Saturday, February 7, 2015

Our wasted youth


Once upon a time, students left school well before they reached 18. In many developing countries all around the world, students leave early to support their families financially. Yet, even if you do not need to leave school to financially support your family, or because you need to take care of a sick family member, it seems strange that we have thousands of teenagers across the country, and millions more across the globe, who are not contributing to their community or world in any substantial way. Although there are some great initiatives in schools that take small groups of students to build houses in third world countries, or that get students serving in their community, I am increasingly beginning to wonder if there isn't more that we can do. 

Over the summer holidays, I finished NZCER's Key Competencies for the Future. Much of the book focusses on teaching the key competencies through the use of wicked problems ("A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise." - wikipedia) There is no question that our world and society faces some rather large wicked problems at present and in the foreseeable future. Everything from over population, food scarcity, fossil fuel depletion, global warming and the increasing violence of groups such as Isis. Fuelled by the ideas of Key Competencies for the Future, but also, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, I am increasingly wondering about how we might engage students to become the "confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners" who are "contributors to the well-being of New Zealand - social, cultural, economic and environmental" that the New Zealand Curriculum talks about. 

The question I would like to put to you today is, why, when there are so many unsolved problems in the world, do we waste smart, insightful, creative students' time with meaningless work? It seems to me, that the thousands and thousands of collective hours that students sit bored in classrooms, might be much better spent, actually participating and contributing in the real world. Rather than learning about global warming and writing a test about it, couldn't they rather go out and do something about it? Rather than learning about poverty, couldn't students go out and do something about it? Take for example Jack Andraka, a teenager who developed an inexpensive new way to test for cancer. It seems to be, that students, especially teenagers, are yet another example of how we waste our resources in this world.

My question to you as I wrap up today's 28 minute post, how might we harness the enormous potential from our students whilst saving the world at the same time?