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Our school system is broken

A lot of students people don’t like school. I always found this strange, but I’m beginning to join that group as well. Why? School just doesn’t satisfy me anymore. I really like learning, that’s not the problem. It’s just that the way our school system currently works just isn’t enjoyable anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, the school system is important and it works. Education is important, and I think the school system does a lot of things right. I think the base knowledge we obtain in primary school is really important in every bit of our later life. Besides, going to school trains our social skills and prepares use for the social environment of a future job.

But the school system also does a lot of things very wrong, and that is what this post is about. To just start right away: we just don’t motivate students properly. Most of the time, we try to motivate students using arguments like “you get a good job with a high salary if you do this” or “if you don’t pay attention, you’re gonna get a low grade”. I don’t know who thought this was a good idea. Let me explain why it’s not:

  • Your brain is only fully developed at 25. Because of this teens tend to opt for short-term enjoyment instead of long-term investment. Besides, some people just don’t care that much for money1.

  • Grades only work to a certain degree. I generally have high grades, and therefore feel motivated to keep getting high grades. Getting a high grade gives a bit of dopamine and that feels nice. On the other side: grades can also be very demotivating. If you’ve been trying to get a good grade and genuinely put in effort, but get a low grade anyway, that can be extremely demotivating (devastating even).

Intrinsic motivation, the motivation you get because you really want to learn something (because you like or need it), is a way better way to motivate students. Find out what they like and are good at, and develop those talents. Every person is different, so their education should be personalized as well.

Another thing the current school system does horribly wrong is testing. Let’s look at the goal of testing:

Tests are tools to get insight into the progress a student is making. The aim of testing is to measure where the student is and how they can develop further.

Source: [translated]

So, the goal of a good test is to check whether a student has mastered a certain subject. The idea is that during the lessons, students learn something, and the test then tests whether they know how it works now. So, with that in mind, why are we studying for the test exactly? And more importantly, why are we doing that in our spare time?2

And it also doesn’t help that we get grades for those tests. Because by put consequences on the test, you’re also putting pressure to perform on the student. The result is that students are now actively studying for tests, which means that what you’re testing not what knowledge and skills the student has acquired during the lessons, and can be reasonably expected to reproduce in a real scenario. No, instead, you’re measuring the amount of time that a student spent preparing for a test. In other words: we’re testing the wrong thing.

To properly learn something exercising is very important, especially with the subjects I follow. However, when I get home from an exhausting school day I don’t want to do more schoolwork. Most students make their homework with a ’let’s get done with it already’ mindset, which makes it a lot less effective.

According to some teachers “students need to spend at least 40 hours on school work per week to learn enough”. There is a fatal flaw in that statement: the assumption that school is the only place students learn something. What about developing their own talents? I think I learn way more in my spare time, when I’m working or playing around with silly coding thingies.

We go to school to learn new things, which we will need in our future life. School prepares us for society, future jobs and life. I am now at the point where I know what interests me, what I’m good at, and in what domain I would like to work. However, I still have to follow a lot of courses at school that I don’t particularly need or like. And that sucks, because now I feel very constrained when it comes to learning the things I actually like. Instead of giving me the opportunity to develop my talents and learn more things, our school system makes me do German I feel like school is holding me back.

Sometimes I think the current school system makes us do a lot of things just because we can. More isn’t always better. Instead of making VWO students do more courses (GERMAN!!), we should focus on spending more time and effort at the courses they like and want to develop further.

So, with all that in mind, what do I think would work best for me?

I think knowing why I’m learning certain things makes me more motivated to actually push through and learn them. I want to know why I’m doing things and what meaning it will later have for me and my future.

Furthermore, I also think that the way of testing should be changed. Instead of sharp deadlines with grades, I think students should choose to do a test when they feel like they mastered something. The test is then purely a check, with no additional consequences. This also eliminates the ‘studying for the test’ behavior.

Moreover, I think lessons should be a lot longer (with fewer lessons per day) to make room for regular exercising during the lessons (instead of making homework at home). Likewise, we should make school days a bit longer to account for that.

Another point I think can be improved is the schedule. It has been proven time and time again that the biological clock of teens just works differently. In vacations, I wake up around 8:00, which is in quite the contrast to the 6:50 on school days. I think we should move the entire schedule ahead about an hour. Students then get to wake up at their natural time.

Similarly, I think the schedule should be more flexible. Sometimes I just have days when I feel completely drained and not able to do anything productive. On such days, going to school is no use at all because I’m not learning anything anyway.

And last of all, I think the way we’re teaching languages should change drastically. We should do way less grammar and spelling, and way more speaking and writing (such as this writing assignment). In my opinion, the best way to learn a foreign language is by using it a lot (and I mean A LOT), and picking up the grammar, spelling and expressions as you go3.

So yeah, thanks for listening to my rant I guess. Hoped you learned something, or at least thought my opinion was interesting.

Adapted/extended from: Gebrek aan ambitie.

  1. Including me ↩︎

  2. Apparently we don’t learn (enough) during the lessons? ↩︎

  3. I think the reason that we’re not doing this already is because it can’t be tested and graded easily. ↩︎