How to make modern education more meaningful.

What is a ‘modern’ education?

For the students of today, a ‘modern’ education revolves around technology – plain and simple. From a very young age, even in preschool, children are exposed to some form of technology and begin to learn the skills that they need to use computers, I-pads and the like. However, I would argue that a ‘modern education’ is more than that – it’s about bringing the world in for students – getting them to think outside their own small world and engage with the wider community.

When I was in primary school – there are two things I remember clearly. One was watching a TV program that most Aussie kids will recognise – BTN, or ‘Behind the News’. It is still running today and is a current affairs program made by the ABC, for kids. Our class would gather weekly in the ‘TV room’ a small (sometimes air conditioned!) classroom with a TV on wheels. There we would be absorbed watching and learning about a much bigger, and sometimes frightening world. Our parents, teachers and school didn’t shy away from the reality of the world. This is something I strive to bring into my classroom. Kids can be so inward-focused, so it’s important to bring the world in! The second thing is doing after-school craft activities. Dedicated parents would come in and teach us how to make things. I learned paper-making, papier-mache, chocolate-making and basic cooking skills. To this day I can still feel the squelch of mushy raw paper mulch and see the mesh frame and scraper used in the process. My point is that these wonderful experiences helped to bring the world in for me and most likely fostered my innate sense of creativity – I still sew, knit and crochet today!

Apart from the above, there are certainly many other ways to make modern education more meaningful and that’s the focus of this post today:

Five ways to make education more meaningful

Relevance to real-world applications. While this idea is more important for teachers, parents can also connect classroom lessons to real-world applications. Show students how the concepts they are learning can be applied in their daily lives or in future careers. This helps them see the practical value of what they’re studying. For example, when your child is learning about prices and unit pricing in maths – take them to the supermarket and give them some problems to solve, like, “What is cheaper – buying a 3 kg bag of potatoes for $6 or 1 kilo for $2.05?”

Student-centred, project-based learning. Teachers should foster a student-centered approach where students have a say in their learning process. Allow for choices in assignments, projects, or topics, promoting a sense of autonomy and responsibility. Also, implement project-based learning experiences that encourage collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Real-world projects provide a tangible context for learning, making it more meaningful for students. Parents can actively continue this kind of learning at home too. Making birthday cards, doing research to work out where the family should go on holiday, planning family meals and shopping for ingredients. All of these suggestions foster autonomy for children and help them feel that their opinion matters.

Field Trips and Guest Speakers. Teachers and parents can arrange field trips and invite or watch guest speakers to provide students with exposure to different perspectives and real-world experiences. When I was in primary school, we went to the Arts Theatre on Petrie Terrace to watch a Shakespeare play! I also remember a field trip to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary one year. All of these fun excursions helped to bridge the gap between theory and practice. TEDx Talks on YouTube are great for exposing students to fascinating and diverse people and stories. There are also loads of free enrichment activities for kids in many local council areas. Brisbane City Council provides more info here.

Reflection and goal-setting. Teachers should incorporate regular reflection sessions where students can assess their progress, set goals, and understand the relevance of their learning journey. Parents can also do this at home. If something doesn’t go your child’s way, like failing a test or losing a game, encourage them to do some self-reflection by asking the questions, “How do you feel about what happened?”, “Can you think of one thing you can do better for next time?”. Encourage your child to ‘shake it off’ and not get too hung up on their perceived failure. Life is a learning journey and no-one gets it right the first time or all the time.

Community involvement. You know what they say – ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Teachers can easily connect classroom learning to the community. For example, by engaging students in service-learning projects or community service activities that allow them to apply their knowledge to address real community needs. And as in the example above – inviting parents with skills to come to school and teach the students something new – just like I was lucky enough to do all those years ago!

So, teachers and parents – it’s never too late to ‘bring the world in’ for your students and children. If all teachers, schools and parents implemented just one of these ideas, then our children would emerge from the cocoon of school, ready and able to engage with the world with courage and passion.

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