What’s more valuable: education or life lessons?

What’s more valuable: education or life lessons?

So far, 2020 feels like a year of asking some of life’s most difficult questions; re-evaluating our behaviour, our beliefs, and the systems that shape and bind us as a society. One system that has been the topic of much discussion is education, due to recent events here in the UK — namely, the furore over A-Level and GCSE results decided by computer algorithms — since schools and colleges were suspended following the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year.

The scandal saw students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds actively downgraded from their predicted results; compared to their peers from prestigious, private institutions, who were awarded much higher grades on average. This meant that many attending state colleges lost out on precious university offers, and were left with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their future.

This, combined with the experience of caregivers in lockdown — of stepping in as full time educators in place of a “traditional” school setting — saw conversations start to bubble around the value of the curriculum versus the benefit of life experience. Many families were given modules and workbooks by their schools to complete in lieu of classroom time, but how does this fare practically if your children’s primary caregiver(s) have little or no experience of teaching the curriculum?

Some parents decided to toss the workbook out (both figuratively and literally!) in order to teach in their own way, on their own time. We heard from one parent who opted to teach their children practical, everyday skills, from changing a fuse to replacing the head on a plug. Another turned their kitchen into a restaurant, teaching their children literacy and maths by having them write out that evening’s dinner menu, and calculate the cost of each of their meals! 

These levels of adaptability and creativity are great, but are fraught with costs — both financial, and time — that may be harder for some families to allow for as we move out of lockdown, and the familiar routine of work and school resumes. So how can we keep this momentum going as we usher our loved ones back to school? We were moved by the experiences that some of you shared on our Instagram debate, detailing what it’s like to be a teacher today, and calling for real change in our current National Curriculum. Steffie (@sfh_iow) voiced that our curriculum is outdated and unfair, particularly with regards to age-related expectations — which define what is expected of a pupil by a specific age, or year group. This is problematic in itself, because it assumes that every pupil is capable of learning the same things, in the same way, at the same pace. We refer to ourselves as “individuals” with good reason, in that we are single, separate, and experience our world in ways that are unique to ourselves. How, therefore, can a rigid, standardised curriculum cater to everybody equally? In reality, it can’t.

Some of you really got us scratching our heads when you pointed out that debating whether school is more valuable than life experience isn’t a fair comparison (thank you for sharing your perspective, @katibear10!). After all, there are many things you can learn in school, and many things you can learn in life — both experiences are unique to each other, and therefore offer unique and equally important lessons! 

Perhaps, then, we need to find a way to compromise. Is there some way to bridge the experiential gap between school and life, so that we’re teaching the future generation of movers and shakers practical life skills alongside literacy, numeracy, and everything in-between? Can we reshape our National Curriculum so that children learn from an early age the value of looking after their mental health, how to manage finances, and perhaps most importantly of all in our ever-challenging world, how to be kind?

If learning “is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” (huge props to @nomadlady24 for sharing this beautiful quote) — perhaps we ought to consider what that fire might be, rather than the place in which that fire is stoked. At all levels of education, we as teachers and leaders hope that our students will find ideas, issues, and challenges that ignite that flame. Perhaps, then, education is about nurturing that flame, regardless of whether it ignites in the classroom, or the big, wide world.