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 Mr Atkinson, teacher

The author of this idea has worked in academies, high schools, colleges and universities in several countries. This programme concept is designed primarily for the junior or high school environment. My original idea was to apply this to a school in Korea where students study so hard they just don't 'get a life'. However, it could work anywhere; there ought to be room in every region for one school like this. Like anything, it would not be wise to suddenly adopt it across a large school. Rather, perhaps start with one day or two days a week, preferably in a smaller school (max 500 students).

Depending on the country, Junior schools vary between two, three or four years. The main aim is typically to prepare students for high school. High schools typically enrol students for three to five years (aged 13 ~ 18), after which students either move on to tertiary education, enter a trade as an apprentice, or seek a general job. Schools have students for at least five hours a day (longer in Asia) and most of that time is taken up with academic study where they sit restlessly on hard chairs staring at white/blackboards trying to remember 'stuff' for tests and exams. While there are many excellent schools, they really struggle to provide their students with an educationally enjoyable experience.

The current educational paradigm is almost totally based on academic study. The entire curriculum is designed like a pyramid, with primary school students at the bottom and university professors at the top; the whole system is designed towards becoming that professor. It is a one-directional vertical approach where everyone is pushed 'up' together until, at some point, they reach their 'limit' and either fall or get kicked off the 'educational conveyer belt' and become workers.

The typical students today are restless. Too much sugar, too many carbs, too much TV, too many video games, too much tapping and chatting on the phone; it has become a real problem. They are withdrawing into a fake virtual reality - a lot of what they know is not real, but made-up in Hollywood or Silicon Valley. Nothing is being done about it; no one has a solution; the problems get worse. They are not listening and they are not taking notes. Something needs to change. 

Often, teaching is just delivery; most of what students study today is based on receiving and remembering information, yet, more than ever before, in today's world, almost any information we need is instantly available at the push of a button. The current paradigm was set up to provide industry with mildly educated workers who would understand and obey instructions in their one-job-for-life. The current educational system remains single-minded in its methods of indoctrination. Those that fail to fit in are either forced to fit in more strongly or are pushed out. Teachers do their best and rely on their own improvised methods of 'differentiation' to improve the lot of those less 'academically' minded. Creativity, often nothing more than a lip-service window-dressed aim, is stifled early on lest it interfere with the almighty standardized tests and exams. The future requires teachers that inspire, stimulate, and provoke a multitude of answers. The students need to become seekers, not receivers, of education. Despite what teachers claim, this is not happening. The future needs people who can search and find their own creative solutions. In the future, the most successful will be those who are highly motivated to achieve excellence in anything and everything they set their sights on.

Though not always true, tradesmen by and large are typically made up of those who got kicked off the educational conveyer early on. However, Bob the Builder, Phil the Plumber and Eric the Electrician have all been able to learn a heck of a lot about their trades. They listen to their peers and learn what they need by themselves. Not only that, there are increasing numbers of ordinary people making names for themselves in online intellectual debates on topics they have become interested in. At school, they may have had no apparent intellectual vitality in the eyes of their teachers, but in their chosen profession or hobby they are motivated to learn a great deal by themselves. Simply, most people have a great capacity to learn if well motivated. With true purpose, most people have the capacity to learn whatever is required in their immediate sphere of interest. What we need to do is to create a program where students want to come to school everyday to ... develop themselves. Schools need to offer choice and relevance, both of which lead to ownership.

The origin of the idea

I first did an apprenticeship in a steel foundry and became qualified in various aspects. Here, training was not based on age - only experience and skill mattered; if you failed, you did that course again (a good motivator). At some point, I ended up helping train others to get qualified. Then, all change, I went to university to study languages and eventually became a teacher. I have worked in several schools/colleges/universities and have always had a keen interest in sports. My first teaching job (1989) was teaching English at a high school in Japan. The school was quite sport oriented (but also taught all the standard subjects). Certain sports clubs would start training at 1pm, others from 2 or 3pm; some would not finish until 6pm. They were very serious about their sports. As a direct result of this, the school came first or second in several nationwide sports competitions in the year I was there, which was very impressive considering that there are 130 million people in Japan with thousands of schools. I remain astounded at their sporting accomplishments while I was there and the recognition the students received.

I have worked in a number of schools over the years and have always taken note of those students that do really well, and sometimes those that do not do so well but later have successful careers. Being smart helps, of course, but more often than not, being smart can just mean being a little ahead for your age, or a little more determined to succeed. In sport, that might mean being a little heavier, taller or stronger. Some people are just late developers, but school does not account for that as everyone is ranked by age for convenience. What sets someone apart is when they really begin to get good at something ... and that something is typically, one thing. I have seen many amazing success stories at schools, but often, it is in spite of the system rather than because of it. Schools are quick to claim credit when in fact, the student has spent hours and hours of his/her own time 'working on it'.

Recently (2018-2021), I saw incredible change in boys starting a new Trades-oriented course - they studied their specific trade all day, with extra lessons in literacy and numeracy. Previously lackluster, totally unmotivated students acquired new focus and made 180 degree changes with a view to leaving school one year early. They suddenly had focus. School had real purpose. By the end of the year, all of the students learned various metalworking skills in which they became totally absorbed, passed various qualifications (Health and Safetly / welding / metal fabrication, etc).. This course gave the boys real-world direction and they became focused on achieving everything that was put in front of them. In short, they grew up and became adults and before the school year was over most gained apprenticeships or jobs. To be fair, the school did a lot of work and should take some credit but the real change occurred when the students 'woke up' and created their own future. What the school did was to present the boys with an achievable future. Boys turned into men before the end of the school year; when I see them out and about at work in the local township they are always happy and positive. They have all developed a good group consciousness and they mostly keep in touch with each other, which should serve them well moving forwards.

 

 

 

Developing the self - in practice

I suggest reducing the academic focus and concentrate on developing self-directed learning and meaningful skills. Success in one area of life can only lead to benefits in other areas. The opportunity to really have a go at and excel at something more meaningful, combined with subsequent increases in determination and perseverance to succeed, will provide gains in confidence and the creation of better character.

In this programme, a student would be free to change their chosen area at the end of the year. Or, they could choose to continue it. A student who did rugby for three hours a day for five years would narrow his employment potential but would be an absolute expert at rugby. The desire and determination to push for excellence is something that will permeate to other areas of life.

The purpose of morning study is to reach a certain level of literacy and numeracy. If not achieved, it would have to be studied again the following year. With such a plan, a two year junior programme could be completed in one year by a keen student thereby giving them more freedom to chose what they wanted to do from thereon. This would motivate some to study harder. In terms of results, competence supersedes qualification (I don't want to see your piano certificate - I want to hear you play). Once literacy and numeracy have been achieved, that study time would be free to be reallocated to other subjects.

Afternoon programmes would have zero assessments. All study areas would have equal weight. The entire emphasis is to be on the 'doing' and to do it as well as it can be done, intensely, over a long period of time. On graduation they would receive a report on what they have achieved.

After graduation, the school releases its students into the local economy. They will have had a great learning experience and will have enjoyed it. At school, they will have succeeded and bettered themselves. Their self-direction and creativity will have been expanded. They will have the ability to adapt to learn new skills. In their future, they will know how to continue to succeed and better themselves ... because they have already done it. 

Programme Focus

Students could

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choose the same study area each year for five years

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switch to a different area after a couple of years

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choose a completely different area each year

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focus entirely on academics if they so wish

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choose ordinary subjects in the morning once literacy and numeracy have been achieved

*Student timetables need to be totally flexible.

 

 

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Last updated: 06-Dec-2021.