Every weekday, I walk into my first class period exhausted from the previous night’s homework. For 55 minutes, my teacher teaches, I take notes, and then the bell rings. I scribble my homework, get up and repeat. Seven times. Five days a week for the past six school years. One day after another, I tick boxes like everyone else, with no sense of individuality. Is it an apprenticeship?
I thought long and hard about school: how widely hated it is by students and teachers, how much we count the days to breaks, and how much we despise Mondays. Since my elementary school days, I have heard students, teachers, and parents complain. But why? Shouldn’t we value something so fundamental to the success of our lives and the achievements of our society more?
We’ve all heard it: “The system is broken. Our education system in its current form needs a radical change. State-mandated curricula should be imbued with locally focused integrated learning, applying content from different subjects to increase relevance. It is also in everyone’s interest that teachers receive our trust and free themselves from the restrictive requirements of the state curriculum to make their own decisions about what their students need.
Unfortunately, school too often undermines students’ joy of learning. According to a survey conducted by the education information website the74million.org, only 50% of students find what they learn in school relevant. And student engagement only diminishes with each level. A YouthTruth analysis of survey responses from 2012 to 2017 found that 78% of students were engaged in their learning in elementary school, dropping to 59% in middle school and high school.
I really like to learn. When I entered high school, I grew up intrigued by the origin of the universe, time, and free will. I found myself drawn to forums and articles on spacetime and determinism theory. Going down these rabbit holes in the “wonderland” of the Internet, I learned a lot about philosophy and physics. Even though some of my questions remained unanswered, I loved the whole process. At the heart of it, the inherent freedom to explore my interests reinforced my joy in getting to know them. So why don’t many students like me find the same motivation to learn at school?
For me, it is the restrictive structure in seven periods. It is the lack of personal relevance due to a strict and predetermined curriculum. It is the apparent lack of usefulness in the larger scheme of our world. To alleviate these problems, schools should engage more in interdisciplinary learning. Maya Bhat, a junior in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Skyline High School in Sammamish, said it could help students become complete. “It is important to recognize that many areas have crossovers. And those crossovers are how you innovate,” she said. I agree. At school, crossover programs are rare.
The entire education system – including textbook companies, state benchmark tests, graduate programs, etc. – dictates what we learn and how we learn. This prevents us from exploring the intersections between subjects that are necessary to develop a deep understanding of the systems of our world. To give education the importance and value it deserves, the restrictive nature of the school must be reversed. The system needs to be overhauled from top to bottom, starting with the methodology.
Integrated learning brings relevance to our courses without sacrificing necessary rigor. I vividly remember exploring the wastewater treatment process in my seventh grade physical science class. Our class competed in groups to develop a filtration system to produce the clearest water from a cloudy sample. The activity involved research, applying the physics and chemistry behind filtration, and using mathematics to perform basic cost-benefit analyses. More importantly, the project was tied to our local sewage treatment plant, from where a representative came to show us with real insider tips how the whole process works. I remember looking forward to this project every day, especially because of its clear connection to the real world.
Educational researchers Alam Malik and Rukhsana Malik define integrated learning as “the organization of teaching material to bring together subjects that are usually taught separately”. Many journalists have scrutinized Finland for using a form of embedded learning called “phenomena-based learning” (PPL). This method involves lessons co-taught by teachers from different subjects, where students choose an interdisciplinary topic or phenomenon – such as the European Union or climate change – to structure their learning. Research shows that APP demonstrated improved student achievement over its two-year period, and that integrated learning was linked to better performance: a study of sixth grade classrooms that integrated the arts in the core program noted an increase in reading scores by 15% and math scores by 18%.
Education is one of the most critical components of society. Therefore, our teachers deserve our trust and utmost respect. Yet they are granted neither, given a restrictive curriculum, unfair pay, and little freedom to teach in the interests of the students. “Google “teacher resignation letters” and you will find anguished accounts of the many ways teachers have been deprived of their freedom to teach, leaving them feeling helpless and unable to teach their students in the way they deem the best,” said Randi Weingarten. , the president of the American Federation of Teachers. If our teachers are dissatisfied with the current means of educating their students to the point where they no longer wish to teach, it is clear that schools need systemic change. It’s clear – see how society’s perception of school hasn’t improved for decades.
We like to learn when it shines a light on the interdisciplinary systems of our real world. And when we love to learn, we learn better. So use the integrated learning model and return control of education to the people who care most – us, the students and our teachers.