The origin of the word ‘school’ is Greek for ‘leisure’. Education is not merely about preparing people to be productive in society but also for seeking truth and enjoying the process of it. With this lens, school should be something to look forward to. A place to build good friendships. A place to explore and discover new things about ourselves and the world around us. It should also be a place where learning is fun, meaningful, and purposeful.
To explore this topic, thought leaders, professionals, parents, educators, and students from all walks of life gathered at Leaps of Knowledge: Episode T - Think Ahead & Out of the Box) on 27th November 2021. At Leaps: Episode T, students took center-stage to share their perspective, experience, and feelings on schooling and education. The audience was invited to reimagine education with them, by putting students’ needs at the heart of it.
“I love the sharing session and listening to students on how they want their learning to be shaped.” - Raja Nor Aziera, Educator
“I hope I can collaborate with other schools by gathering meetups online and letting the kids talk to each other.” - Sam, Educator
“Teachers need to be more creative and innovative in 21st century education.” - Weng Beng Heng, Educator
“I hope to gather educators within Malaysian public schools, designers and architects to speak about aligning the physical learning spaces with our purpose of education.” - Syaza Suraini, Researcher
Here are 5 fresh perspectives from Leaps: Episode T:
When we hope for different or better outcomes, we need to first be willing to step out of our comfort zones and explore how we might do things differently. d’Arcy Lunn, Founder of Teaspoons of Change, believes that education should include helping students be happy so they can flourish in the world.
“We want students to feel good about themselves and feel good about the world. Not everyone has to go off and work for the UN. But they can make a positive impact no matter what they choose to do in the future,” he says.
Natasha Zulkifli, Founder Director of Women in Rail Malaysia, adds:
“Success in Asia is always determined by the success of your job and how much money you make. But success is also measured by your happiness level. So perhaps we need a new matrix of measuring how we produce kids in order for them to thrive in life, because that's what we want to do. We want to give them the grounding for them to be able to go forth and conquer.”
Another idea shared by Nicholas Siew, Head of Business Strategy at FrogAsia is,
”For particular subjects that tend to be traditionally gender stereotypes in the current system, I think carpentry was listed as just for boys or cooking just for girls, we want to break that mold.”
Michelle Tan, Founder and Designer of Pico Olo, also suggested that schools could include projects that have real costs, real customers or clients, collaboration with companies and have projects be assessed through the feedback of customers or clients.
She added, “It shouldn't be about a grade, it should be about real-world application.”
Without a diversity in thought, experience, and in people, creativity will be stifled. Diversity starts by including and considering the perspectives of those different from us, in order to come up with a richer whole. Chan Soon Seng, CEO of Teach for Malaysia, pondered on whether there could be some way that we could assess students’ learning in a more meaningful way to account for the difference in people.
For some people, they are readers, they are thinkers and they are doers. So for some, the traditional exam-based test works. For others, it's a project, a presentation or something they built themselves. Diversity in opinions helps students grow. As Racheal Kwacz, Child and Family Development Specialist, suggested,
“Before students go off to do their projects, peer-to-peer time, just being able to talk to each other and then getting to bounce ideas off each other is very important. Even if the kids are from different age groups. For example, a younger kid getting to see a 17-year-old who comes in and talks and then the 17-year-old is given a leadership role, she gets to mentor a younger kid. Having that space to lead and be led at the same time. I think that's important.”
Today’s generation is seeing problems that have never existed before, in addition to serious long-standing issues. We need to innovate, generate new ideas, and build on them to have a meaningful impact on the future. In Leaps: Episode T, students shared what they thought they needed, for them to thrive in tomorrow’s world. Tianna, a student, suggested that perhaps schools could have subjects where students could learn about general things to prepare them for the real world like taxes, insurance and debt.
Keisha, another student, expressed that it will be nice if students get to choose classes based on what they want in their future and what their strengths and weaknesses are, as not many classes that support growth in creativity.
Uswatun said that she hoped teachers could communicate more with students, rather than just giving out homework or starting their lesson. For example, simply asking “How are you doing at home?” or “How are you living through this pandemic?” would’ve made a difference to her. These insights from students about their needs were interesting as they may not be typical to the current system and forms a good foundation to begin reimagining education.
According to Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), students are not passive consumers of learning and they should take an active role in shaping their learning experiences. Applying an approach to learning that encourages student agency and where teachers are part of it instead of just having their performance evaluated, creates a meaningful learning experience for students.
Irina, a student, expressed that it can feel like students are just learning in a herd when really, they are all different and have different strengths and weaknesses. As a student, she feels it is more helpful for schools to start acknowledging students’ individuality to help grow, not in competition with one another, but with themselves.
Cheryl Fernando, CEO of Pemimpin GSL, added that if students start from young, they start to be responsible for their own choices, while learning that there are consequences if they do not live up to this freedom that they're given.
Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder of the Riverside School and Design for Change said, "If we recognise children are hugely capable, and they are telling us again, and again, look at me, I can! And we tell them 'no, this is not part of your curriculum' We completely reduce learning into subjects. There is no box if the student can do it, so why are we stopping them?"
According to Saku Tuominen, Founder of HundrED,
“A learning environment is not a classroom, which is simply looking creative, meaning that it has colourful bean bags or something like that. For me, it should be meaningful and flexible. So I would say that learning can take place anywhere,, be it physical or digital or social.”
Resonating to this point is Chan Soon Seng, CEO of Teach for Malaysia who shared,
“In your classroom, home or any space that you have right now - whether it's in a concrete building in the city, or a small wooden shed on an island - you can transform your learning experiences.”
Beyond the actual learning space, it’s also about culture and those who are part of that learning environment. When schools give autonomy to students through tasks and roles, having exams without the pressure to score, and the ability to try a lot of things like dancing, sports and debating - which are all things that already exist in pockets in schools - students may enjoy learning more.
However, we need to leverage and expand on the current system, as Andreas explained,
“It's not about attracting magicians into the teaching profession, or just giving them years of university education upfront. It's about creating a work environment where not just students learn, but everybody learns, teachers included. We create a very different mindset among teachers. It's not about delivering the past, it's about creating the future.”
Don't just watch Episode T, sign up for The HEART Course! It's a free online course which creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community.
In five sessions H-E-A-R and T, you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There also conversation prompts to help your group of educators DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom!
Get started with The HEART Course here.
Leaps of Knowledge invites everyone to be a game changer in education. Through a series of talks, workshops, conferences, and other events, featuring the world’s leading technologists, innovators, and shapers, Leaps of Knowledge aims to inspire a sense of purpose and joy by changing hearts and shaping minds. In 2021, Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series took place in 5 global online events throughout the year, featuring contextual topics in the themes of FrogAsia’s core values: H, E, A, R, and T respectively. Episode H: Here to Make a Difference, Episode E: Enjoy What You Do and Who You Do It With, Episode A: Act With Integrity, Episode R: Reach for Perfection and Episode T: Think Ahead and Out of The Box.