Saturday, May 16, 2009

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

There’s a US TV reality show called “Are you smarter than a 5th grader ?” In this game, adult contestants make a fool of themselves trying to answer questions from 1st to 5th grade in schools. They mostly fail and prove publicly that they are not smarter than a 5th grader.

I am concluding my current posts on education, with a non business post on something that’s intrigued me.

Two questions come to mind. First an obvious one and the second, perhaps a not so obvious one. Firstly the obvious one - Why does an adult willingly subject himself to shame by being proved on TV to be less smarter than a 5th grader ?

But the question that is more intriguing for me is – Why are 5th graders being taught stuff that honest adult Americans don’t know and  have no use for in real life .

I am amazed at the sort of stuff taught in schools. I think the educational system has completely missed the revolution in our lives that the internet has caused and is still sticking with an outdated concept of education.

In the good old days, information could never be easily found. It had to therefore be learnt and memorized. Hence learning of factual information was the most important objective of education. A student who knew his facts was much better off than one who didn’t. Therefore cram as much of information as possible into a student’s head.

Today, factual information is easily accessible. You don’t need to know it; you only need to know how to find it. One word is all you need to know. Google. Therefore the objective of education must shift to teaching morals, values, how to access information, how to use information and how to make judgments and decisions and how to communicate. For example learning languages is much more important now than it was years ago. In today’s world it’s a huge advantage if you are fluent in the three most important languages in the world – English, Spanish and Mandarin.

Sure a fair degree of factual information is required to be learnt (and crammed), but a lot less than what is currently done.

My daughter is a third grader. Here are some of the stuff she is learning

  • The difference between a farthingale and a bumroll worn in the early Tudor period (3rd grade history)
  • Explain scientifically why a chapatti puffs up (1st grade science)
  • Where is Bubastis (3rd grade geography).
  • What is a punctuation pyramid (3rd grade English)
  • Explain the difference between trapezium and rhombus (kingergarten maths believe it or not)

If you scored 0 out of 5, welcome to the club !