Saturday, June 4, 2016

A mind is a terrible thing to waste with botched learning

"Two students told us that they had taken computer courses before but could not actually operate a computer. But now that they have taken the CTO they can do things with the computer ... Education in our country is dead. I don't see any life in it. All our effort in school is just to prepare kids to pass exams."

It both saddens and excites me to hear that report from Christie in Nigeria. Saddens, of course, because it's awful to think how many students waste their young, potent years sitting through drills to regurgitate words that they'll soon forget. Thus they'll grow up just doing whatever they see everyone else doing, thinking whatever is popular on the Internet this week. On the other hand, it excites me to be able to develop and offer something much better. The CTO she refers to, the Computer Training Outreach, teaches students not information about the computer, but how to evaluate what can be done with it and how to apply its logic, and how to research and find answers when they want to learn something new on their own. Furthermore, we teach them to approach use of the computer, and their whole lives, from the perspective of God's redemptive work.

There are so many ways I wish I could improve education for everybody. One big way is learning by doing--our students see the difference in our courses because they learn to use the computer by practice--first guided, "Do this and explain what you see as a result"; then prompted, "Now how do you think you would change this attribute? Test it and see if you're right"; and finally self-driven, "Do your own experimenting and reading to figure out how to do something new." That is the way people learn best, but so often education is done by telling students about the subject rather than giving them real practice. Tests are of penciled-in answers rather than of handiwork. People complain of this problem often in the US, and it's far worse in Africa. I can only imagine how the world would change if people would heed Louis Benezet's "The Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment," George MacDonald's "Gutta-Percha Willie," and Dorothy Sayers' "The Lost Tools of Learning."

Principles of good education should be common sense, and yet why do we find them so difficult to follow?

Part of it I've been reminded of in my own life lately. My husband and I have been quite busy as, in addition to our full-time jobs and serving our churches, we also take care of two dogs, have planted a large garden, and have 30 young chickens. And our house still needs a lot of work. I've had to fight many times in the past few months a discouraged or grumbling spirit that there's just too much work, and too many things go wrong. The chickens are so messy and keep messing up their water dispenser. The garden takes over an hour to water, and when it rains so we don't have to water, the weeds go crazy. The dog keeps running off to other peoples' property 2 miles away, and I have to go get him. And yet, I proudly tout this principle that we learn best from hands-on practical work. It seems I need to learn from all this our own principle that learning takes time and effort, while we like shortcuts.

Oh God, You are the greatest Teacher. And what You desire us to learn more than skills and facts and logic is humility, perseverance, and love. Thank You for these things You have given to teach me. Turn my focus to learn well of You, that I may in turn teach others according to Your statutes.

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