Repurpose & Reimagine Education

Romana Shaikh
6 min readOct 11, 2020

#WhatIf we questioned why we come to school?

As children, as educators, as parents, there is something about schools that runs deeper in a community, makes it a truly integral part of our lives.

- We thought it was all about the curriculum and so we’ve been searching for the most rigorous, up-to-date, deep curriculum of international standards.

- We thought it was about the way lessons are taught and so we’ve been searching for the most effective ways of teaching different subjects, the latest in teacher training techniques.

- We thought it was about the way children showed their learning — the assessments and so we’ve made more nuanced toolkits and practices of observing, analyzing and capturing student behavior and learning

- We thought the solution was in technology — we’ve built apps to provide content to students, give lesson plans to teachers, to track and measure learning and performance and everything in between.

The pandemic has shown us that all of this is important but until we change the paradigm, we’re ‘.throwing the darts at the wrong board completely’.

Listening to children over the past few months, it’s becoming clearer that while academic learning has been the top priority and anxiety for many educators, connection with others has really been top of mind for young people. Yes they want to learn about the world but not in a singular perspective way that most textbooks teach. Yes they want to do well and develop skills but not just those necessary to pass the test or get a job. What children want is to learn how to respond to life, to learn about themselves, to have supportive relationships with each other, to contribute to healing the planet and our communities. As a 17year old friend told me recently, ‘Don’t give me answers. Ask me questions. Answers lead to the same destiny. Questions open up new possibilities. I for one, definitely want to be part of shaping a new destiny — one without hunger, war, bloodshed and violence.

The pandemic has made it more evident that the world today is unpredictable even for us adults. We couldn’t have prepared for this global pandemic or the movements for social justice, equity, inclusion that have been emerging in many parts of the world, or the impending economic recession. 2020 has shown us — the world has changed and is moving rapidly. Whether you are a child having to study from your phone or an adult dealing with the volatile economic scenario, uncertainty and change is the new normal. It’s time we make education about preparing for this.

How do we do this? Where do we start?

#WhatIf we paused? First, lets pause.

Breathe…

Listen…

Acknowledge we don’t quite have the answer.

Listen again…

Stillness…

Now, let’s start with the very ‘Aims’ of education — What is the purpose of education? It’s not an either or answer, but the most universal answer that is needed today. It’s about holistic development — cultivating the whole person and helping individuals live more consciously within their communities and natural ecosystems (Miller, 2005). The same idea explained in a different time by J.Krishnamurthy as ‘The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole.’ And in more recent years by Dan Siegel and his work in the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology talks about ‘Integration’ as the essential mechanism of health as it promotes a flexible and adaptive way of being that is filled with vitality and creativity. An education that sees all the people in the system as whole individuals and is all about nurturing thriving communities.

It is about the philosophy, the art and science of learning — How do human beings learn? Looking at the philosophers of the past to the scientists and artists of the present, across cultures we can see the similarities and connections to this question. What J.Krishnamurthy posited in — ‘learning happens when the mind is not occupied. When there is leisure.’ Psychologists today emphasize in the need for mindfulness, awareness, attention and focus. The state of being ‘well’, having a clear mind makes it possible for the mind to tune in and learn.

That we learn by paying attention to the present moment, by observing life around us and the world inside of us is changing the idea of what learning is. It is not simply about acquiring knowledge or practicing skills. But learning how to integrate — all the parts of ourselves, the left and right side of the brain, the inner and the outer world. The emergence of arts in education and arts in therapy is evidence that in creative expression lies a window to knowing ourselves.

When we embrace this broader, deeper purpose of education, the process of learning expands to being about development of all the interconnected systems inside of us and around us. Within an individual, learning is about integrating the mind and body; emotions, logic, bodily sensations and thought. Learning is deep and enduring when it brings together physical, cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual and ethical systems within us.

If the purpose of education is about empowering young people to lead fulfilled interdependent lives; the process of educating needs to be empowering and fulfilling too. Pedagogy that is built on students agency in choosing what and how they learn means making classrooms spaces for inquiry and exploration and less about instruction and practice. It means designing learning experiences that involve the body, the rational mind and the creative mind in individual and social settings. It means creating opportunities for children to observe life — the way birds behave differently during an eclipse, the way milk doesn’t boil over when there is a metal spoon in the vessel, the way people treat each other, the way we experience and respond to the daily events that make up life.

It is most necessarily about the actual design of learning and of school — What is the experience students have in their 10 to 15 years of formal education?
To bring this into practice requires a new kind of design! Different formats for lesson planning and assessment, different ways to observe and understand children and teachers, different ways organize learners and teachers in a day and through the years of school.

#WhatIf we remove the age based grades and make the years at school a more seamless experience? An experience that values and nurtures mixed age relationships?

#WhatIf we replace the pre-determined pacing guides and grade based learning standards with a more flexible multi year scope? #WhatIf domain specific topics are replaced with interdisciplinary themes for exploration?

#WhatIf assessments are an opportunity to reflect with learners on their progress, their challenges, their aspirations? #WhatIf teachers, parents and students are partners in this learning and reflective journey?

#WhatIf lessons are longer & deeper instead of 6 different subjects in a day, could there be longer blocks of engagement tied together with a strong start and end to the day?

#WhatIf community building is given time each day?
#WhatIf we have a curriculum for self understanding?
#WhatIf we have experiences for intergenerational learning?

The possibilities are endless when we allow ourselves to dream, imagine, create a new normal.

And then finally it is about how to operationalize all of this — How do teams collaboratively facilitate the change process? And yes. It does become about the teachers and parents. No amount of plans and resources can replace the integral role the trusting adult plays in the life of a child growing up. Can the same process of learning — integration of oneself be the core of teacher development programs? For educators and parents to empower and guide this kind of learning, they too need to experience the same. To develop the capacity of self knowledge, awareness, intuition and creativity.

#WhatIf we started with ourselves and each other?

#WhatIf the next few months are about acknowledging, leaning into and deeply reflecting on our own spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing?

#WhatIf we stopped planning for lessons and experienced integration for ourselves? Creating the time to pause and connect with each other.

#WhatIf we trusted each other to be the change?

As we adjust and adapt to this new life in and after the pandemic, let’s reach into the deep shared humanity that connects us all. Let’s pause. Let’s go slow. Let’s bring to life a new kind of education.

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