclude, while some may say that primary and secondary education are meant for students to develop a foundation in important subjects in life, rather than pursuing career choices, demotivated and burnt out students are a huge issue within the school system. Rather than requiring students to be perfect in all subjects, schools could offer specializations to help students gain experience in a subject they are passionate about, which could help reduce the number of bored students forced to take a class to graduate.

What do you think? How should the school system change to help increase student interest and college preparedness?

Bibliography

Niall McCarthy, Data Journalist. COVID-19’s Staggering Impact on Global Education. www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/infographic-covid19-coronavirus-impact-global-education-health-schools/.

“The Epidemic of Anxiety Among Today’s Students.” NEA Today, 18 June 2019, neatoday.org/2018/03/28/the-epidemic-of-student-anxiety/.

Hanford, Emily. “Kurt Hahn and the Roots of Expeditionary Learning.” American RadioWorks, www.americanradioworks.org/segments/kurt-hahn-expeditionary-learning/.

Lamar, Michelle. “Why Expeditionary Learning or ‘Learning by Doing’ Could Save Education.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/how-expeditionary-learnin_b_773002.

Learns, Oregon. “The Times Have Changed-Our Schools Haven’t.” Oregon Learns, oregonlearns.org/oregons-challenge/what-isnt-working/.

Marcus, Jon. “Changing Majors Is Adding Time and Tuition to the High Cost of College.” The Hechinger Report, 30 Mar. 2020, hechingerreport.org/switching-majors-is-adding-time-and-tuition-to-the-already-high-cost-of-college/.

Ramos, Yuritzy. “College Students Tend to Change Majors When They Find the One They Really Love.” Borderzine, 15 Mar. 2013, borderzine.com/2013/03/college-students-tend-to-change-majors-when-they-find-the-one-they-really-love/.

“Goodbye ‘Core Subjects,’ Hello ‘Well-Rounded Education’.” NEA Today, 8 Sept. 2016, neatoday.org/2016/06/21/essa-well-rounded-education/.

Sargrad, Laura Jimenez and Scott. “A Well-Rounded Education.” Center for American Progress, www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2018/08/16/454864/well-rounded-education/.

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