Everyone deserves a meaningful education
Jente Rosseel, Co-Founder Elewa Global
25 November 2017
Throughout the whole of my secondary education, I spent most of my time dreaming or scheming with my fellow classmates. Looking back, I feel what was lacking for me was a connection with what was being taught. Why should I focus on something that I have no use for at all? At the time, I always believed there was more value in spending my energy on other things.
My teachers used to hate me for it, constantly rubbing my face in the fact that if I wouldn’t pass the year with this type of attitude. If you looked at my results on continuous tests only, what they were saying made a lot of sense. For some courses, I never scored over 30% on continuous tests. I was either too lazy to study for them, or I was not paying attention and got caught by surprise tests. For some strange reason though, when stakes were high enough on the termly exams, I always got my stuff together and pulled through. Miraculously, that’s how I ended up graduating from secondary school. Much to the frustration of those teachers who constantly reminded me I would never get anywhere in my life, I reckon.
Not everything in my secondary education was bad though. When we got the chance to actually do stuff and discover the real world, applying the boring theoretical knowledge to make something happen, I always brightened up and got interested. Unfortunately, at the same time during those practicals, I never had too much of a clue what was going on. Failing to focus during the theoretical sessions, I mostly relied on my teammates to tell me what the project was about and to tell me what to do.
Me in full terrible puberty having fun with experiments.
There were some very good classes in secondary I took, and I’m very grateful to those teachers who took a different approach to teaching. Instead of lecturing, they immersed us in activities and allowed us some freedom to explore. Those classes were always an island of joy and relief, in the relatively boring rest of the week. One class in particular had the most impact on me, introducing me to computer science in a fun and practical way. This set me up for my later studies and career.
For me the big change came when I went to college. At the end of secondary, having studied science-mathematics, all my friends went on to pursue their masters. That was sort of the regular thing to do. I took a different approach. I felt so tired with school I decided to pursue a professional bachelor. I took on Applied Computer Science. Being in a more practical type of studies, my attitude and views towards school completely changed. I soon started to dedicate a lot more time to school. Not to studying theory, but to having fun with the valuable skill of application development and coding. I was able to immediately applying my knowledge to something (even though actually virtual) real, and loved it.
That dedication resulted in a fast rise. After six years of always being at the bottom of the class, I was suddenly part of the top. The practical approach also nurtured my interest in wanting to understand the theory behind it. Upon graduation and my first year of work experience after that, that crave for getting to know more resulted in some radical decision. I quit the comfort of my job, and went on to pursue my masters in Engineering: Computer Science. Now three years later, I just graduated magna cum laude (with great honours). At the same time of going back to school, the practical knowledge I gained allowed me to start a business. My reasoning was always that going to work, you have a lot of money but no time. Going to school, you have a lot of free time but no money. Why not have both? During these last three years, I developed my business(es) to the point that we are active in three countries and have a team of over eight people.
“I would say my ultimate goal is to make education as meaningful to everyone as it was for me starting in my college years.”
Looking back, the big change for me came when I started learning from practical applications which moved into theory, rather than starting with theory which was later applied in practicalities. Because of this approach, I was exposed to the value of abstraction. I started seeing the point and value of courses such as mathematics, and more importantly the power they hold. One of the biggest critiques I have on the current way some materials are being taught, is that abstraction is often taught for the sake of it. While abstraction is actually this beautiful and magnificent tool to solve real-life problems.
Let that beauty of abstraction be the most precious thing I learned during my years at university. My schooling allows me to talk to people in a very abstract way. But during those conversations we actually understand what for example those “boring” statistical variations mean for real world applications. Abstraction provides you with super powers in terms of understanding of and innovating in today’s ever changing world.
“What’s in it for them” should be absolutely clear to students at all times.
Long story short, I’m grateful for the educational experience I had. Since it shaped me and, as I can confidently say, prepared me for the challenges I now face on a daily basis. I believe we should never steer away from teaching abstract reasoning in secondary education. From my experience however, I believe we should change how we teach.
When teaching abstract concepts, we should at all times couple back to the real world and explain students the use of what they are learning. “What’s in it for them” should be absolutely clear to students at all times (or realistically at least almost all times). We should start from projects and allow students to dream and explore. We should allow them to find their own space in this ever changing world. Every life holds great value and potential. Schools should explore, nurture and refine these talents. So that everyone may find their peace.
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