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The connection between school and real life – a think piece.

“Good to see you”, they all chorused as they filed past me into the learning zone. Then, here was Timmy. He had been away for about two weeks. “Good to see you teacher”, he said, “good to see you too”, I responded. I pulled him aside.

“What’s going on with you?”

“I have been unwell and then I had some stuffs to sort out.”

“For two weeks, you were sorting stuff out” I queried him.

“Family matters Mr. Blue. We lost a staff member in the family business and I had to fill in till we hired a new one.”

“Well I hope in the future when you look back at the time you lost, when you look at your mates driving nice cars and earning decent wages with good jobs or businesses, you will go back and blame family matters and the stuffs you sorted out.”

“No teacher. I will blame myself”

“That’s right. You will blame yourself. Sacrifice your future for a week of matters, sacrifice your future for a week of momentary things.”

“You are right Mr. Blue. I will not blame family or friends, but myself.”

“In life, family matters will always be there, in life, stuffs will always be there to sort out. You can never deal with all the stuff at one go. How old are you now?”

“Nineteen, Mr. Blue.”

“Let’s assume, you will live on earth for seventy years God willing, and you have lived for nineteen already, you have fifty one more to go, correct?”

“Correct, Mr. Blue”

“Are you going to sacrifice fifty one years for only two weeks of sorting stuff out. How you will spend the rest of the years depends on the preparation you make now and the choices you make now.”

“I totally understand Mr. Blue.”

“I leave the rest with you, come on in son and let’s get started…”

“Thanks Mr. Blue. I get it. But again, I don’t think school is really helping me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I want to do business, I want to end up running the family business, but the education I am receiving now is not helping me. I do not really see the connection between the education and the real life or maybe the teachers are not making me to see it.”

“Well that is what we have been discussing for some time now. We have been reflecting on what we have learned so far for the term. The upcoming assessments and your intended work placement.”

“Mr. Blue, do you think that the education we are having now is preparing us for the 21st century?”

I didn’t see that coming.

“Why did you ask the question Timmy?”

“Well, I have been thinking of late about all exams and stuff we do and I try to relate that to real life experience but I can’t seem to connect the dots.”

“Well can you give me some examples please.”

“We have a family business and I work there in the evenings after school and never for once have I employed the knowledge I learnt from school at the business.”

“What type of business if you don’t mind me asking?”

“We run a supermarket and restaurant.”

“Great. What do you do at the restaurant?”

“I oversee the workers, make sure that the customers are served promptly and they are happy. I make sure that our business receives enough publicity and we attract enough customers and make profit.”

“Now how do you make sure that all these happen?”

“I talk to the customers, find out if they are happy with our services and what we can do to improve our services. I post photos and updates about our restaurant on social media and read the comments posted by customers and review them.”

“What skills do you employ to do all these things?”

Different people called out in the classroom.

Communications skills.”

“Yes” I agreed.

“People’s skills.”

“Yep” I said.

“Media literacy.”

“Excellent.”

“Technology literacy.”

“Fabulous!”

“Now Timmy how come your mates know all these skills?”

“I don’t know.”

“Jason can you tell him?”

“That is what we have been doing in preparation for our work placement.”

“Spot on!”

“When you stay away from school and get busy with stuff at home, you are doing yourself a disservice. You need to come to school to get yourself equipped for the sort of thing you are doing.”

“But the curriculum does not prepare us for the life after school.”

“But I do. I have incorporated these skills development into your tasks to prepare you.”

It wasn’t only Timmy who was worried about this current dilemma of not being able to connect what he has been taught with the demands of the 21st century. There were and are so many Timmy’s out there.

That is the challenge that teachers face in today’s world. When they have to deliver a curriculum  that is out of tune with what real life offers. They have to seek ways to ensure that, they incorporate the requirements of the 21st century in order to develop the skills set of the students.

Students have to sit for exams for two and a half hours, all hand written. No where in life will they ever have to replicate that sort of activity. They will come out of schools and universities and be working on computers and the latest tech devices that will be available. They will be sending emails and receiving emails. They will be using different software to analyse and present information to clients and stakeholders. They will never sit down for two and a half hours to write or take copious notes and present to stakeholders or managers at work, yet this is what they have been forced and subjected to, right now.

When they fill forms for employment, it is all done online. They would have had time to  prepare their CVs and edit the document as need be. Majority of the time, they will end up doing something totally different to what they had originally intended. So, the key word is flexibility. How are they being taught this vital skill?

A lot of programmes at work today is change driven. Because things are constantly changing, processes at work have to be refined and changed to sync with the changing environment. Resources are getting tighter and wastes have to be reduced and people trained to cope with new technologies and strategies. New alliances are being formed, break throughs are happening in science and technology…how are all these being reflected in the curriculum. The curriculum is supposed to be a working document to represent the agile environment that we operate in.

I once worked at a school where the computers took ages to boot up and it took ages to photocopy documents. The smart boards were not working and you got logged out of the system fairly quickly. Yet the smart phones that the students had, booted at 3x the speed that it took for the computer at the school to boot up. See what I mean?

It makes one to wonder whether the developers of the curriculum actually ever listen to what research shows, as the latest skills set, required for employment in the 21st century? If they do, what efforts have they made to inculcate these into the curriculum?

No wonder education is a pawn at the hands of the politicians. No wonder education has failed majority of the kids and no wonder employers of labour are bemoaning the lack of people’s skills displayed by fresh graduates at work. We are heading to a catastrophe.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, there is discontent in the profession, great levels of dissatisfaction, poor pay to teachers and teachers having to cope with unrealistic demands, high stress levels and poor behaviour from students who can’t see the connection between the digital age they are living in and the curriculum diet being offered at schools. Students coming from homes where good sets of behavior are not being modelled to them. The teacher’s job description has been reconfigured to read ‘magician.’

You have to do the magic teacher. The big axe is on the schools and there is a need to show that we are doing well as a school. The ever predatory question remains – at what cost? The cost of real learning. The cost of a failed society. The cost of ignoring the root causes of the problems…

The crisis continues and like the popular adage goes, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.

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