Now is the time to change how we approach education

Helping children become avid lifelong learners
Johnny McClung, Unsplash
Johnny McClung, Unsplash

Writing about COVID-19, most people focus on the here and now. What are the latest statistics, how are medical services coping, what are people doing as they shelter in place at home, what did the leader of country x say and how did another leader respond? I, however, prefer to look to the future and think about what we can do now to ensure that we don’t forgo opportunities in the future.

The world is changing in ways we can hardly imagine. This is an opportunity to make positive changes. Now is the time to change how we think, trying new things that we have always been told were impossible because systems are so deeply entrenched. These excuses no longer hold. Practically every system has been thrown into a state of upheaval. People may soon be ready to reconsider certain ideas that have been dismissed in the past.

“Education is about honing the skills of critical thinking and analysis. It is about lifelong learning, and about helping children become self-driven learners.”

One of the systems that are undergoing rapid change is education. In the current crisis, it is becoming increasingly clear that the purpose of education is not simply to gather information that is already available. Education is about honing the skills of critical thinking and analysis. It is about lifelong learning, and about helping children become self-driven learners. One of the ways to achieve that goal is to foster a love of reading from the earliest years of a child’s life – indeed, even in the womb.

Research has shown that children fall in love with reading when they are exposed to an environment in which parents or other caregivers read aloud to them and engage in reading for fun. This allows them to associate reading with a feeling of security and happiness, which can stay with them throughout their lives.

When children fall in love with reading, they will seek opportunities for learning even when it is difficult; they will be intrinsically motivated to seek such opportunities because learning gives them a sense of satisfaction. This motivation to learn is the most important thing we, as educators, need to instill in our children, something they will need to cope with an uncertain world.

“Changes in education we thought were impossible – such as distance learning – can actually be implemented relatively quickly.”

The circumstances we find ourselves in today offer an opportunity to change how we teach our children. The past weeks and months have shown us that changes in education we thought were impossible – such as distance learning – can actually be implemented relatively quickly. It will still require hard work to make these new approaches function sustainably, but this is not as impossible as sceptics have suggested.

Because of the indiscriminate nature of the coronavirus, people all over the globe find themselves in similar circumstances, and because of technology, we are all connected. Thus we are at a juncture in human civilization in which change is possible. New solutions have long been available, but we have failed to implement them – not because of lack of money, but because of bureaucratic obstacles and deeply entrenched systems. Now we have a chance to change how we approach education, and to help our children grow into avid readers and intrinsically motivated, thriving learners.

Rana Dajani, the author of this blog post, is the founder of the community-based program “We Love Reading” (WLR). In the time of COVID-19, this program offers practical guidance for supporting children’s learning from home. We Love Reading now provides free online training.

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