Fixing Education: A Response to Responses to Puppets

Aside from a lot of the good comments (thank you for loving it; your feedback is amazing! <3) one of the most popular vibes I’m getting is “Okay, so you’ve raised all these points about the educational system, but what can you do about it?” Encapsulated in all these questions are implications that I really just complain a lot and don’t seem to understand that this system is the best we could have come up with in our circumstances. You seem to be throwing the sarcastic question, “Well, Smartypants, have you got a better idea?” in my face, and implying that, for all my protesting, I myself do not have an answer.

I freely admit this: I don’t always have an answer. In fact, to paraphrase a tweet from Propaganda (@prophiphop), I’m much better at asking questions than answering them; asking difficult questions to make people (including myself) think is the basis of the art I create. Legit.

https://twitter.com/prophiphop/status/672833018210344960

One thing I find interesting, though, is how my “accusers” (LOL) have gone and jumped straight to my (very minor) theme about the educational system, when honestly, that wasn’t even the real focus of the novella at all. Ah. I’ve written a story about psychological manipulation, but all you want to say is, “Ah, look, Akotowaa is complaining about school again.” Insert eye roll. LOL. In actuality, I thought that scene was worthy of noting because the International Baccalaureate has in fact decided to take away the follow-through awarded marks from the mark scheme of mathematics. I thought the idea would spark some relevant discussion. And yes, I do believe the educational system is a political one. But let us move on from my myriad of complaints and focus on the answer, which I may or may not have.

Now I’m not about to lie and say I have discovered the cure for stupidity and I have a whole thesis prepared to deliver by mail to all the Ministers of Education in the world, full of solutions they had always been too stupid to come up with. What I do have, just like everyone else, is opinions. At the moment, there is no perfect educational system. In fact, there is no perfect human-designed system, and I highly doubt that there will ever even be one. So I obviously cannot design what cannot exist. I am also aware that any sensible educational system is not stagnant; it is always undergoing a bunch of reforms for the purpose of (maintaining the illusion of) improvement. As human needs change, the way we’re trained to provide for ourselves must change too. But it shouldn’t change into something worse than what it was before. I mean, I personally refuse to see what helpfulness could possibly come from ignoring follow-through marks in examinations.

On a systemic level, I could offer tons of biased suggestions which may or may not work. Examples:

  • Abolish examinations. They never accurately speak of my intelligence anyway.
  • Let’s write papers for our grades instead. Exams are now failing more and more to test knowledge and application and are now overly focused on how fast we answer questions in impractical (or what the examiners would like to believe are adequate) time limits. Writing independent un-classroom-ified essays/papers reduces the time limit pressure. But…with my experiences with coursework and Internal Assessments, it seems CIE and IB don’t understand how to get those right either.
  • Stop giving grades. They’re too quantitative for my liking. Perhaps they will continue to work for quantitative subjects. But for others, it’s an enterprise of judging fish by their tree-climbing abilities. (Metaphor credit: Albert Einstein. I think.) EinsteinQuoteIf you want a fair idea of the quality of students’ work ethic/behaviour, use qualitative things like teachers’ comments/report card comments, or students’ personal reflections or whatever.
  • Quit making things compulsory, so students can learn for the love of learning, instead of their rationale being that “it’s a requirement”. I laugh at the International Baccalaureate’s ridiculous attempt to persuade outsiders that their students are personally engaged with their work by adding “Personal Engagement” criteria to their assessment instruments. I swear to you, 90% of that content is student-fabricated lies, and some of the IB students I know are the most academically apathetic I have ever met in my life.

Now I could go on and on, but it’s no use. For one thing, someone can easily raise a bunch of counter-claims to all of my suggestions – which is fine. But the real reason my suggestions are of no use is that there is no point changing things on a systemic level if nothing is changed on the psychological level. Otherwise, everything will fail. Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean, with a hypothetical situation.

Say they – and they here is that vague, ominous god who makes all the academic rules – decide that examinations are no longer compulsory, and so you can do the course, acquire your knowledge and bounce. Most people who are used to the old system are too timid to take this risky option, so they carry on like it’s still compulsory. This is factor number one in psychological stagnancy. Now, some bold badass like Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, entirely fed up with the old system, decides to take this option and not write exams. She graduates and is looking for a job one day. (This girl is obviously not an artist, or else she wouldn’t have been looking for a conventional job in the first place; she’d have probably made her own.) No employer is ready to hire her, though, not because she doesn’t have the necessary skill and knowledge to do the jobs, but because they think that without a certificate, there’s a lack of evidence of her qualifications. Get this: they would rather trust a photo-copied piece of paper/digital image than a person’s demonstration of ability in real life. Hence, Ms Badass remains jobless. The employers’ mind-set is factor number 2 in psychological stagnancy. The third, fourth and subsequent numbered factors are the mind-sets of all the parents, attitudes of teachers, effects of the human environment, the willingness of international systems to globally cooperate etc.

Somehow, we’re always finding ways to complain about things some people would like to see as progress. Like me, I like liberal arts. I see it as progressive; yes, let me tailor my education to my specific desires. Yes, let me not be a genius in one area and a dunce in all the others. Yes, allow me to be culturally and ethically educated – what’s your problem, man? But there’s a whole cluster of people complaining that those kids who graduate with liberal arts degrees end up going into the world, not knowing how to do anything. Bruh. =(

I suppose the balance that we actually need to worry about his how to cross an education being useful to an individual with an individual being useful to society. But that really isn’t my point.

My point is that we can change the systemic factors all we want – but they will continue to be ineffective unless the way we think, as individuals AND communities, changes! So I have taken it up in myself to appeal to the psychological – and it’s not hard. For goodness’ sake, I’m a writer. Idea postulation is my whole life. I’m not just complaining through fiction. I’m asking questions, very plainly, trying to ignite people’s minds, and, if possible, make them question the way they think about things. Changing the world can begin by changing the right people’s minds. I’m working on appealing to the psychological to make it ready to fight or accept the systemic.

So there: that’s my explanation for not presenting a self-righteous proposal to Elizabeth Ohene or whoever is Minister of Education now or blasting certain people’s brains out. Thank you for your attention. Enjoy the story (or get upset by it – which seems to be working very effectively) aaaand peace out.

-Akotowaa

[If you haven’t read the story yet, you can download it here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bi0lsp7y0anrx8f/Puppets%20PDF.pdf?dl=0 ]

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6 thoughts on “Fixing Education: A Response to Responses to Puppets

  1. interesting perspective you have on this topic. but isn’t this also a bit like the chicken and the egg problem? one could say that people pick up the social mindsets that keep them locked in the system from the system which is understandable.after all, it would be hard to let go of the idea that you [invoking empathy for the lost souls] need a degree after you’ve spent the better part of 25 years in school for your own laminated piece of paper. but at the same time, it is this same belief that keeps the system in place from the outside, hence the question of which came first or which follows which; the system that created the mindset or the mindset that keeps the system in place. (egg and chicken).
    would a possible solution be to create a different system, independent of the current one, where the current limitation of social psychology doesn’t play any role in it’s incubation? a sort of Hogwarts of the future if you will.
    and just to play devils advocate, this argument seems to be based on the premise that people are sheep that would rather follow what they know than break from it (hope you don’t mind me borrowing that), which is true in a lot of cases. but as your own story suggests, one radical being or thought may be all these sheep need to become the wolves and elephants and pterodactyls they really are. [heavy use of the metaphor “wolf in sheep clothing” to say that people are different inside and won’t all become wolves, or rather the same thing, once their sheepish nature has been removed] so isn’t one badass enough?
    and again, the argument makes reference to other people being too scared or too used to the current system to let it go but, and i hope you don’t mind me saying this, so what? wouldn’t a system that allows one to choose their fate be alright with people choosing exam over the acquisition of knowledge? isn’t the creation of the option alone proof of success? i also don’t see why such a system won’t award both types of people equally for completing the same curriculum.
    but even still, what if the change to the system did include a new standard of adoption into the mystical entity that is the work place? what if you did have to display your ability to do work to enter a work force? then would it be easier to implement the change you want right from the system you’ve created?
    it may sound a tad iffy, but this idea is not unfounded. before the first three old guys in a dark room decided to create order by printing out certificates, people usually got into a new job by bringing a good reference from their old one. this had it’s problems, obviously, but it meant that their previous master was sufficiently satisfied with their ability to perform their duties.
    i dare say that in todays world, or at least the one i can see, we are moving towards your suggested model where evidence of ones ability to do work is favoured over a degree in said area. i say this mainly because, the narrative i’m getting is that a degree means a lot less than it used to and that work experience is placing higher and higher on the list of thing’s required for entry into the job market. of course there’s the argument that how does one get work experience when the work they want to do to gain this experience requires work experience. i admit, it is a flawed system, but as you rightly said, there is no perfect human system. but it is proof that the world is slowly moving away from the idea that a degree is the end to ones problems.
    i guess what i’m basically asking is, does social psychology really need to be changed that much before systemic change can be implemented?

    wow.
    this is long. i hope this doesn’t come off as trollish. i just really like the idea and would like to explore it a bit more with someone else. i’ve been juggling a few concepts with respect to the idea of a new educational system (or lack of system, depending on how the benefits pan out) so a lot of these questions where just waiting to pop up.
    here is a proverbial banana to show my in-hostility:
    *banana*

  2. Here’s another viewpoint: from your writing, you’re definitely liberal. As for us the fascists, education is not about unleashing individual potential, it’s about social reform. It’s a constructive system to increase control over the population. The most powerful nations in this world express a high degree of fascism- from US, to China, to North Korea to Russia- both subtly and overtly.
    Modern education is also just an evolution of social control. Like in the medieval ages when intellect wasn’t so hyped, physical power and religious doctrines were used to influence people. Now that intellect has become a major driving force for humanity, the best way to remain in control is from an intellectual perspective!
    Trust me, education will experience a massive transformation, but that is because the world superpowers would have found a better to remain in control of the masses- the media. Muahahaha!

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