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Episode 054 – Is the education system out of date? Applying undue stress to our children, alternative education options, the ideal solution and more

Episode 054 – Is the education system out of date? Applying undue stress to our children, alternative education options, the ideal solution and more

The world as we know it changed the moment the internet was introduced. This opened the door to revolutionary technology the likes past generations hadn’t even imagined.

The old Jetsons cartoon predicted flying cars, but didn’t predict the smart phone. This change destroyed the idea of a ‘job for life’. Where if you went to school, got good grades, you’d be guaranteed a job for life. Once you were done with that job you could retire happily on a sufficient pension.

Oops – That ideal life plan sort of expired a couple of generations ago. But unfortunately the education system remains the same.

This is the premise of todays Seekardo Short where Dr Ro and Harminder discuss the following questions:

  • Is the education system out of date?
  • Does the current education system apply undue stress on to our children?
  • Is there such thing as an ideal school?
  • What are progressive schools?

And more

To learn more about alternative schools mentioned in the episode here:

Harms: Hello it’s Harms here and welcome to a Seekardo short. We are talking about the education system, specifically the question I want to ask Ro, is the education system out of date? 

Let’s get into it.

Dr Ro:  Thanks Harms and welcome everybody. I think this is a topic we need to pass straight into. I know it’s short. It’s a great question for you and I come through different eras. I came through the very specific sausage machine that was then a really conventional approach to education and it’s still being taught. We’re being taught to get a good education, were you told the same thing?

Harms: Yes.

Dr Ro: Once you get a good education and get a job, were you told the same thing? 20 years between us and my mum was told the same thing and she is 80. Were you told to get a good education, job and start climbing the corporate ladder?

Harms: Yes.

Dr Ro: Were you then told it would be a good idea to probably buy a house and start paying off your mortgage?

Harms: Yes.

Dr Ro: Then think about getting married and plan for the long-term in terms of your career and then pension?

Harms: Yes, I’ll then retire with a fantastic pension.

Dr Ro: So what’s that 40, 50 years and there’s no frigging change whatsoever. 

I think the way to tackle this question is what is the world we want our kids to grow up in? You’ve got a young boy, I’ve got a 12 and a six year old and it’s this constant conversation happening at the moment for us is what’s the world our children are growing up into? 

If the world is going to be different, what we know is what is the education that they need to have to serve them best in that world, and do we believe that they have to just go and take exams and get a job and go into a career? 

Which I know I don’t and I know pretty much you don’t. I think we have to address it that way. If we look at the conventional education system previously the funnel was very much about an Asian background as well we’re taught to get a good education. I look at it as even the uniform, the system thinks about uniforms, we want children to be different and yet we put them in a uniform.

Harms: They have the justifications for that but fundamentally.

Dr Ro: The problem with a justification is that one argument is that everyone feels the same, they don’t want them to stand out but we want children to be able to think differently so they can be able to stand out in their own way.

Express themselves from day one.

There’s a conflict there straight away, but for us it was you had to take a set of exams and a set of classes that were compartmentalised by nature. You come out of French and you go to maths but there was no real-world connection between the two.

Harms: And no real-world context on how you apply this but what does that mean? What does learning that language mean when you are entering the real world beyond school, the social circles, the friends you’ve got, what does it mean?

I think the education system was built around putting people into a factory job and once they achieve that on mass no one has really revisited it. They haven’t revamped it, haven’t changed and adapted it to the world we are in.

Dr Ro: If we’re talking about a factory we’re talking about separating people to the hierarchies, so management and there was a separation between the classes. Add to that, the whole backdrop you are either in arts or science. You had that separation and can’t the two go together? 


Harms: And that still lingers.

Dr Ro: Massively so with Covid government we were making announcements to people who are actors in the arts saying get a job doing something which is completely different. But why do you have to do that?

People were like but this is my craft. I was talking to somebody who works for British Airways cabin crew and during the Covid period said I just need to do something to survive having got their whole career to one point and ended up accepting a job in a restaurant in Tunbridge Wells near us literally waitering. He said he walked through and on the first day there was a British airline pilot waitering as well. You think how many years this guy has gone for an educational system to get to that point there.

Harms: Which society thinks is the pinnacle of jobs to become a pilot.

Dr Ro: The exclusivity and there are several shock factors. One is you’ve got a cabin crew and one has got a higher level of career but they’re both due to a set of circumstances are both working in the same restaurant as waiters, but somewhere in the system it didn’t teach them how to pivot how to adapt, maybe go entrepreneurial, they didn’t have anything else. They became so narrow as I did in my PhD they got so focused down so is it out of date? 

Hugely out of date in my personal opinion.

Harms: It’s expired.

Dr Ro: The big thing here is if you’re a parent and we’ve got two kids and our kids have gone through a nonconventional system of education parents are freaking obsessed with kids getting behind. 

We went to a school where she didn’t learn to read until she was six, seven and I had people saying even my family, are you worried about the fact that she might read late? Hold on a minute, but we’re putting kids to a point where they have to take a test at four or five now, they’re being forced and told to read at three, four years of age, but they don’t have an aspiration to necessarily read so by the time they get to Savannah’s age when she was six a lot of kids don’t want to read, whereas she was desperate to read.

With my youngest all she wants to do now she’s really hungry to read and she’s six. She’s got the point now where she’s learning the shape of letters so the system is trying to turn a sausage factory as you said into a job system for our kids and it’s creating stress.

This is what we’re not measuring, we’re not measuring our children’s stress levels, our lack of happiness, their lack of happiness. 

You went into a career and came out and said I’m happy doing this, but I did it because that’s what everyone else did. I was the same. I would say this is just an observation. I would say probably 70 to 80% of people in careers are not happy they’re in a place where they’re doing it because they have to earn a living because of what they studied. 

Given a choice, they’ll do something different. I would say millennials are the ones that are more vocal about it.

Harms: Lots of things come to mind right now let me touch upon the one where we’re talking about applying stress to children. Intent stress which comes from all angles from social media comes, their friends. It comes from parents. 

It comes from teachers all in different ways, and what’s fascinating about the child’s mind and the brain is there’s two sides to it, the emotional side and logical side. What I discovered with the reading, as I want to understand how my baby’s brain is developing as all children’s brains are developing the bridge between those where a child can have a casual, conversational or comfortable conversation between the emotional side and the logical side just doesn’t exist. It can take up to 20 years just above that to develop that bridge.

It can get broken by circumstances, different emotional events, parents that are not nurturing.

We’re applying stress to a mind and a brain that is trying to develop this particular bridge and how are they being able to handle that? 

We expect them to handle that but they physically can’t because their minds are not developed. So we have to nurture them.

Dr Ro: In the same way a plant if you give it the wrong nutrition in the ground it won’t flourish as well. You can see that in the way it looks it takes et cetera going to the supermarket and having something that is not organic you can taste the difference, children are the same.

Harms: It is rushed and I understand why they have to do it as they’ve got a whole world to feed but for children’s education do we need to rush it? 

Now I’m exploring fascinatingly when you go to check the curriculum or whatever it is it’s just a table, a box and they have to meet this by this date, this year, by this term. What happens if they don’t? What does that mean to that child?

Dr Ro: The danger is you’re killing children’s creativity, their authenticity. 

So any slight chance they might want to explore something they have to conform to a set of tests this has to be done this way, you’re damaging that massively. Sir Ken Robinson’s been talking about this for 15, 20 years or more, and his whole studies show that children the minute you put them into a system their creativity literally gets stunted. 

The danger at the moment is the world has moved on beyond the conventional: get a job, work for 40 years, no one gets a job and works 40 years anymore.

Harms: My greatest worry is for my particular generation, the millennial’s because the millennial’s came through the sausage factory this conventional education system which has not evolved and as we exited the school system the world changed. 

Technologically, financially, social media opportunities, in terms of a business started, the gates opened in terms of anyone can truly do anything. That was the cliché in the past, but there was a limit to that.

Dr Ro: You’re standing on a bridge between your parents and almost to my way of thinking, the old school I broke that versus oh my god look over so here. Millennials are falling one side of the watershed or the other.

Harms: Exactly, but what we don’t have or we’ve not been equipped with is the skills to handle having four, five different careers, being able to start four or five different businesses knowing a couple may fail, getting back on our feet and trying again.

Dr Ro:  The emotional strength and courage, the fortitude, resilience.

Harms: You are mentioning words there, I personally class these as emotional strength and also characteristics or characteristics or traits they’re not developed in school.

We are passionate about communication, not developed in school.

Dr Ro: I went to visit school just recently talking to various people and specifically the person that runs it there’s an awareness that when the kids are coming in from outside and this is a quite progressive school and my daughter goes to one, but when we met parents the feeling was that children were struggling to deal with something more progressive because they’ve been told what to do before. 

So when given a chance to explore how would you do this or what are alternative ways to do this? 

The kids would just sit there. It could take weeks for some of the kids to get to the point where you can try a different way, it is not wrong if I try it a different way.

Harms: That is scary.

Were they feeling like if I do this is it right?

Dr Ro: Yeah and it is governed by a teacher, it’s according to what the teacher said. This shift into progressive school and progressive education has given children the chance to not have to seek permission.

It’s funny I had conversations with very senior people last week and all of them said the same thing. It’s like we want the children to take control of that answer and explore it and know that there isn’t one specific answer. That’s the problem with the exam system. They have to sit down, study something, basically remember something then go into an exam, get asked the question and the questions are always very similar stylistic and they know that question means I have to answer it this way. 

That is bloody scary because look at Covid they’ve not been able to pivot. There are those that have pivoted and those that haven’t got a clue, hence the conversation about the restaurant and pilot.

Harms: I went to school and my peer group called me smart and intelligent, but they didn’t realise I was very good at passing exams because I understood what you said, which is taking an 80/20 principle or taking the way people think and the way the system works is there is only going to be so many questions they can ask you. 

So why don’t I practice those questions and I could not have even attended school Ro, I could have just understood how to pass the exam, tick the boxes and walked out and I did the same thing with University.

Dr Ro: That is a very methodical approach in narrowing down to fulfilling the approach to getting the right result.

Harms: A lot of humans are driven by incentives and I’m one of those people. If I’ve got to get an A or B or whatever I’ve got to get to pass this exam and tick the box I will do it because that’s the result.

Dr Ro: I had a friend with a photographic memory and he could remember, he remembered past exam questions from like 10 years ago. I did civil engineering and what was great about that degree towards the end was we were given a project that’s one thing I was very blessed about. 

We had a couple of really powerful teachers that had been brought in from the industry, whereas majority of the lecturers were academics we had two or three who had gone out in industry been there for years and come back in and wanted to teach so they broke the mould and gave us things to do in that last year of my degree where we had to practically think about how would you construct this and we got into groups and he used to struggle. 

Analytically he remembered facts but piecing it together and creatively shaping up an idea took him a long time because he just let on that crutch, which was his memory.

Harms: But take a memory and put it into the real world unless the memories associated with an experience challenge something emotional, how does it serve?

Dr Ro: Unless it’s a logical job data processing or stuff like that, which is where people in that mould work very well.

Harms: Interestingly enough those who are listening who maybe are not anti-creative, but feel like creativity is not the biggest goal maybe it’s the science, maths the way you explained the progressive way of thinking that applies to science and maths.

Dr Ro: I think you’re right, I don’t want people to think we’re suggesting it has to be creative and artistic. 

No, I think what we’re saying is that children along with the conventional types of learning do need to change. I still think the way they’re articulated and the structure of the exam system, the structure of the testing system, all the stuff and how people are taught does need to be evolved. I know it’s happening in certain areas but what I think we’re trying to get across here is bringing in other skills like communication, teaching children how to deal with the situation without it being only just one way. 

I remember the first time we went to our daughter school the woman stood up on a flipchart and said you’ve come up the outside world and you’re looking at us your kids will have been taught this, one plus one plus one equals and everyone went three and she said here, we write the word three equals and then? 

They have to come up with as many ways to achieve three which leaves it instead of one formula. It’s like my gosh, there are an infinite number of ways to get to number three and I love that. That’s what I’m trying to say here is traditionally you’ve got the private school education, which is where you can send your kids but that’s still quite conventional and then you’ve got the public school type of education, meaning I went to a comprehensive school, community school, that’s like the general public go there.

Harms: 40 people a class.

Dr Ro: Then you’ve got progressive schools which have been around quite a while to be fair, but more and more parents are seeking them out. We have been for over 12 years. But progressive schools can be everything from and if you’re thinking what do we do because we agree with you guys. 

What the hell do we do? 

Start looking at progressive schools. 

Simple as that. Start googling them. 

It’s amazing how many there are, but the challenge is many are formed by parents and you’ve got home schooling as well, the fourth area is homeschooling. Which is done in an ideal situation where you bring people in and mix them up is amazing. We’ve seen our daughter’s catapults last year because we were passionate about it, but a lot of progressive schools are frustrated home schoolers that want to get that blend of soft skills, emotional development, communication, the sciences, the arts, the integration that brings it into the real world. Make it practical plus going out hands-on so extreme cases of progressive would be as we’ve got round here forest schools. 

Really like hands-on, very earthy and then you’ve got right to the other side like Atilia 21, which is integrating technology with progressive thinking and run by an entrepreneur. I think that’s the challenge you’ve got with very small schools, some of which are very good but there is no gel they’re trying to straight fight against people in OFSTED.

Then you’ve got Atilia which is very good because it’s got the entrepreneurial element being run and it is being run in a very professional way, allowing the growth of the kids across everything else. You’ve got a Steiner education, which is what our children have gone through. That is a 90 year old philosophy, but is slowly adapting but it gives the children a chance to be hands-on, it nurtures creativity, it does it in a very flowing way and they do it in the way where the child their own nature comes through as well. They’re not put into a box. You’ve got to go and see what feels right for your kids.

Harms: There’s Montessori, Froebel. If you want to do a google search it would be progressive education, alternative schools.

Dr Ro: Home schooling which is really radical as well. Steiner is 100 years old and that came out of the factory period in Germany, where do you give kids an education when the parents are working really hard? 

He was so decades away from his thinking about getting the child to evolve through creative thinking like maths can be done in the forest not in the classroom. You’ve got all this range.

Harms: Including Elon musk, he has his own progressive kind of school and different way to get in. Your child has to solve these crazy problems.

Dr Ro: Then it becomes potentially slightly more elitist, so it gets challenging in that respect there is no right or wrong. I think that’s really important to get across. If you said to me what’s my observation at 55 having come through the system and got a 12 year old who we’ve gone nonconventional.

Harms: And a PhD because for those listening you’re thinking Ro hasn’t gone through the education system all the way through to a PhD. So for you to be saying this is fascinating and maybe shocking to some people because you’ve got a PhD, which means you could have gone on a career path and you would have lived that perfect model because of your PhD and your expertise.

Dr Ro: I did, but there was this nagging voice that kept pulling back going that’s not who you are, I want to be different, I want to be creative and entrepreneurial at a young age, and I wanted to follow my path which was to teach and inspire people. I was taught to do that outside.

Harms: You’re not going to make money.

Dr Ro: Exactly, but I think it was giving me more power to challenge the system in a way because of my PhD but it narrowed me down and I don’t want my kids to go through that personally. 

I guess my answer if someone says is there an idealistic system? 

I actually don’t think one fits all. What we’ve taken our kids through is amazing, are the gaps? Definitely, but the benefit for us as we can fill those gaps ourselves as parents as we’ve got the emotional development. I was looking at another school and some of them are amazing but I was like there is a gap there as well, and then it’s like, what does your child want and that’s where it comes back to. we’re having conversations with our six and 12 year olds. How do you feel about this? 

Six year old side is different as anything is exciting. Savannah has got this deep, wise, quiet wisdom. She’s reflective and we are choosing to go with that, as opposed to looking over here, and that is another difficult one for a parent because you’ve got to drop the whole fear of missing out. 

The fear of not taking exams and not being as quick in this area because if homeschooling is done parallel to a progressive school and we’ve gone down a progressive route but we’ve seen where the gaps are we’ve gone we’ll fill those gaps ourselves with our way of doing it. 

So actually you get a balance outside tutors you can bring in or take them to those places our kids are doing pottery classes, music classes, gymnastics they’re doing things they want to do passionately whilst still getting the learning within that progressive environment as I just do not think that one progressive environment can fulfil everything personally from what I’ve seen.

Harms: That’s probably because the child is so individual and so I think there’s a level of once you get some kind of scale, i.e. you put ten children in a room now the individualism or that personal care gets diluted. 

All the way down to a community school where they put 30 to 40 children in a school there’s no personal care or personal one to one.

Dr Ro: Their remit is to get the children to go into the sausage machine and then the other end they’ll be qualified as an ABCD and then all of a sudden the child carries that for the rest of their life, even though D doesn’t mean stupid it means they haven’t fit into that system. That’s also stunted which is great with the progressive schools now that are starting to introduce that in which I love because that’s never been part of education at all.

Harms: What world are you expecting your children to grow up in? What challenges, opportunities do you see in the future and how best can we equip our children to be ready to grab the opportunity and bounce back with adversity? Some people have handled it incredibly well and some haven’t, how do we raise our children to handle it incredibly well?

Dr Ro: I think leave with this thought. 

When was the last time you sat down with your child and just asked them genuinely if they are happy in their learning experience and if they are great and if not why are they not happy? 

Don’t look for the instant response when they’ve had a good day, because that’s what we noticed. It’s more about their overall demeanour. 

Are they excited about going in? or are they being dragged in? How are they coming home at the end of the day? 

Don’t be afraid to pivot, life changes. In our community so many parents have moved out of the conventional system and the kids are thriving and the parents are breathing out, but at the time in making the decision there was fear of what if. 

Even my family aren’t worried about exams? I’m thinking of exams to do what? 

To go and get into a system and be approved by somebody else, I don’t want my children growing up seeking approval from a system. They’re kids, they should be creative and explore the world and pivot. Just change that is what the world is about. Every season we see new seeds in the ground and the same tree grows again. 

As a parent, be careful not to be afraid that your fears are being portrayed onto your kids and you hold them back because you’re afraid to pivot and make the changes yourself.

Harms: There we have it, is that the school system is out of date we think it’s expired. So go start exploring that’s myself and Ro signing out. 

We shall see you in the next episode.

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