Back to School: Drink Up

For many high schoolers, school marks the end of summer. School is an industrialist mill, and vacation is the wild field under an open sky. (There is a good reason some scientists argue that summer break should be shorter). But few step back and contemplate the fundamentals of schooling -- and how we learn.

I like to see education as water. Perhaps not as romantic as the Shape of Water, but it does its essential job of shaping our minds. And who wouldn’t want to cultivate their intellectual might like walking on water?

Raise a glass.

  1. Water is scarce.

Not all pools are created equal.

Coming from a public urban high school, I know the gap between the potential of students and the opportunities provided. Beyond the traditional socioeconomic look associating income and standardized testing scores, I often think about the school system itself. Even in 2018, sociologists found that the most affluent Americans are driving the achievement gap between children of different social classes, spending ever higher amounts of money on their children's education and enrichment, from after-school lessons to summer camps [1]. And while colleges continue their diversity efforts, attending elite private high schools still yields a statistically significant edge in admission to a more selective college [2].

Last year, the national policy debate resolution was “the U.S. Federal Government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation on primary and secondary education”. I learned that school lunches are the reason some students in food deserts go to school at all. I learned that desegregation is still a task in progress, and residential segregation is complicating the problem even more. We read Maria Montessori’s writings that attacked the physical immobility of students in a classroom, and I find it still relevant today. We see much potential for reform.

So what can we do? In the face of educational inequality, organizations and individual efforts may all contribute. Stand for Children is a strong advocate for underserved children, and so is The Network for Public Education. As students, we can look up to the continuing legacies of the greatest educational reformers of our time, and empower our peers to self-educate.

II. Water is fluid.

Behold the future.

Got curiosity but little “expertise”? YouTube is a great place to nerd out, and Khan Academy gets you ahead with schoolwork, but certified Massive Open Online Course websites elevate you to another level via professional or college courses.

This summer, I hunted for online courses and came across two categories:

  1. Private platforms: SkillShare: a learning community that focuses on self-produced courses in design and craft. Pluralsight: freemium, for hard-core tech professionals. Udemy: does not provide formal certification, but offers high-quality professional courses spanning coding, developing, and business at a general price around $10. Also great for pursuing a hobby -- I had fun with the singer-songwriter course. And Trendimi, a relatively new and less heady version, from which I gained much practical knowledge on event planning. Perk: discounts abound thanks to its partnership with Groupon.

  2. Public platforms: Coursera: the most renowned platform, partners with world-famous institutions; EdX: partners with institutions, I took the MIT LaunchX Entrepreneurship course this summer and found it doable and not overwhelming at all. Udacity: pricing might be inaccessible, but it demonstrates the possibilities of professional development through high-end technology.

According to the former CEO of Coursera, the real audience for these courses is not the traditional university student but the “lifelong career learner”: someone who might be well beyond their college years, but takes online courses with the goal of achieving professional and career growth [3]. Specifically, many pay to receive a certified proof of completion that is deemed attractive to employers. What prevents students yet to reach their college years to explore as well?

Whether you are for learning online or not, this trend is transforming the academia and hard-to-reach areas. While only 31% of the developing world has access to the Internet, 1 in 3 of the 11 million Coursera users are from the developing world [4]. Organizations are seeking the possibility of promoting “humanitarian learning” to refugee camps [5]. Future leaders familiar with technology can devise a way to connect with their counterparts around the world.

Online learning is not only helping humanity, but charting a path for the new college as well. Between 2012 and 2016, the total number of students studying strictly on a physical campus dropped by more than 1 million, or 6.4 percent [6]. We can imagine a future where virtual instructions replace unilateral communication and individualize the essentials of knowledge, freeing up the classroom for meaningful discussion and experimentation.

On the verge of the 2018-19 school year, I call students, parents, and educators to raise a glass to education’s future!

-----About Me-----

I am an international student from Beijing currently studying at Downtown Magnets High School. From the moment I stepped into the U.S. in 2015, I could feel the air buzzing with a commerce of ideas as prolific as I’d ever seen. My experience in two underserved high schools fostered intellectual independence. From hours of persistent Googling after school to beginning to mentor my peers, I followed my mantra: “Trust curiosity”.

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