Exploring Effective and Healthy Education Systems

picture: UNDP education rating index

Some Background on Educational Systems

We all know, even though it may feel like it at times, high school does not last forever. High school hasn’t even been around forever. Education, as an institution, is a fairly recent creation. The passing of information from teacher to student is as old as time, but these practices hadn’t been solidified into a formal process until approximately 200 years ago (In some countries as late as 50 years ago). This formal process and journey that we call education, is different all over the globe. In different countries, different social and political movements have shaped the way that people are educated and the way that teachers educate. Education has theThere is no right way to educate a child, and every child learns best in their own way. Often, I forget how different children’s experiences at school are.  Some countries judge their youth’s potential based on rigorous standardized testing, others take a more wide view at the person. Some countries have set divisions and regulations regarding the curriculum taught, some don’t. The most common forms of education can be encompassed with these terms: preschool, primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational, and special. Primary and Secondary together would mean grades 1-12 in the untied states, with the line between the two different in different states. Tertiary education generally refers to university study, or the first level of study generally not required by developed countries. Vocational study refers to study specifically tied to one field of study or career path and can refer to graduate level programs or skilled labor apprenticeships. Special education usually refers to the education of children  who experience strong disability with learning at a general pace. Other descriptions of “genres” of education include: traditional, indigenous, informal, self-directed, and, more recently, electronic.

Timeline of Some Dates:

2055 BCE- 1650 BCE: Middle Kingdom of Egypt- perhaps the first organized programs to teach scribes the hieroglyphics necessary to record events, plan projects, and popularize stories

571-479 BCE: Confucius, of China, popularizes his philosophy on education. Prompting profound change in neighboring societies.

330 BCE: Plato establishes the Academy in Athens. The very first institution of higher learning in Europe. His philosophy takes the culture of Athens by storm and the effects of this institution are still felt in the Western World today.  Education grows  in the connected Mediterranean and the Library of Alexandria is soon after created.

476 CE: The Catholic Church becomes the main purveyor of academic learning in Europe. Scholarly activities and worship become linked and monks discover truths that inspire fields of study.

500-600 CE: Islamic mathematics and science spread from the Iberian peninsula and continue to flourish. These ideas are the first to deal heavily with experimental science with a scientific method and an empirical approach to reasoning.

Aprox 1300 CE: The Renaissance begins in sections of Europe. As these ideas spread, the society of the time becomes infatuated with humanism, architecture, fine arts, exploration, mathematics, and educational reform. Education at this time was based off of Greco-Roman ideals and was focused on ancient literature to help students better understand the human experience and develop a moral compass. The prevailing ideal of the time was both physical and intellectual excellence, which was believed to be necessary for a better afterlife.


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Share your local education system and thoughts about how it could be better!!!

Some questions to consider:
At what age do people start formal schooling in your area?
How long do you spend in school before university?
How is that time split up?(e.g. elementary/lower, middle, high/upper)
What does university education look like in your locale?
Do most people go elsewhere or stay locally?
What criteria do universities use to judge applicants on?
Is public schooling free for residents of your country? To what level?
At what age do people generally begin to focus their studies to a particular field of study?
What is the culture surrounding grades and education like in your country?

Current World Case Studies

Finland and Korea are two examples of very different successful systems of education. Korea has an extremely high literacy rate, honing in 100%. But it comes at a cost. The culture surrounding school in Korea is suffer now, live later. This puts an extreme pressure on students that sometimes they can’t handle. Suicide rates among students are some of the highest in the world in Korea. However, the large class sizes and academic rigor lead to strong peer-relationships and a highly knowledgeable workforce. Teachers lead the classes as a community, where students can learn advanced interpersonal skills. The Finnish model takes a nearly opposite approach, focusing on extracurriculars and intrinsic motivation. Finnish schools are not a child’s version of a nine to five, they are centers of the community. Schools provide social services as well as educational services. Because of this community mindset, individual towns often contribute heavily to curriculum and extracurricular engagement. Over a third of classes a high schooler may take in Finland are electives. One similarity the countries do share is their respect for teachers and selective programs to become one.


Why Should We Care?

Our education shapes our childhood and our childhood shapes who we are.

As a private school student, it is imperative that we learn how others are educated so that we can connect with others more effectively- whether it be through work or to be better connected socially. The private schools I’ve seen often struggle with having sometimes a too sheltered bubble around their campus, creating an environment sometimes too shielded from the rest of the world. If we understand more effectively the lives of others, we can then begin to co-operate on a much higher level.

Studies have shown that many students don’t treat school as something enjoyable. They don’t see the privilege in it. The truth of the matter is that not everyone has the opportunity to be educated. Education is a gift that can greatly improve your quality of life. And it seems a travesty to ruin that. Very few schools successfully connect with students in a way that fosters longterm success. When kids are forced into classes and a path in life they never chose, it can have long term psychologically damaging effects. Kids who don’t fit the mold today are cast aside as hopeless and might begin to believe less of themselves, when in fact they may just be different. Many students are constantly getting unhealthy amounts of sleep, accepting crushing amounts of stress, and turn to unhealthy escape mechanisms to cope.

It is great  to have adults that are well versed in the issues of the past, but education of today needs to keep up with the environment of today. Programs like GOA have the potential be profoundly engaging and informative in an ever shifting landscape of education.

picture: spending per student (public) by school district in the U.S. 




I grew up in New York City. I attended a private school there, and often passes schools very different from my own in the taxi to school every morning. There were kids I saw almost every morning on their very own commutes. It really made me think about the huge difference in our lives, even though our schools were blocks apart. The NYC school system is packed with kids and has 5 of the 6 most violent schools in the state. I would run into kids from different schools in the park that simply grew disinterested with school at such a young age. I would strike up casual conversation on the basketball court and all I would find was that school was simply a requirement for them, they didn't fail because they weren't intelligent. They failed because they failed to enjoy and believe in themselves. This really got me thinking about how the information we are exposed to can shape our lives. As I got deeper and deeper into my scholarly career, I became more and more stressed. It really became somewhat hard to enjoy what I used to love. I think that if we create a culture surrounding education, online or in local schools, that helps kids believe that they can study and how to enjoy study, we will have a better world tomorrow. By putting kids in these stressful situations as well, without teaching them how to deal with it, the easy option becomes to quit. I often feel like sometimes I don't understand why stress is necessary to learn, but I know that it does prepare us for the world outside.


In this song, I tried to keep it simple. I used soft lyrics and a simple melody and baseline to have it hopefully double as study music. Music can help me relax before a big test, or get though that assignment at 1 am. Check it out:


How can we create change?

I think that my message here is two-fold. The message I talk about in my song is a call to re-writing of the rules of education as we know it today. The second point I would like to use this forum to make, and the ideas are closely related, is that a great educations should be available to everyone.

I think that nobody's status of race, economics, or family situation should inhibit their education. I believe that merit and a strong will to learn should be provided with the resources necessary to succeed. If you're reading this, you're a lucky one. You get to go to a private school which offers GOA courses. But what if you hadn't been so lucky. What if you were impoverished and lacked the access to education. Luckily, UNESCO and the United Nations Development Program have both started initiatives to make education a birthright for everyone within the next 30 years.

It's up to us to shape that curriculum to what we would like to see and to use our own voices.  These people and others have all shaped the experiences that we all have. Education has grown into more than just the providing of information, but has become more about how to think. In this day and age, anyone can find any facts they wish online, but using them to create something new is what is truly unique. We need to emphasize critical thinking and nurturing a holistic sense of self.

We, as a society, need to not force an agenda on our youth, but to encourage their exploration of topics they find to be interesting. Many people feel like their education becomes worthless in laters stages of life, and this has been a hot debate for centuries. One of the great things about this debate is that it will likely never go away, but somewhere between all the bickering, education begins to change to become more focused on what students want to learn. We can make this cycle more effective by creating the change ourselves, rather than listening to outdated beliefs that won't fit the ever changing landscape of today. I believe that as the world and human experience changes, our education must as well. GOA is a great example of this. The internet is something that has risen to prominence so recently, yet it is already being implemented in something to change the world for the better. And who knows, maybe in a couple years VR could be harnessed in a similar way. Maybe that's what my next catalyst conference will be about.

Only one thing is certain, it is up to us, the students, to create the education of the future, for ourselves and our posterity. We can do this by sharing our work, in conferences like these, for all to see. This would give kids who may lack education now, to get access to different perspectives and new information. An hopefully, they can use that to create an educational system for themselves that fits their own goals and beliefs. I guess the synthesized call to action I would like to get across, is that members of our generation are more in control of their educational fates than we realize. If your school doesn't offer a course you want, approach the administration. My school is in the process of adding a process by which students can petition for classes they want to take, and I have a meeting with the Head of School next week. I will report back on that here.  Let's make happy education available to everyone and not force everyone into a one-size-fits-all mass download of information. Let's use our voices to empower people around the globe by sharing what we love and giving more people access to materials to learn in the way they learn best. Let's not let those who came before us tell us what the best way to learn is, let's decide for ourselves. Let's change the culture surrounding education one student at a time.


Bibliography TED:

A History Of Western Society By John P. McKay

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