“Why do I have to learn This?”

Providing Meaningful Education


The past…

The school system, as we know and have it today, was originally established to fulfill the needs of the industrial revolution. People were trained and equipped to take up middle class job positions in various commercially-oriented settings. Specialization of skills and knowledge was important and people were trained to be functionally good in one or more areas of work as required and dictated by the job market. This explains why the system is characterized as being highly rigid. This also explains why the system did not emphasize the enhancement of creative potential of individuals.

In other words, schools themselves were like ‘factories’ that ‘produced’ workers who possess a set of knowledge and skills required for a specific job. Because of this, the tremendous opportunities one could have had to explore and discover the marvelous ways in which his/her brain naturally learns (acquire), connects, analyzes, extends, refines, and applies knowledge is completely compromised. While the school system did fulfill its purpose, it did so at the cost of wrecking the potentiality of millions of people who didn’t think beyond having a job that pays them to maintain their middle class lifestyle. 

The schools of the industrial age didn’t bother to tell and/or show students why they were to learn what they were to learn. This frustrated many, including teachers. Students were frustrated because they couldn’t make sense of the act of trying to learn something that had no obvious connection with what they already knew, practical living, and what would benefit them in the future. Teachers on the other hand, faced and dealt with many disciplinary problems (of students) that stemmed from a sheer lack of motivation and interest in seemingly meaningless lessons.

Different Kind of Education…

Meaningful education, on the other hand, does more than merely preparing people for work. It helps people to assimilate knowledge into their personal schema by making the learning experiences and materials relevant and useful. It enhances creativity naturally by encouraging students to connect with lessons at personal and interpersonal level.

Research on Connectedness…

A three-year longitudinal research called The Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (QSRLS) was conducted by researchers from the School of Education, The University of Queensland, Australia, from 1998 to 2000. The research required extensive observation and study of classroom practices. The researchers made detailed observations and statistical analyses of 975 classroom lessons offered in 24 schools over three years. The study investigated possible relationships between school-based management practices and enhanced student outcomes, both academic and social.

Among many other significant findings from this study, one is worthy of our immediate attention and response. It was found that connectedness was the least experienced pedagogical phenomenon in these 24 schools, across subjects, teachers, teaching styles, and learning preferences. Connectedness obtained the least score when compared to its counterpart-pedagogical-dimensions (elements of productive pedagogy), namely; intellectual quality, supportive classroom environment, and recognition of difference. 

The Implication…

There is a great and immediate need to pay more attention to connecting student work (learning materials) to their biographies (personal mental structures and schema) and the world outside the classroom (present and future life-demands), using innovative, productive, constructive, and creative teaching approaches.

How can it be done…?

The following teaching practices could be utilized to ensure that students engage with real, practical or hypothetical problems which connect to the world beyond the classroom, which are not restricted by subject boundaries and which are linked to their prior knowledge:

1. Knowledge Integration: Does the lesson integrate a range of subject areas?

Integrated school knowledge is identifiable when either: a) explicit attempts are made to connect two or more sets of subject area knowledge, or b) when no subject area boundaries are readily seen.

Topics or problems which either require knowledge from multiple areas, or which have no clear subject areas basis in the first place are indicators of curricula which integrate school subject knowledge.

Non-integrated school knowledge is typically segregated or divided in such a way that specific sets of knowledge and skills are (relatively) unique and discrete to each specified school subject area. Segregated knowledge is identified by clear boundaries between subject areas. Connections between knowledge in different segregated subject areas are less and less clear the stronger the dividing knowledge boundary. In the extreme, such boundaries prevent any interrelation of different subject areas.

2. Background Knowledge: Are links with students’ background knowledge made explicit?

High-connection lessons provide students with opportunities to make connections between their linguistic, cultural, world knowledge and experience and the topics, skills and competencies at hand. Background knowledge may include community knowledge, local knowledge, personal experience, media and popular culture sources.

Low-connection lessons introduce new content, skills and competencies without any direct or explicit opportunities to explore what prior knowledge students have of the topic, and without any attempts to provide relevant or key background knowledge that might enhance students’ comprehension and understanding of the ‘new’ material being offered.

3. Connectedness to the World: Is the lesson, activity, or task connected to competencies or concerns beyond the classroom?

Connectedness describes the extent to which the lesson has value and meaning beyond the instructional context, making a connection to the larger social context within which students live.

Two areas in which student work can exhibit some degree of connectedness are: a real-world public problem; i.e., students confront an actual contemporary issue or problem, such as applying statistical analysis in preparing a report to the City Council on the homeless; Students’ personal experiences; i.e., the lesson focuses directly or builds upon students’ actual experiences or situations. A high level of connectedness can be achieved when the lesson entails one or both of these.

In a low-connectedness lesson with little or no value beyond the classroom, activities are deemed important for success only in school (now or later), but for no other aspects of life. Student work has no impact on others and serves only to certify their level of competence or compliance with the norms and routines of formal schooling.

4. Problem-based Curriculum: Is there a focus on identifying and solving intellectual and/or real-world problems?

A problem-based curriculum is identified by lessons in which students are presented with a specific practical, real, or hypothetical problem (or set of problems) to solve.

Problems are defined as having no specified correct solution, requiring knowledge construction on the part of the students, and requiring sustained attention beyond a single lesson.

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