Children Are Our Future, but…

children 2

… what exactly are we doing about making our future bright?

My happy childhood memory of growing up in a somewhat careless world ends at the age of six. In September 1986, I joined the preschool class and replaced my usually dirty clothes with a perfectly ironed uniform. Gone were the days of running barefoot and playing with my friends. Having to get up early in the morning and meeting with my friends were somehow overshadowed by the rigorous management style of some of the teachers. Although I remember having heaps of fun playing with the other kids, I also recollect noticing that we were quite different from each other when it came down to learning new things.

A year later I joined my local primary school for an eight-year adventure. Grades one, two and three, were rather joyful for most of the time. We spent them with one teacher on learning the pretty basic things, such as reading, writing, performing and playing sports. Our progression was regularly tested ensuring our continuous development. At the end of that period, we took an overall test and depending on its result, we were divided into newly formed groups for the following five years (grades four to eight). I remember being really angry at losing some of my good friends to the ‘F’ group, which basically consisted of those ones who scored the lowest. One of my friends was truly gifted at arts (music, dancing, painting), but because she was consistently scoring low on her math tests, she was labeled as the ‘no future’ pupil, and ended up in the ‘F’ group. She later confessed she was feeling stigmatised by other pupils and some of the teachers, who according to her, had never treated her class seriously and often referred to them as ‘retarded’.

The years that followed were not great for my development either. I was one of those kids blessed with a curious brain who had always something to say or ask about, and when unclear – challenged what was presented to me. A teacher’s true nightmare, especially when you add my unbounded enthusiasm and boundless energy to the mix. So there I was, one of the few square pegs not wanting to fit into the perfectly shaped round holes.

Over the eight years of the primary education, I learnt that it did not matter what I thought – not that the teachers were encouraged to ignite the thinking in us anyway – but what mattered was how well I could train my brain to retain names, facts, algorithms and plenty of more information. As much as I think that learning about the general knowledge is important for the development of a young brain, there must be a room for pairing it all with some creative activities too. Otherwise it becomes nothing more than a cram-memorize-repeat-and-forget exercise.

Few months before my 15th birthday, it was time to say goodbye and leave for a high school, which in essence, was a four-year period preparing me for the university. I wish I could say that things get significantly better from then on, but they didn’t. What followed were even more rigorous requirements, examinations, unplanned tests and assessments. One could argue that we needed all these things to see how well we were doing on the learning front. I partially agree. My biggest problem with the educational system remained unchanged – why no one really required us to do some serious thinking? My frustration was rarely aimed at the teachers, as I believed their hands were tight and I nurture some fond memories of them (although I remember few situations whereby some of my colleagues were thrown out of the classrooms for asking questions they were unable to answer).

Luckily, my teenage years were not all a gloom and doom affair. I was lucky enough to be selected to one of the oldest high schools in my hometown and joined the other nine boys and 10 girls in the class. The group was put together once in every four years and headed up by a couple of unique professors Jozef and Joanna Marciniszyn. They were doing everything in their powers to activate our often frustrated and still very much developing brains. We travelled the world together learning the robes of life, often held over countless debates and discussions.

Then came the university, which was a different kettle of fish. I was finally able to contribute in a significantly more meaningful way.

By now you are probably thinking ‘where is he going with this’. Well, looking back at the first 13 years of my education, I don’t think that anyone could predict how far I will go in my life. I have always dreamed big and wanted to make the best out of my life. I sort of knew that compromise on the fundamentals of my life was out of the question. Surprisingly (or maybe not…) many of my good friends, who were able to perfectly remember every single detail at school, score the highest grades, and subsequently graduate with honors at the end of every year, are not doing so exceptionally well with their lives. They are doing OK, have secure jobs and live pretty ordinary lives, which is fine for as long as they are happy. However, the never ending urge to please and be praised at school have never translated onto anything significant in later life. But what’s really interesting is the fact that most of the underrated and classified as ‘not too clever – not to stupid’ folks are doing more than fine. A lot of them hold high posts internationally, run their own businesses and remain challenging whenever they feel the challenge is needed. They are creative and innovative. They are the active shapers of the world.

I’m always interested in the global development of educational curriculum, and enjoy learning about it from working parents whenever I can. I’m afraid to say that not that much has changes since the 90s, which is truly saddening. Our teachers are still forced to work with a very tight syllabus, with very little (if any) room for creativity. We regularly lose some authentically passionate ones to a rigid and inflexible educational system. That’s a great shame. Even the recent news about turning every school in Great Britain into an Academy, doesn’t bring any clear ideas for educational improvement (apart for creativing even more work for the already stretched Department for Education).

One could argue that talking about the educational system is significantly less important in comparison to the issues faced by today’s managers. I disagree. This is the very first time ever when we have to accommodate for the needs of three generations of workers actively participating in the labour market at the same time: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. Although they all seek employers offering challenging work, decent working conditions and fair rewards, there is something interesting the Millennials are bringing with them to the table. I had a privilege to receive and read some of the most inspiring and eloquently written messages from the young people wanting to enter the workplace. I remember how excited I was about meeting them for interviews. I also remember how crushing some of the meetings turned out to be. Gone were they eloquence and confident manner. Some of them could not even put a decent sentence together. I did my digging and found out that a lot of the work nowadays is done on the computers, sometimes with a minimum of face-to-face interactions. The virtual relations becoming more worrying and I hear that it is not uncommon to have two classmates chatting on their mobiles, even when sitting next to each other. It is something that worries me a lot. I enjoy technological advances and find them all useful in my day to day life. However, creating the most complicated code will never replace the old fashioned human to human interaction.

The world has given us many talents including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, John Lennon and JK Rowling, to name a few. But how many more could we have with more creatively structured and enabling education system. We are constantly fighting for talent in the workplace, but wouldn’t we all benefit from a much bigger pool? Kids of today are leaders of tomorrow. Isn’t this just a succession planning but run on a much bigger scale?

It took me many years to learn the value of my individiual take on the world. I accept this is an ongoing journey, but I’m doing well. Has educational system worked hard at getting the best out of me in preparation for my adult life? I’m here, so in a way the answer is yes. But they could have done so much more. Luckily, I had a rare opportunity to work with people who thrive on pushing the thinking forward and challenging the status quo. They taught me to keep going and staying true to myself. As I kid I was often told that the ‘curiosity killed the cat’, but when I grow up I learnt that ‘curiosity is the mother of discovery.’

I wanted to share this interesting video I watched recently, which turned out to be a catalyst for this article. Goldie Hawn, a founder of the Hawn Foundation and the MindUp Training Programme talks about her school years experiences, learning about optimism and projects exploring the brain functionalities. I hope you enjoy it.