Learning can only happen when it’s voluntary

Learning can only happen when it's voluntary

In an article on Medium, Seth Godin makes a clear distinction between learning and mandatory education. Mandatory education includes not just compulsory education during our childhood years, but also mandatory corporate training programmes. But as adults, we can choose to sign up for classes ourselves.

I think the idea is that learning can only happen when it’s voluntary. You can’t learn anything if you don’t choose to learn. You could be sitting in a class and yet not learn anything. Just think about all the lectures you’ve attended that you didn’t sign up for.

I learnt quickly that, as a secondary school tutor previously, my main job was not to teach Math better to my students than their school teachers school. It was to figure out which buttons to push so that I can get them to want to get better at the subject themselves.

Sometimes it might mean helping them to see further beyond the O Levels or any other national exams. To see how the O Levels might impact their dreams. Sadly, without this certificate, it would be tough for anyone to even find a half-decent entry-level (minimum wage in other countries) job.

Other times it might mean trying to find out what their interests are, then using analogies to explain Math in a way that relates to their interests.

It’s not about abilities

If you are a parent worried about your child’s academic performance, remember that it’s usually not about their abilities. At least most of the time.

Usually, it’s because they’ve had education done to them. We’ve forced years of compulsory education down their throats without proper respect for their interests or natural inclinations.

Think about the salespeople you’ve met. Would you rather buy from the one who’s patient enough to listen to you, who’s brave enough to walk away from you when you firmly say no? Or would you rather buy from the one who’s trying to hard-sell a product without caring whether or not the product will improve your life?

So who’s to blame when a child is not interested in academics?

Yet we as a society seem to blame the student most of the time. We say that they are ‘slow’. Or we say that they are just ‘unmotivated’.

But of course, they won’t be motivated. Who hasn’t wondered whether they will actually use any of the things they learn in school during their adult years?

Fear versus motivation

It seems that we use fear as the main tool to compel students to study. ‘Study hard or you won’t have a successful life ahead’. Or worse, ‘study hard or you will be (insert whatever occupation you use)’. And we wonder why discrimination still exists?

But anyway, if learning can only happen when it’s voluntary, then we only have one option. That is to seek to use motivation instead of fear to drive students. To inspire them to learn. To take the time to teach them how to align their goals with their dreams.

Otherwise, we risk losing another generation to apathy and indifference.


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