Firstly, Owen, I want to commend you for writing and posting this piece. Not only did you present your points in an eloquent, thorough and logical way, but it takes a very brave person to admit this is what is really going on in the minds of students — especially as you are in the midst of it. I think any university (and employer, for that matter) would be lucky to have the opportunity to have someone with your intelligence and capability study at their institution / work at their company. I am sure with your analytical mind, determination and courage, you will have a very successful career whatever you choose to do.
I think that you are spot-on with much of your analyses and I agree that this is part of a much larger problem — namely, that the education system (and our value system in some cases) is completely flawed. The school system was created in the industrial age as has very little relevance in today’s world. It’s ludicrous that we are still rewarding students for memorizing facts and formulas so they can then ace exams which help get them in to top universities (often through various forms of cheating), and we are rewarding teachers and schools for churning out top exam scores. As we all know (especially in the Bay Area of all places), the world is quickly changing and even as soon as 2020, these memorization and regurgitation skills will serve very little purpose. Advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform the way we live and work and the types of careers on offer. The skills that will be crucial for embarking on a successful career in this new age are things like critical thinking, emotional intelligence, creativity and people management (see ‘The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution’). Why aren’t these the skills that are being taught and tested in schools, and being looked at and evaluated by top universities?
I completely agree with your idea that teachers should have more autonomy in how they run their classrooms and should not have to adhere to standardized tests and teaching methods. Imagine what a world we would live in if teachers were trained and incentivized to bring out the best in each student and encourage them to develop their own specific talents? We would create a society of people who love and therefore excel at what they do instead of feeling like failures if they don’t learn in the standardized way. In the past few years, I have worked with numerous high school students and seen how disengaged, uninterested and unmotivated they are, even though they may be extremely intelligent, just because they don’t learn in the same way and/or fit the standard mold of what is considered a successful student that will then go on to a top university. In other words, because they may not be great at regurgitating facts on standardized tests, they are deemed ‘failures’ within the traditional education routes.
In any case, it seems that top universities — the holy grail — may not have the same status they once did (unless they are prepared to make huge shifts in the way they operate) as there are more and more (free) online learning options and as the Centennials realize that the education they need to succeed in this ‘new’ world will likely be more useful and relevant through individual training programs that focus on specific skills/careers, such as coding, virtual reality therapies, 3-D Printer Designer, etc..
Now we just need the school system to catch up to the real world. If only that were simple…