Youth Perspectives: The Fault in Our Education System

Is our education system adequately preparing kids for the future? This month our youth guest writer, Mailaka Bhayana, a 12th grade student from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School in the US tackles this weighty issue.

When did high school stop being a time of discovery? When did we stop allowing students to explore their interests and instead pigeonhole them into either the science, technology, engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) or humanities track by the time that they are in early high school?

And why do our grading systems reward kids for picking classes that suit their natural talents as opposed to pushing them to learn how to think differently? I read a lot of blogs when applying to various colleges and the advice written there often read something along the lines of: “Don’t bother trying to be a well-rounded student, make a spike instead, become really good at just one thing – win a national contest in physics or in writing. Colleges want a well-rounded student body, not well-rounded individuals.”

 As colleges become more and more selective, students find themselves having to choose between one interest and another. Furthermore, our grading system doesn’t help and by rewarding students on their performance rather than their effort, students are encouraged to take classes where they’ll receive an easy A. Such a system not only doesn’t nurture intellectual curiosity but impacts future career opportunities as well. The liberal arts model of college education is based on the idea that students should receive a balanced education, which is crucial for the changing world we live in.

 Jobs in computer programming and financial analysis are expected to take a dive in upcoming years. Instead of training kids for jobs that may become obsolete in ten years, we should train them how to think – in all sorts of different fields. Of course, it’s easy to say there’s an issue – it’s much harder to propose solutions, especially when, in an absence of grades, there would be no real way to evaluate student engagement with the material.

 This problem not limited to the United States, but at least some of the education systems are taking steps to address it more efficiently than the United States has been. Take, for example, the Finnish system. Finland is often regarded as having one of the best education systems in the world. In Finland, kids don’t start primary school until they are seven years old. These earlier years are a time for kids to explore social relationships and develop into individuals before being launched into a more formal education. The Finnish education department describes it as learning how to learn.

 This emphasis on the development of creativity and exploration skills in kids in Finland is exactly what’s needed in the professional workplace in the next 15-20 years globally. Finland also doesn't have gifted or accelerated learning programs – which negates some of the pigeonholing I addressed earlier. Kids don’t need to specialize because they all take the same classes anyway, classes that include art and music as mandatory. Finnish testing methods also encourage creativity. For example, oral assessments are favored over formal tests and numerical grading only occurs much later in a student’s development. Also, less weight is placed on extracurricular activities. The United States should take similar measures in encouraging a more exploration-driven educational system.

 The Finnish system stands in stark contrast to China and India, where students are expected to choose between the ‘STEM’ track and the ‘humanities’ track midway through high school. I don’t see how this helps prepares kids for a changing world. Our standard subjects and curricula are likely going to be irrelevant in 20 years. Instead of focusing on one specific job or field, we need to start teaching kids how to think. In today's modern world, we need to be increasingly more well-rounded. Every subject teaches you a skill and we need to focus on that skill instead of the actual content.

 Malaika Bhayana is a 12th grade student and lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She has a variety of activities and experiences that help her to speak from a global perspective. She has been involved with theater, political activism and debate. Malaika is also the opinion editor for her school paper and is involved with a number of journalism projects. She has also worked with global charities that focus on work in India- where her parents are originally from.