Brandeis University ‘20.
Psychology, Hispanic Studies B.A.
Socrates once described education as “the kindling of a fire, not the filling of a vessel.”
This statement holds true today more than ever, as the surge in globalization coupled with the demand for labor has forced education in the United States to become a universally standardized institution rather than a solution for the future.
Education is, without a doubt, one of the most critical factors in any country’s economic and social progress. It is the stepping stone to a better life for young children who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Access to education allows underserved populations to regain equal social footing, regardless of race or gender. Education increases the likelihood for youth to engage in political participation, which in turn allows for social and political change. All around, education reflects the growth and potential of a country.
However, the institution of education in the United States has become compromised. College costs are rising at an alarming cost, the public education system continues to be mediocre, and there is a rising lack of faith in American public schools. Gallup polls show a sharp decline in public confidence for American education from 62% of the population indicating they had “a great deal” of confidence in the American school system in the mid-1970s to only 26% in 2014.
Why is this the case and what can be done to improve education in the U.S.? Sir Kenneth Robinson, an international advisor on education who has dedicated his life to education reform, emphasizes the disconcerting level of stress that students nowadays face in their quotidian life. A survey done by the American Psychological Association in 2014 showed that teens’ level of stress not only matches but exceeds that of an adult. Teens in high school are exceedingly pressured to perform well academically, receive high scores on standardized tests, be involved in numerous after school activities and clubs, have a job and be all-rounded, all for the singular purpose of entering into a well-accredited university. Now, I believe wholeheartedly that university education is extremely valuable. As a student studying at one, it would be hypocritical of me not to believe that. However, I also believe that there is a way for students to be prepared for university while not drowning themselves in so much stress that it reaches a toxic level. I also believe that every child would benefit from a creativity-based education system rather than an education system that focuses on outcomes and numbers.
The Western world has essentially established education and the education process as an extension of capitalism, where the end goal is a tangible outcome. We are taught as children that a job has value if it has a title; we are told to study something that has scope. Our parents say, “be a doctor,” “be an engineer,” or ask us to find something that is stable and set. Again, I emphasize that there is nothing wrong with this. I only want to bring up the point that if the only purpose of education is to have a tangible outcome, then it is not complete education.
The point of education should not be to just give out degrees but to excite and stimulate children who will become the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and creators. Education should focus on critical thinking and problem solving, and it should be individualized for each child. We can take Finland’s education system as a model. By common consensus, it is one of the most successful education systems in the world. The Economist named Finland the number one in delivering future-oriented skills through education in 2019. It is also the happiest country in the world, as named by the 2019 World Happiness Report. What does Finland do differently? The Finnish education system highlights the importance of a well-rounded education where children receive education in all subjects, including the fine arts and physical education. Unlike the U.S., Finland has no standardized tests, and the curriculum is not set by the central government; instead, schools focus more on providing customized education for all students. Furthermore, Finland prepares all its teachers with high-quality masters programs based on pedagogical theory. Unlike in the U.S., teachers are paid well and the profession is highly respected. Finnish education is, in every possible way, radically different from that in the United States.
I believe the United States should follow Finland’s success and change the education system to become more focused on the student, and encourage creativity and critical thinking rather than grades and standardized tests. As Socrates described, education should be like “the kindling of a fire”, something that sparks an ignition and passion in children so that they feel empowered to create and innovate the future. The youth of today will become tomorrow’s scientists, artists, and innovators, but only with the right education will they become some of the best in the world. When we give children the tools to go forth and engage in the world in their own unique way, they no longer have to fit in a cookie-cutter mold and will be able to contribute to society in their own way.