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  • Simon Sakala

The Four Reasons Why We Go To School

I acquired all my formal education, that is, primary and tertiary education, in Zambia. I have a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Zambia. In 1997, I quit my job at Zulu Burrow Consulting Engineers and moved to Japan to join my wife who had come to pursue her further studies. I had two things when I disembarked at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, my suitcase and a dream. My dream was to go to graduate school and pursue further studies in structural engineering and return home to make a contribution. I also hoped to make a contribution to the local community in my host nation. I was excited and wanted to get started as soon as possible. My excitement did not last very long, however. I soon realized I had three major seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. The three obstacles were language, cultural differences and lack of money. For about four months after my arrival, I applied to different universities for admission. I was turned down either because I could not learn in Japanese or the entrance requirements were too high for the universities that had programs conducted in English. During that same period, I also applied for jobs at foreign companies operating in Japan where I could work in English. I did not get any positive response no matter how hard I tried. I got stuck, bored and frustrated. My wife was away at school most time of the day, so I spent time doing housework and learning French on the Japanese radio to kill boredom. I ended up learning more Japanese than French though. I spent the rest of my time taking walks or riding my bike aimlessly in the neighborhood. As I did not speak Japanese, I had very little to do and couldn’t go far from home for fear of getting lost. After the fourth month of my being in Japan, a friend of a friend told me about jobs teaching English at the Y.M.C.A. To be honest, I did not want to teach English. I had a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Zambia and experience working as an engineer both in Zambia and the United Kingdom. Teaching English, especially to children, was below my dignity. I neither wanted to teach English nor was I good at teaching. The truth of the matter though was that I was unemployed, bored and frustrated. Therefore, I thought it would not hurt to teach English, especially that I would make some money. The job to teach English was available, therefore I decided to try the job. In the meantime, I continued my search for what I really wanted to do. After teaching for a few weeks however, I discovered that my skills teaching children were terrible. I concluded I was just wasting the students’ time. Therefore, I decided I was going to quit. I approached the manager and told her my intention to quit. She was so kind as to encourage me to continue trying. She gave me an assistant to help me. Thankfully, I continued. After teaching for a while, something happened that made me go through a mindset change and a paradigm shift. One day, I attended a Christian conference where the speaker talked on the subject he titled “A miracle in your house”. He used the story of Moses in the Bible. Moses had a mission to deliver the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. When God sent him to Egypt, Moses gave a myriad of excuses. Then God asked him what he had in his hands and Moses said he had a rod. God empowered the rod in Moses’s hands to help him deliver the children of Israel. The rod in Moses’s hands became the rod of God. After telling and explaining the story, the speaker turned to us and said, “There are people here who are looking for something to do and yet you already have something in your hands. Something that you can do today”. As I listened I said to myself, “that’s me!” My search was over. I realized that one reason I did not like teaching was that I was an incompetent teacher. The solution to this problem was education. I therefore decided I was going to transform myself into a good teacher through personal education. The circumstances I had found myself in made me end up doing work that is different from that I was trained for at college and in a language I never learnt at school, and in a country and culture different from the ones in which I went to school. Everything suddenly changed except for one thing, my education. In retrospect, the education I had acquired had prepared me for the changes, only that I had not realized it until much later. Had I realized that I had the necessary education but only that I had to think about how I could apply it under the then prevailing circumstances, I was not going to go through the stress and frustration I did as I was searching for something “right” to do. I was stuck because I did not know the four right reasons why we go to school. Thankfully, now I know them and I am going to discuss them in this article. I think it is now even more important than ever for younger generations to understand the right reasons why they go to school. This presupposes that the teachers teaching them do. This is so because, in the near future, young people are bound to find themselves in circumstances very different from what they think they are ready for. It will not necessarily be as a result of them moving to a different country like I did, but rather as a result of change coming to their country and community. The rate at which business models and whole businesses, for instance, are changing is alarming. This means that at one time in the future, may be soon, knowledge that is being acquired will substantially change in its application, if it does not become obsolete altogether. This possibility makes it necessary for the young to undergo an education that will endure. An education that endures is that which provides the right mindset and skills that remain relevant despite rapid change. It is an education that will produce graduates that will create jobs rather than look for jobs, because most jobs will be taken up by technology or will simply disappear. British author, speaker and international advisor on education, Sir Ken Robinson, said and I quote, “We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it's an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” I entered the education profession as an outsider. That is, I was not schooled in the school of education, but rather in the school of engineering. My background made me start questioning a lot of conventional methods, practices and wisdom in the school of education. In engineering design, things are looked at first from the first principles and empirical analysis. I brought this approach in education. For instance, when I started teaching English, I noticed that it was, and still is, common practice to make children memorize English words, expressions and grammar rules. The problem I had with this approach was that it was not helping children to speak English. In my search to find a solution, I resorted to the first principles and empirical evidence. I asked the simple question, “How did I learn my mother tongue?” and “How do children acquire language?” The answers to these questions helped me develop an effective approach to teaching not only English but other subjects to children. Raising the bar, I asked myself the question, “Why do we go to school, anyway?” I also tried to ask the question to a number of children starting with my own. Here are some of the answers I got, “We go to school to learn so that we get a job” “We go to school because everybody goes to school” “We go to school because our parents sent us to school” “We go to school because we need to learn about life” “We go to school to learn skills” Dear reader, what is your answer to the question? After considering all that education has been able to achieve, I came up with a list of the four correct reasons why we go to school. Below are the summaries of each reason. 1. We go to school to learn about how to stay alive and healthy. In biology and chemistry, we learn about our bodies, how they function and what substances are good and what are harmful if ingested or inhaled. We learn about plants and how useful they are as a source of food, medicines, oxygen and shelter and how they help the environment. In environmental sciences, we learn about how to conserve our environment. We learn about chemical substances that can be used to cure diseases. 2. We go to school to learn economics, that is, how to generate, preserve and manage resources. In first grade we learn arithmetic so that we can know how to deal with quantities of resources. As we progress, we learn other advanced subjects that help us understand how resources flow and are consumed and the consequences thereof. 3. We go to school to learn about leadership or people skills. We learn history, geography, civics and so on to learn about people, where they live, how they live and the activities they do. We learn about who a good or bad leader is and the results of their respective leadership styles. We also learn that nothing happens except people cause it to happen. 4. We go to school to learn about how to make our lives more convenient and more effective, that is, how to innovate. We learn physics and other subjects to help us understand physical processes and energy and how that can be used to our benefit. In my view, an education that emphasizes the right purposes for learning has the potential to stimulate the curious minds of young learners to become solution oriented. A purpose driven education can create responsible business and political leaders. I would like to suggest that if the four right reasons why we go to school were incessantly emphasized and were printed on posters and the posters were hung in every classroom, staffroom and office, they are bound to create innovative mindsets in learners and workers. The revolution of the work place and in political leadership should start by pre-framing the mind of the first grader, not only by teaching them the right reasons for going to school, but also by structuring all teaching methods in such a way that the children can immediately relate what they are learning to a practical purpose for learning.





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