11. Real World Learning

Connecting Academia and the Real World
Schools should be designed to prepare students for the real world. And what better way to do that than to connect the real world to the classroom? In traditional education, students spend the majority of their time in an academic bubble starting from the time they were born till college graduation. Schools focus on knowledge and skill training based on textbooks that easily get outdated and every single student repeats the same tasks with nothing real to show for all the hard work other than a grade.
There is a bubble in academia, and the bubble is very extreme for much of K-12 education, to the extent that much of the real world doesn’t apply to the school world. Students are not taught about how to survive in society. Students are not taught the concepts of creating value for a community, society, or the environment. Students are not put into the crucible that tests their resilience when faced with rejection and failure when they try to pursue something.
If schools are a bubble, how are we preparing students for the real world? Let me rephrase that question. Aren’t schools supposed to prepare students for the real world?

The Importance of Real World Learning

Real world learning cannot be understated because even during school, students spend more than half of their waking time outside of school in the real world. Learning content that exists exclusively inside the academic bubble means that the knowledge learned cannot be transitioned over to the real world in a smooth manner.
How much of everything you learned in school do you still remember? Elementary, middle, high school, college, that was 16 years of schooling at 200+ days a year, 8 hours a day. That is at least 25,600 hours that we spent in school. Aside from languages and basic arithmetic, how much can we say we actually retained through all that schooling?
One of the reasons that it is so hard to retain the knowledge is because there is no reinforcement of the knowledge. Once the book knowledge has been studied and the test has been taken, we are done with the content and move on to the next thing. As a decent student, I was extremely good at storing the content studied into my short term memory for the sake of tests and immediately forgetting the majority of it after because there was nothing applicable about it.
And applicability is actually possible and very easy to do by centering the content around an actual real world experience. For example, learning about biology could be tied to farming. While students are growing a plant, the curriculum can be designed to prompt them to ask related questions. Why does the seed sprout? What is making the roots spread? Where is it getting its energy from? What is photosynthesis? Is there a way to grow plants without photosynthesis? The questions are infinite and getting the students to be able to ask these questions out of their own curiosity of the world around them is a critical part of learning and absolutely one of the keys to their future success.
Real world learning is very broad and encompasses almost the entirety of the curriculum. The Core Philosophy and Core Curriculums should be tailored to really focus on its application in the real world. All of the hard skills in the Auxiliary Curriculum should be structured in a way that is easy to relate to the real world rather than focus on just the knowledge itself.

Integrating Real World Learning and School Management

Speaking of real world experiences, the environment for learning about it is right there in the school. Running a school requires a lot of manpower and organization. Administration, technology, security, cleaning, food, grounds keeping, budget, etc., and these are just the basics. Depending on the school, there might be additional roles and departments to manage the school. What better way to do that than to create roles as part of school management that allow students to experience this? Would it be possible to integrate school management into the curriculum and allow students to participate and be responsible for parts of it?
My favorite example for this is Japan. Japanese schools require students to take part in janitorial work, including cleaning of the classrooms, hallway, and bathrooms. Lunch is often served by the students. This gives students an opportunity to take responsibility in something that is bigger than them and be able to directly see the results of their efforts.
Imagine a school that is managed by students and supervised by adults for the following:
  • technology
  • school security
  • kitchen
  • janitorial / cleaning
  • school government
There are probably a lot more administrative tasks that can also be given to students that will allow them to learn more about how the real world works and experience the responsibility of their actions having an impact on something other than their own test scores.

Bringing College into K-12

In traditional education, the little bit of the real world that connects to academia comes in the form of volunteer work and internships where students learn how to work and create value in the real world. But why do we not do this starting at a younger age?
Currently, K-12 education is focused on one thing. Getting you into the best next school. If you are a student in elementary school, you’re getting taught the content that will help you advance to the best middle school you can get into. When you are a student in middle school, you’re getting taught the content that will help you advance to the best high school. And if you are a student in high school, the worst one, you’re getting taught the content that will help you advance to the best college available. Repetitive, isn’t it?
Why do we do this? Why are K-12 schools designed to be this way? It is because we have a fascination towards college. Society believes that college is a requirement to success in the real world. And to a certain extent, this is true.
That is because college is the first time where you have a bit more option to choose what you want because a college’s incentive is not sending you to the best next school. Their job is to give you the best environment to explore and find out what you want to do. To be honest, I can only really speak for liberal arts schools. Traditional colleges or universities might have more limitations in place because students are often assigned to a specific faculty and have limited time to explore other areas of learning. But nevertheless, colleges and universities are there to prepare you for the real world.
So why do we not bring the college and university style of learning to K-12 schooling? Why not bring more flexibility and responsibility into a student’s learning? Why not connect academia to the real world at a younger age?
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that colleges and universities do not exist. What would we need to change with traditional K-12 education to give students a higher chance of success in the real world assuming that there is no college to go to afterwards?

No College Design

Currently, across the entire world, colleges have become ubiquitous and high schools are now designed for one purpose: college preparation.
A “No College Design” concept is one where colleges do not exist in their current capacity. That means that high schools would be designed to replace the skills and knowledge that colleges try to impart onto their students.
If colleges and other types of higher education did not exist, a massive change that will happen is high schools would not be about college preparation. It would be about life preparation, developed through early independence and working on real world problems.
From a skills and knowledge perspective, high schools would become more flexible with more options for available courses and types of learning. There would be more room for exploring and discovery, ranging from classes, internships, mentorships, etc. There will be a stronger curriculum offered on important every day skills, particularly in the way of analysis, with a sprinkle of grander ways of philosophical thinking. Data analysis, statistical analysis, risk analysis, etc., are all much more useful today for the general person than trigonometry and calculus. Technological literacy will also become a component of the curriculum with the goal of helping students better understand all the tools that are available around them.
There would be a significant amount of independence. There should be opportunities to live away from home, either through exchange programs or some form of camp where students can explore environments and communities that are vastly different from their own. There should be opportunities to learn how to take care of themselves, without the aid of parents who are doting after them. School should simulate the real world, which includes shopping for groceries, cooking, laundry, cleaning, and the skills need to live in society. And more importantly, there should be a myriad of opportunities where students get to make their own decisions and experience the consequences of the decisions they make, just like how it would be in the real world.
To further connect students with the real world, internships and research projects that pertain to the real world will be made available. Internship and research projects give students the opportunity to utilize their skills and knowledge towards something that can have a real effect on the real world. Internships in companies within the community and research projects into different aspects of the community will strengthen and reinforce students’ understanding of how everything works and how everything is connected.
The last, and possibly most important part, is the concept of money. To really submerse students in the real world, money must be introduced because money is the glue that holds much of society together, for better or worse. How to make money, how to spend money, how to invest money, how to donate money, how to gamble money, and just anything pertaining to money and its uses should be thoroughly explored. And real money should be used for this learning. Students should have access to monthly funds that each student gets and they are allowed to spend it in whichever way they want. Students should have the opportunity to donate to a club, invest in a business opportunity, buy the materials necessary for an art project, gamble on a risky proposition, or just save it for the future. Having a strong command over the use of money and general finance will make the transition from academia to the real world much smoother.

Conclusion

Very simply, much of why education is not effective is because it is not reinforced in the real world. We should connect academia with the real world to increase the amount of reinforcement of knowledge and also use that consideration to teach the knowledge that is most relevant for students to learn.