My Teacher Told Me ...

Opinion | Jodi Keen | December 2011 / January 2012

The recent Education Reform Initiative (Bildungsinitiative)has raised sharp debate about overhauling Austria’s educational system. Although its goal is admirable – better, more equal education for all – its approach may be overzealous.

Is overhauling the entire system necessary? The initiative seems to ignore many of its details – its many options and variables, developed over the years. Certainly, examining them can shed light on its strengths, and also show why the system as a whole is failing. For instance, many teachers report feeling overworked. Current school days may be too short for students to really dig into their lessons. And when was the curriculum last updated?

However, the key to sucessful students is the teachers’ ability to engage them. When students are interested in the curriculum, their grades soar. When they are treated as intelligent, competent human beings, they respond. Placing too much weight on academic requirements – form over content – can undermine creativity, producing both graduates with no imagination and dropouts with great ideas that don’t fit the traditional mold.

Before calling for major surgery on the system, shouldn’t we first do a full-body scan on Austrian education? The system can’t be fixed in one sweeping reform, and concentrating on the mechanics  misses the point.

What matters is helping students learn to love learning and ultimately to think for themselves. When did we forget that?

–  JK

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