Subjective’ education

I’ve been thinking about our education system a lot (again) lately. Mainly, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that I dislike about it. After much introspection (read: “Ten minutes of trying to come up with something to write about”), I decided that it was, mainly, the fact that we have subjects.

While subjects are great for breaking everything down into bite-sized pieces and allowing you to pass your exams, they don’t really give you an appreciation for what you’re learning. For instance, if I were to learn in Physics about Young’s Double Slit Experiment, I’ll be able to remember it until the exams (if until then). Post that, I’ll have no need or inclination to remember it, and I’ll replace it with other information. In other words, I didn’t really gain anything from studying it in the first place.

My textbook gives us a short sentence explaining the experiment, using exceptionally dry prose and providing us with absolutely no clue as to who exactly Young was. Now, here’s a little paragraph I wrote ignoring the boundaries imposed by having to stick to physics:

“In the early 19th century, Thomas Young, a man of exceptional intelligence who knew thirteen languages by the time he was 14, performed an experiment which involved shining a beam of light at two slits and proved that many of the phenomena seen in light could be explained by considering light to be a wave. This helped to disprove a theory that had held sway for around 200 years, the theory that light was made up of tiny particles. It also lead, indirectly, to the development of quantum physics.”

I don’t know about you, but I think the second one is a little more interesting of a read. By tying Thomas Young’s history together with the actual physics of the experiment, the paragraph becomes more engaging, and I find I’m more likely to remember it. I read a book called “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, which talks about all the sciences and provides a little bit of background about the people behind each of the discoveries discussed. I read that book three years ago, but I still remember much of what I read then. However, I can barely remember what I studied from my textbook last night.

The other problem with having subjects is that it doesn’t strike us to apply the things we learn in one subject to all our other subjects. In physics, for example, we studied vector addition and subtraction. A few months later, we began the topic of vectors in maths and – guess what? We had to learn vector addition and subtraction all over again.

Finland, a country that has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, as well as a highly-developed education system, is also abandoning subjects in favour of topics. In one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken, Finland is abandoning subject-wise teaching in favour of topic-wise teaching, hoping that this will ensure that students are able to apply what they learn to different types of problems.

I’m not saying subjects are a bad idea – they make it easier to study, they make it so that we have less to remember – and both of those I am for, because I’m 16 years old and already think I have too much to remember under the current system. I just think it’d be more fun – and more useful – to study without subjects.

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