April 20, 2012

Education: let’s not keep everything the same just because “it has always been done that way”

Philosophy

Education: let’s not keep everything the same just because "it has always been done that way” - Alessandro Benetton blog

I recently read an article on education in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica. The article was inspired by a request made by an association of French parents, according to whom homework should no longer be assigned. This was followed by a position taken by the Italian Education Minister, Francesco Profumo, who said he was willing to reduce the homework workload for our children.

This issue is complicated. In addition to pedagogical arguments as to which teaching methods are the best, social and economic considerations also play a part. Some people think that home study amplifies the differences between those who can afford private lessons and those who have to manage on their own. Essentially, the parental role is called into question. Parents are torn between being out at work and the desire to help their children study. Moreover, is translating from Greek or Latin still necessary today? If it is, are we sure that the temptation to find a translation on the Internet will not prevail over the sense of duty?

In other words, homework promises to be a much broader and complex issue than it might appear at first sight, so much so as to involve numerous teachers, educators and scholars. And on the back of this, a question that concerns us all: why do we need school today? Is it because we need to pass on knowledge? Is it because we need to keep traditions and cultural knowledge alive? Is it because we have to teach the young to make it in this world, to relate to others, to be mature and responsible citizens? Or is the purpose of formal education to give the younger generations the tools they need to orient themselves in an increasingly difficult and competitive labour market?

It is easy to respond that schools should provide all of this. It is important to have a formula that is in line with the times and society in which we live. As I already wrote in another post, I suspect (and fear) that right now there is no new formula that is better than the old one. We continue to use the old one out of laziness, passiveness, because “it was already there” and because “it has always been done that way”. In many countries, Italy included, numerous things have been kept the same for decades because “they has always been done that way”. I would like to see this approach replaced in all areas, and education would be a good place to start, since this is where the future generations are built.

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