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Education outside the box

It is that time of the year when we celebrate the achievements of students and teachers as they reflect on the year’s success.

In the process we ponder whether we truly believe that education is the key to a bright future and if it’s relevant in meeting our young people’s needs in this day and age.

Are we conscience of the significance of what we teach? Are the demands of the economic and job market in our community met? Or do we need to align education to the needs of our youth? During the Small Island Development States (SIDS) conference last week a discussion on, “Addressing the challenges of youth unemployment in the pacific through genuine partnerships,” reported that youth unemployment in the Pacific stands at an alarming 23% (SPC 2011) with young people 4.5-6 times (ILO, 2017) are less likely to secure decent jobs relative to older people.

Director of the International Labor Organization (ILO), Office for Pacific Island Countries, Dong Li declared that ‘tertiary institutions in the Pacific are ten years behind and do not meet the labor market demands.’ He urged the importance and need for educational institutions to promote entrepreneurial training and employable skills, in assisting our youth today. 

Learning and teaching can become intrinsically spontaneous and student-centered when moved from the limitations of the classroom into real life. From the collaborative learning atmosphere that results from distinctive relationships developed outside the classroom, to the deep learning that occurs when students put into practice “in the real world” what they have theorized from behind a desk, are unmatched in their learning potential. 

Professor Steven Mintz, Executive Director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, suggests that, too often, we find ourselves trapped inside an educational paradigm and fail to see alternatives or to appreciate their advantages. ‘Education is nested inside a series of boxes. There is one box we call the course. Another is called the semester. Yet a third is the school year. Then, too, there is the degree.’ 

What happens when we think outside these boxes?

Field experiences early in a student’s career can inspire students to continue in a field. Learning experiences outside the classroom are inherently interdisciplinary.  In the real world, we encounter it as a whole and are forced to engage multiple prototypes, no matter which pair of disciplinary “lenses” we intend to wear.  

Therefore, scientists, artists and humanists alike do well to consider the ways in which other disciplines might enrich their own disciplinary approach to their field. There are many ways to make learning extend outside the classroom. One way to escape the confines of the classroom and to afford students opportunities to grow is to encourage students to learn from and to serve the surrounding community.  

In its simplest form, this may involve community related projects where students will have occasions to have discussions with community members or local experts on an issue related to course content.  

Even greater learning potentials and community benefits rest in more intensive forms of community engagement in the form of service learning projects. 

These projects, typically designed by both faculty and community partners, allow for students to learn in highly effective ways while helping a community address its needs.  In all of these experiences, student growth can be extensive, whether it is through improved critical thinking and problem solving skills, greater personal efficacy and leadership development, or enhanced social responsibility and career opportunities.

Mintz points out that one of postmodernism’s key insights is that many practices that seem natural or inevitable are anything but. Many of higher education’s boxes are constructs, reinforced by tradition and custom. Many may well have outlived their usefulness. Today with the growing rate of youth unemployment it is important to take advantage of such an approach and re-imagine education not as it is, but as it might be.

 

 

The objective of the Art Agency Beautification Project was for students to be accountable for one’s environment, in ensuring that we live in a safe, clean, creative and fun space. The benefits from the project targeted students in applying what they have learnt in the Visual Arts courses and to create an aesthetically pleasing space for all students and staff who share these facilities at NUS to enjoy.

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