Drucker on Schools

Peter Drucker, renowned writer on management and the knowledge society, has these thoughts on school and learning:

“Delivering literacy — even on the high level appropriate to a knowledge society — will be an easier task than giving students the capacity and the knowledge to keep on learning, and the desire to do it. No school system has yet tackled that job. There is an old Latin tag: Non schola sed vita discimus (We don’t learn for school but for life). But neither teacher nor student has ever taken it seriously. Indeed, except for professional schools — medicine, law, engineering, business — no school to the best of my knowledge has even tried to find out what its students have learned. We compile voluminous records of examination results. But l know of no school that tests the graduates ten years later on what they still know of the subjects — whether mathematics, a foreign Language, or history — in which they got such wonderful marks. We do know, however, how people learn how to learn. In fact, we have known it for two thousand years. The first and wisest writer on raising small children, the great Greek biographer and historian Plutarch, spelled it out in a charming little book, Paidea (Raising Children), in the first century of the Christian era. All it requires is to make learners achieve. All it requires is to focus on the strengths and talents of learners so that they excel in whatever it is they do well. Any teacher of young artists — musicians, actors, painters — knows this. So does any teacher of young athletes. But schools do not do it. They focus instead on a learner’s weaknesses. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, even on corrected ones; one can build performance only on strengths. And these the schools traditionally ignore, in fact, consider more or less irrelevant. Strengths do not create problems — and schools are problem-focused.”

The above selection is from Peter F. Drucker’s “The New Realities”, as quoted in Newscan Daily, which is available by free subscription.

I have felt for a long time that our institutions have failed to foster the love of learning, and do not motivate students to learn for themselves — in many cases it’s the opposite. I believe that the main cause of this is the continuing focus on subject-based curriculum. We do not live our lives in subject areas, and no workplace is subject-based, but almost all of our curricula are stuffed into category silos. Schools have to take a multi-disciplinary approach, and endeavour to develop process-related skills such as critical thinking, learning how to learn, problem-solving and researching. The subject area is only grist for the cognitive mill, so find out what motivates young learners and let them study any subject, but help them to learn for themselves.

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