Is it Time for a Radical Shift in Education?

Diya Khanna
Freelance Journalist with a focus on diversity, integration & migration

There were 35 or so of us crammed into a classroom in downtown Toronto. It was June and the air was thick and stagnant. When the professor called my name, I collected my papers and walked to the front of the class, booted up my computer and launched my presentation. I was a candidate for a Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and had been working tirelessly for the past three weeks on a project on Non Formal Education. My entire presentation was based on re-conceptualizing the idea of traditional education. I cleared my throat and started with my opening question, “what is education?”. The room was silent. I repeated myself with a very obvious trickle of nervousness in my voice. Still, nothing. How could they not know the answer? We had studied this topic for a year now and they were having trouble with one of the most basic questions of our time.

Three years later and I realize they weren’t the only ones.

Education is an issue hot on everyone’s list, from politicians, to visionaries, to tech founders, to parents, youth and employers. It is tied to international development, foreign policy and global movements.

Yet what does it really mean? Is it about creating future citizens? Is it about developing skills in critical thinking? Is it about preparing ourselves to compete in a global world? Or is it a little bit about everything.

Recent events have served as tipping points. The ushering in of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. The results of Brexit and the separation of the UK from the rest of the European Union. The recent French election between two Presidential candidates with completely different outlooks and agendas.

All three brought into question both the power and threat of democracy. Glad that we have our voice and vote yet continuously apprehensive about leaving important decisions in the hands of our fellow women and men. Right or wrong, we need to look at what is driving our decisions. Our values, insights and perspectives of the world, are all, in some way or another, propelled by our approach to education.

Now is the time to introduce a radical shift in education.

First, we could benefit from an approach which is ongoing, defined by a switch to a lifelong learning. Second, we could take an approach which is informal, defined by extending our understanding of education to that which is going on outside the formal classroom. Third, we could afford an approach which is inclusive, defined by a reconceptualization of society which does not subscribe to economic and market terms and toward one that is truly free, fair and accessible. A closer and more critical look at who is in charge and how we can tip the scales toward a more equitable society is our goal at hand. Achieving this is harder said than done but it should not stop us from going in that direction.

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