"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

What is your child being educated to become?

If you’re a parent worried about the future of your child, you should really read Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin. And the first thing that should begin to worry you is how your child is being schooled.

Is this your child’s daily education routine? Show up every day. Be punctual. Fit in. Have good handwriting. Don’t challenge authority. Cram for tests. Do the minimum needed to get through. Don’t fail. Don’t say embarrassing stuff. Be popular. If you pass, move on to the next stage.

That was certainly what my education was like. Yours too. And, unfortunately, it probably still is what your child is undergoing, no matter how expensive the school you’ve chosen.

That style of education was developed for a very specific purpose, a long time ago: to create factory workers. A factory, in Godin’s definition, is not just the industrial plant you’re thinking about; it’s “any organization that has figured it out, a place where people go to do what they’re told and earn a paycheck.” By this reckoning, today’s insurance firms, government departments, banks and law offices are also factories. A factory is a place where there’s a fixed plan and method, and all you have to do is fit in and do as instructed.

These “factories” have been the great engine of growth for a century or more, and the modern education system was developed to generate the workers, from labourers to chief executives, to populate them.

Some schools are trying to hard to be different, and should be applauded. But most are fixated on standardized tests, discipline, periods, bells, and imparting shallow and dull knowledge in many subjects. On top of that, Godin points out that in order to keep the production line going and churning out graduates in large numbers, schools are based on fear: fear of failure, fear of not getting a job straight away, fear of not fitting in. In his words, schools are “fear-based, test-based battlefields.”

In such a system, only the most original thinkers, the true iconoclasts, the serious mavericks will ever stand out. Only the hard-core rebels will recoil and chart a different path. The vast majority will fall into line, practice the drill, gather the papers, and walk out into the world of work.

But there’s a problem. Today, the well-drilled notetaker is not what the world needs. This is a wholly different era, in which vastly decentralized technology and unprecedented peer-to-peer connectivity is killing off many “factories”, one by one. The number of positions that will require mindless drones have been shrinking every year.

What the world needs now are people who can take on challenges, demonstrate initiative, develop original insight, deal with uncertainty, and solve problems. If you do not bring up your child to do these more difficult things, you are probably setting her up to be chained to the desks of the factory-owners and subject to their whims, awaiting restructuring and retrenchment.

We desperately need education systems that emphasize problem-solving and leadership, that encourage creative thought, and that stimulate passion. There are not many institutions that even believe this is true, let alone try to be this way. So we’re mostly stumped. Less well-off kids are being trundled through schools that lack even the most basic equipment, let alone enlightened thought. The children of the rich may have all the modern gizmos, but they are also being indoctrinated in systems well past their sell-by dates, by teachers who have never known any different.

So what are you going to do, mum and dad? This is a problem you can’t outsource. Find schools with as progressive a teaching policy as you can, but also roll up your own sleeves. No one but you is really going to make your children fit for the 21st century.

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  • Ahmad

    I wish to add to “… by teachers who have never known any different.” to make it “… by teachers who have never known any different or better.”

    Great article!

  • Ahmad

    Sorry! Forgot to point to this article ~> http://diverseeducation.com/article/61001/

  • Phillip Karugaba

    Thank you for another great article. Could you illustrate your point by show casing some schools? What should we be looking for?

    • Philip:

      What to look for:

      A focus away from exam results;

      A willingness to develop the whole child: personality, creativity, artistry;

      Great teachers, who see a person, not a statistic;

      An ethos that centers on problem-solving and leadership, not rote learning.

  • Kimenyi Waruhiu

    Mr Bindra

    When my first child was born and started exhibiting signs of boredom at home, my wife and I went in search of schools; we visited the best, the mediocre, and some that were ridiculous (displaying 3-year-old’s test results on a board in a bid to foster competition between the kids!). My father, a one time educationalist, observed us with amusement and eventually called us to impart some advice.

    “Find a good nursery where your child will learn how to learn, then look for a good school where the spirit of learning is fostered; don’t fret to much about results, just ensure that your children learn how to learn throughout their school life. Save your money and effort for the choice of university – because it is at that stage that your child will have to choose what they’ll do for the rest of their life.”

    Best advice ever. Even if I am biased.


    • Kimenyi:

      It is true that great schools are in extremely short supply, and most often we all have to make do with what’s available. However, early-childhood learning habits are hard to break later. If kids become used to rote-learning, accepting answers provided by others without question, etc, that’s very hard to change later in life. So parents have to stay vigilant.

      • Kimenyi Waruhiu

        Agreed. And sometimes even the most vigilant get it wrong – so as you say, we as parents must roll up our sleeves and remain involved.

        Parental interest in their children’s lives has no substitute. Kudos for addressing this too often overlooked aspect of our lives.

  • Isaac

    Valid points Sunny. Early Childhood Education (ECD) is a popular program but its implementation is a pain. I like the way you point out that should be when a child should learn how to learn, that stimulates interest. Ultimately the onus stops with the parents.
    We have taken our child to a skills development centre – (not a nursery school), where play, song and ‘doing stuff’ is order of the day.
    A thing to note if your child has an interest – when she wakes up in the morning – does she run out with interest or you have to force her to school? At that age, their behavior is honest and parents should take cue – not just force their wishes of ‘go to school’.

    • Isaac, excellent point about parents noting how their children feel about going to school. Many moons ago I was in a nursery that was very much about mindless discipline and rote learning and I hated it. I expressed this by running away, twice, and I was promptly moved to a kindergarten where I was much happier (no uniforms for one thing!).

  • Mody Y

    Takes a lot of courage to buck the trend. We’ve chosen to pull our kids out of the education system and to homeschool them using a private tutor. We’re also pretty involved in the process. Needless to say, some of our friends think we’re insane to do this! Happy with the results so far though.

  • Wamoronji

    Hi Philip
    Here’s an example of an educational institution that might answer your query:

  • Warue Kariuki

    And for the 19th Century or what I call Charles Dicken’s era education, children have to risk their lives to be in school at 6 am if not earlier, go through boring lessons dominated by rote learning and memorisation, use books which sometimes have wrong facts, be beaten senseless if they get the facts wrong or bad behaviour (real or imagined) and leave school after 6 pm. For many children children this is the routine for 5 days a week, with a shorter day on Saturday. For some, even Sunday is a working day at school. All for a very sought after something called MEAN SCORE. For a great majority of children, this happens in dilapidated and dangerous structures called school.
    When I last heard, 4 and half hours per were adequate for primary school children and maybe 5 full hours of learning. Maybe our children in this part of the world are daft. I doubt that very much. We have refused to work hard, including thinking, to improve our education system or we have adopted the ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ systems where theirs can get sub-standard education based on 19 century mode!

    What worries me is what appears like a blackmail situation, professionals know what is good for all children but won’t be listened or won’t offer their technical input, teachers continue to do what they know is not good for children, administrators and politicians celebrate the ‘good results’/mean scores and we are all happy, but we know something is very wrong. The loser is the child but also the future of this nation.

  • Michael Gikonyo

    The story was a good read especially for young parents like me. My first born finished form four last year and it has added an idea as we contemplate what college or University he is going to join. Please help me get more info by letting ma know where to buy the book you recommended in the article i.e Linchpin by Seth Godin

  • Phillip Karugaba

    Sunny waiting for that list of schools

    • Philip:

      I don’t have a list of schools…I provided above the list of things to look out for.

      The point is, there are few institutions that have abandoned fossilized traditions. Particularly in this part of the world. All we can do is pursue least-bad options. That’s for you to gauge. For instance, the International Baccalaureate system encourages the spirit of enquiry and problem-solving over rote learning. The Waldorf system tries to develop the whole child, not just the scholar. Even within traditional curricula, a progressive-minded head teacher can achieve more rounded results.

      Hope that helps…

  • Wanjiku

    This is a good read. As a parent who is now school”shopping” this article is so timely. Its is sad that the options are few, but you put it very well, “parents have to roll up their sleeves”…and thata what i intend to do.

  • Economist Gilbert Tochi

    Am an Economics teacher myself and I sympathise with what we call ‘Education’ in Kenya. As someone who faithfully taught two schools before i got sick and tired of routine and now a salesperson for a local bank , I hereby earnestly approve of your advise. I love this job because it exposes me to the real business world and brings out my creativity.

  • Stephen musyoki

    Sunny,the situation is so grave,I work with graduate teachers who can’t express themselves leave alone explaining a new concept to learners.my boss focus on results not on the process.sometimes I wonder weather I should quit and focus on a more fulfilling career.

  • Nimu

    Great article. The Waldorf system is amazing. They focus on the child. They do not start reading or writing till they are 6. They concentrate on the socialising skills, creative skills and look and treat the children as individuals. My daughter is at Waldorf and I may sound biased but she is ahead of her peers in a number of areas. I have nothing but praise for the teachers at Waldorf.

  • Evidently, here in the UK, we are determined to continue teaching children how to pass tests rather than teaching them how to learn – from 2016, a test for 4 year old children is being introduced.
    (Of course this is part of a larger plan by the current government to privatise education altogether but that’s a whole other story.)

  • This is a real concern. What is the way out ? I would be glad to know as well. Regards, Peter Oluoch, http://dvcaf.uonbi.ac.ke

  • Rita

    While creativity, enquiry etc are important in “todays” world we cannot ALL be creatives, thinkers or problem solvers. What the world needs is an assortment of “GOOD” persons to both “ideate” AND execute. “Good” here refers to mundane stuff like Respect, Discipline, Punctuality, strength of Character, Focus, knowledge of FACTS.
    The natural world operates on many dynamic structure and systems whose feedback mechanisms “adapt” the system (and it’s different constituent elements) to changing CONTEXTS. The foundation of education should therefore be the same … to advance “GOOD” and produce persons adaptable to changing contexts!

    • Rita:

      I hope you didn’t read the piece thinking I was extolling creativity alone. It actually says:

      “What the world needs now are people who can take on challenges, demonstrate initiative, develop original insight, deal with uncertainty, and solve problems.”

      Doing those things requires people who can think, but also people who can DO. And yes, ‘mundane’ stuff like discipline and punctuality do not go away.

      My issue is with schooling that is all about drilling discipline and obedience, and little else.