Education is such a broad topic that it can’t be covered in a single article, not even in a book. Nevertheless, today’s education discriminates against children in schools and universities.
Let’s make a parallel analysis of both the participants in education and the environment where learning happens so that we could see how things are going today.
The Participants In Education
Generally speaking, education should be a life-long journey. Whether it is or it isn’t, each person should answer to themselves. But let’s analyze the two grand categories of participants in education: children and adults.
By “children,” I mean individuals who are not yet psychologically mature and attend a formal education institution (e.g., school, college, university, etc.).
Children are in active development throughout the first two decades of their life. School-age children (6–12 years) are gradually becoming more independent. And besides learning school subjects, they start to learn and develop an understanding of essential concepts such as self-discipline, social skills, and more.
Then, in their teens (13–18 years), they continue to learn school stuff, life stuff (problem-solving of real-life situations, financial management, etc.) and tune their existing skills (social, self-discipline, etc.)
During childhood and their teens, children are forming their personalities. In this period, they are very susceptible to the world around them. They tend to form conclusions and learn from what happens with them and the people around them.
The notion of “adult” is vague, and each person understands it in their way. For this article, let’s consider adults to be those who have graduated from an educational institution and do not attend any other formal education system.
In general, adults (especially those who are 30+ years old) are individuals with an established personality who can take care of themselves.
So we have agreed on the “Child” and “Adult” concepts. Now let’s analyze the second aspect — the environment.
The Education Environment
There are many ways and places to teach someone something. However, we will address the conventional methods and locations used in most cases.
For children, we have schools/colleges/universities. Sadly, most schools represent the place where, besides learning good things about school subjects, children learn some awful lessons about life skills.
One of the most unnecessary skills is the fear of mistakes. It is being taught and continuously reinforced by teachers who penalize mistakes throughout years of attending school.
Have you made a mistake? You’re WRONG!
Didn’t get the correct result? PENALTY!
Don’t know how to solve the problem? You’re STUPID!
Can’t do the exercise? PENALTY!
Have you another opinion? It is WRONG!
In the end, you learn to avoid mistakes and even to fear them, because they bring you trouble.
The environment at the majority of formal education institutions is stressful. Research shows that long-term exposure of kids to stress leads to learning impairment, lowered IQ, conduct problems, and more.1 Additionally, the situation is being worsened by parents and relatives with their “Your whole life depends on it” attitude towards getting a degree.
Right now, formal education is all about getting higher grades than understanding the topic.
The image here is radically different from the children’s environment. For adults, we have training sessions, seminars, workshops, all with a friendly atmosphere, anecdotes, and coffee breaks.
During these seminars, nobody ever will say that you’re stupid or will penalize you.
Moreover, if you know everything, it’s great. And when you don’t know something or make a mistake in a simulation, you can often hear something along the lines of:
It’s a great example from which we all can learn something. Who can tell how we can prevent or overcome this situation when it happens in real life?
In these simulations, mistakes are good, as they serve as a foundation for further learning. The trainer takes the error and breaks it down, analyzes why it happened, what caused it, and then explains how it can be corrected.
Putting everything together
So what do we have?
On one side, we have vulnerable children who are in an active development phase of their lives (mentally and physically) and are like sponges learning from everything that happens to them. Every event they are involved in, every word spoken to them and every situation they find themselves in shapes their personality and who they are. These children are put in an environment that is full of stress and negativity. They grow, learning there is something wrong with themselves because they make mistakes.
On the other side, we have adults. Mature individuals with formed personalities (with exceptions, of course) to whom you’d better not say anything negative about them, otherwise you’ll regret it. These adults' learning environment often uses their own mistakes to explain the material better, and this approach is perfectly fine and acceptable for all.
And the most curious fact is that this transition, from child -> adult happens instantaneously. You have graduated, got employed, and *snap*, whenever you go to your first training, you’re treated with respect. Moreover, there is a valuable lesson people can learn from you in everything you do.
It is hugely unfair. Those that we ought to protect, we punish. And we do so in a very wrong way and a very inappropriate period of their lives.
A Real Case (One Of The Myriad Of Such Cases)
Some years ago, I was a mentor and technical curriculum responsible for a programming summer camp for girls (16 to 20 years old). They had to learn how to develop a web site in two weeks.
In software engineering, no matter how much experience you have, there will always be errors in your code. However, those girls were afraid of mistakes. Whenever one appeared, they got blocked, and it was hard for them to proceed. So we had to take a step back and first address the fact that mistakes are ok. They contain a lot of information about you can get rid of them. Besides this, whenever a trainer made a mistake themselves, we were reinforcing the message that errors do appear even at people who have experience. And then, the learning process went smoother.
Call To Action
Do not punish children for their mistakes. In most cases, they make these mistakes out of lack of experience. Talk to them, explain what they did, and why it is bad/not ok/wrong/etc. Teach your kids to analyze their mistakes and learn from them. Encourage their effort, do not penalize it.
We all make mistakes. Adults at their workplaces make mistakes, lots of them. Some of these mistakes have terrible consequences, but there are harmless mistakes as well. They’re just a component of our learning process.
It is not unnatural to make mistakes, but it is wrong not to learn from them.