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Mission Education: how can we save this allegedly “lost generation”?

Major sources of inspiration: Prof. Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory and Dr. Tal Ben Shahar’s SPIRE model

When talking to startup executives, marketers and investors about education, the one thing we’re all in agreement about is the clear lack of product market fit. The system totally ignores the nature of its current users - the students - and focuses mostly on teachers, a relationship that is now also becoming more and more challenging, since we switched to remote teaching mode.

When thinking about adapting education to its real customers, the students, we should begin by clarifying the goal. What is the goal of education? Some of the great thinkers of the 20th century already devoted some time to reflect on it, and so although not properly listened to and never meaningfully implemented, the philosophy around what should have happened is advanced, visionary and IMHO - spot on.

Professor Howard Gardner, the man behind the multiple intelligences theory (we’ll get back to him later), said “the goal of education is to help people use their minds better”. JFK said “the goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth”. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” - W.B. Yeats was always the best at putting thoughts into words :). “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”, stated the great Aristotle, whose quotes I love the most.

So if the goal is to expand the horizons and ignite a fire, are we on track to reaching it?

As 2021 kicks off, teachers all around the world are complaining about not being able to cover materials and catch up with the syllabus. Students are worried they won’t have enough time to prepare for their final exams. Parents are exhausted from the daily war to keep their kids glued to their zoom lectures. Yes, in 2021, the most common method of teaching is lectures (almost 92% of teaching is done this way). And yes, despite acknowledging the “me generation” and its constant cry for attention, teacher-centered methods still prevail.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. The great multi-talent, Benjamin Franklin, shed more light on why the plan isn’t working. The problem is not only the failure to deliver on spirit and fire - current school subjects definitely can’t do that. It’s also the format that failed to engage Franklin back in the 1800s… Talking to gen Zs, we need to consider their creativity, their fast-pace, their tech mastery, the complexity of their socio-emotional situation.These characteristics call for a new plan.

Back to the sketchbook: what should next-gen education products and services look like?

Prof. Gardner inspired a huge change in the perception of intelligence. Rather than associating it with one or two types of performance - the logical-mathematical and the linguistic ones - he opened up an opportunity for other types of talent to be recognised. Gardner explained that in order to develop one’s intelligence, we should use dedicated teachings as a key to unleashing one’s potential.

Think about it. Instead of forcing teenagers to take Ritalin and the likes to meet current education system requirements, we could’ve followed Gardner’s suggestion from 1983 to personalise the learning topics, the learning styles, and the measurement of achievements. With ADHD on the rise (5-10% of gen Zs), screens addiction skyrocketing, tech tools evolving and enabling diversification and personalisation of contents and formats - it might be the right time to implement some of his ideas. Interestingly enough, although published and awarded almost 40 years ago, very little of Gardners’ ideas were integrated.

Is this reversible? Can we use a personalised learning system as soon as possible?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that it’s about time to apply personalisation to learning, to make it interactive, engaging and measurable in dedicated fashions, but when doing so - we should also consider the socio-emotional state of the learner, and provide a 360 solution to meet his needs. This means that while empowering choices and adopting student-centered learning tools, we should also develop tools that will inspire and light up a fire.

Positive psychologist Dr. Tal Ben Shahar suggests a model to support well being. SPIRE: Spiritual - Physical - Intellectual - Relational - Emotional. Incorporating these pillars in the next-gen learning system will increase students’ happiness, decrease negative feelings and drive engagement, motivation and evolvement.

Can education transform from a delaying force to a driver of change?

A famous motivation quote, I have no idea who said that (please write in comments if you do), says: “if the plan doesn't work, change the plan, but never the goal”. Although it’s clear that the plan doesn’t work - we can’t yet feel the winds of change. We will. Because the picture is now clearer than ever. There’s a dramatic lack of product market fit between the education product and its target audience. The need is poorly, or at least vaguely, defined, the solution is therefore inaccurate and the product is disconnected from its users, the gen Zs.

I believe we’re facing a rare opportunity to make a total reshuffle in the learning world. It’s hard to change the paradigm, to rethink the functions and processes involved in preparing our kids for their future. But understanding the potential implications on their ability to thrive, both professionally and mentally, I truly believe it’s time to take the first leap of faith.

The author is the Co-Founder and CEO of ReShuffle, a global, holistic e-learning platform.

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