We urgently need new kinds of schools


It does make one wonder somewhat what education should be about in the current times.

I was recently speaking to some teenagers and asking them how they use the internet, apps, and so on, as part of their work.

They showed me a mathematics app that, apparently, the whole student body at school now uses. When faced with a complex equation to resolve, all one has to do is to take a photograph of the equation with one’s cell phone. The app then resolves the equation, gives you the full workings of how it was resolved and even produces any graphs that are needed to illustrate the equation. They can then just copy and paste everything when doing their homework.

The same thing happens with essays. They search around on the internet and compile their essays from here and there. But they are also aware that the school has s system whereby any essay submitted can be checked for plagiarism of what’s on the internet. So they have their own app through which they can put their essays and see what gets flagged up as plagiarism. They then edit those particular passages so that they are no longer identical with what’s on the internet and they’re done.

Given this new world, what is education going to be about going forward? Certainly the type of education that I was subjected to, where we had to spend hours and days memorising all sorts of stuff is clearly outdated. Why memorise anything when it’s at your fingertips on a Google search? Working through mathematical puzzles and almost everything else is now merely a few clicks away so why bother learning how to do it oneself?

The use of these online tools is, of course, part of the outcome of education. It teaches students how to be inventive and how to find ways of accomplishing tasks in ways that are effective and not labour intensive. But does it teach them maths in the traditional sense? And is it even possible to do that given that one can bypass the system so easily?

The teaching profession has a formidable task ahead of it. How to teach something that will be useful in these children’s lives, while abandoning the traditional didactic teaching methods that are clearly obsolete. How do you teach children to understand what maths is all about, its principles and what it can achieve, while knowing that none of them will ever work through a mathematical puzzle on their own? They will just click, copy and paste.

Some educators have taken on this challenge successfully. The Luminar school system set up by Brazilian entrepreneur Ricardo Semler takes a different approach – one more suited to our times. Instead of teaching by subject matter, the Luminar system teaches through projects. For instance, a team of students is asked to work together to design a bicycle.

To do this, they have to comprehend geometry, design, human anatomy, mechanics, and all sorts of other things. Maybe even more important than all that, they need to learn how to operate in teams, how to identify and build on every student’s individual skills and aptitudes to deliver a tangible product at the end of the process. This, it seems to me, is much better life preparation than the outdated, tedious classroom model structured around individual subjects.

And, in the Luminar model, it’s difficult to see how even the mathematics app can bypass students’ need to understand the principles behind their work and how they can apply these principles in the real world.

Schools have started to move in these directions. But progress is glacial. We are still largely stuck in a centuries-old, subject-driven educational system where teachers still stand up and regurgitate what’s in the textbook (and still insist on calling it teaching) and bureaucrats still insist on focusing on grades and exam results as the main measure of success. It’s time we moved on – and quickly.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. nigel hunter says

    This click and copy business will make for lazy unimaginative less intelligent and thoughtful people. To me it sounds like intelligence will decline amongst the population.
    This Luminar model building up individual skills in a team environment sounds good. For the West to advance and progress in a rapidly changing world, old ideas do have to be abandoned.
    If we end up expanding outwards (space) hostile environments will have to be conquered. One individual with knowledge could kill a whole project off if he becomes deceased. This Luminar model can put all the skills required to develop a project within the team and ward off disaster.

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