A Singaporean Mother's Ideal School

In this day of schools geared towards high academic achievement , one mother writes about her ideal school.

Schools these days are not the schools that they should be. Sadly, instead of a place where the children can explore, the ideal school has become a place where children's curiosity gets slaughtered. School, as Peter Gray said in his book, Free to Learn, is like a prison.

The children are told what they should to learn and are given no choice. When they are curious about a subject, they don't have time to delve deep into it because they need to focus on learning something that adults think they should be learning. To think that children spend a large part of their growing up years learning something that they are not interested in, is it a wonder that so majority of the students don't enjoy school? What a waste of their childhood!

And so, in my mind I have a dream of how a school should be. In today's world, my dream may sound ludicrous and impossible to achieve. I suppose it may be so. But nevertheless, please allow me indulge in my ideal school for a moment.

1. There is no lesson

In my dream school, the children are not expected to sit through boring lectures. Instead, classrooms are assigned different themes. Think Kidszania setting. In each classroom, there are various stations according to the theme.

For instance, there would be a Math classroom where there are multiple math stations. The children will be free to choose which stations they want to explore. There will be no teachers at the stations. All the activities in each station have hands on manipulatives and children can be self-directed. Each classroom will have an assigned mentor whom the students can seek guidance to the task.

But one rule they must adhere is, once they choose a task they must see through it to the end. Yes, it's very similar to the Montessori style of learning.

But how would they learn? Children are inquisitive by nature, they are born curious. Many a times, their curiosity will lead them to learn, to gain knowledge even without the help of an adult. As a matter of fact, there was one experiment about just this.
Read about it on the next page...

Take this experiment for instance. A scientist placed a computer at a rural Indian village. He told the children who had no clue what a computer was nor ever seen one, that they could freely play with it. The children came everyday and explored on their own, of their own volition.

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From being totally clueless about what a computer can do, the children gradually discovered how to use  it. They learned to use the mouse, save a file, search for information on the internet and what all those buttons will lead them to. All of that, without any supervision or lessons from any adult. 

This is a clear example that if left on their own, children can learn even without the help of the adults. Their own curiosity will lead them to new knowledge and at their own desired pace. We kill their inquisitiveness by abruptly stepping in and dictating what they should learn and how fast or slow they should acquire knowledge.

2. Students plan their own education

There will be no fixed curriculum and no time table for the students to follow. They are free to roam around the vicinity as they wish. The days they feel like learning a language, they can pop into the language class and choose what they want to learn. Or if they want to learn a new sport they can hop over to the field and pick up a new skill. There will be students who feel like reading all day and that is fine. They can adjourn to the library and explore the world through books. Basically, the children choose their own curriculum. They decide what they want to learn, they decide how deep they want to explore a subject.

The idea is we want the children to let their innate curiosity motivate their learning. We want them to play and explore freely rather than being told what to learn and how.

3. Children are of mixed ages

Unlike the typical school setting, the children are not separated by age. They are free to mingle as they wish, and shall be bound not by their birth years but by their common interests. They will live and feed on each other's discoveries and knowledge. There is no competition, no exams, they will only get better in a subject if they share what they know with each other.

4. No examination

It would be unnecessary to test the children. They are not there to be evaluated or compete, but to satisfy their curiosity and imagine freely in a safe environment. Therefore, there will be no exams. The teachers do not need to know how much the students have learn. Rather the teachers are there to help the children discover their passion and interest and guide them toward the right direction. With the absence of competition, the children will cease to live for themselves and learn to ride upon each other's skills and knowledge. There will be shared discoveries and every student is inter-dependent on each other.

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Waiting for the ideal school to actually happen

To the one whose mind is confined in today's reality, he may think my ideas are outlandish and absurd.

But if one thinks about it, if schools are really like this would the students drag themselves to school or the opposite would be true? Everyday they will wake up and ask themselves eagerly 'What shall I learn today?'. Everyday would be a different learning journey.

With so many doors and options open to them, they will have many combinations to choose from. Wouldn't it be exciting for them? Education would be a lot more interesting and relevant. They are in control of what they can learn. And because they are in control, they will naturally put in more effort and interest in pursuing their education. I truly believe that.

But alas, that school remains a virtual vicinity in my head. For the sake of the next generations, I earnestly hope that one day my virtual ideal school becomes a reality. Till then, our children must confine themselves in this, as the author Peter Gray says, 'prison'.