What is a school? Is it simply a building where children go to learn about the world, or is it more important? It’s a cliche to think that our greatest natural resource is not the oil under our feet, but those kids in our schools. Even so, I think that we should be very careful in the way we design the spaces where they learn and play. Almost all of the schools in Kuwait have not been designed with kids in mind. They’re all drab, dreary, unimaginative and boring. I remember my school had a fence with barbed wire surrounding the playground. What kind of message does that send to the kids?
What’s with this recent obsession with new schools being named ‘X’BS (Bilingual School), seemingly oblivious to the common use of BS in the English language? It’s not as important what kids learn, but rather that they know how to learn. Most of the schools have the same curriculum and pedagogical model, and they all even look the same, except that they’re all painted a different color.
I want my future children to have every opportunity that can be provided to them. The problem is that looking around, the choices are depressingly scarce. What is a kid friendly space? The most important thing is that the physical space around them sort of gives them the permission to be free and curious. An authoritarian space drives discipline and order, but it also discourages freedom of expression. When kids feel like they can’t express themselves openly, they’ll find other ways to do so in secret, destructive ways.
I’m not a defender of the flowery self-esteem movement that has practically created a generation of Americans that feel undeservedly self-entitled and content with their incompetence and ignorance. I don’t want that for Kuwait. What I want is the option to have a school that understands the importance of creativity and imagination in the development of a young child, and would do everything it can to encourage that. The first step is to build a school that is, for lack of a better word, cool. It has to challenge children to be creative, to live up to and exceed the example set by the building.
Second, the curriculum needs to be flexible and geared towards the independent development cycle of each child. Every child is different and some need more guidance and supervision than others. Simply putting thirty kids in a room and demanding that they all learn at the same pace is very illogical. Similarly, tests will always be a part of the school system, but the curriculum should not revolve around what’s on the test. School has to be fun. For example, a teacher discovers that an unmotivated student in an English class is a hip hop fan; The teacher could ask that student to write a rap song as a class project. It’s not in the curriculum, but with some flexibility, that unmotivated student would be extremely interested to do something in class.
Finally, teachers should be allowed to experiment with alternative methods of teaching based on the situation they find themselves in. For example, if there are disruptive students in the class, they shouldn’t be allowed to slow down the rest of the class. They should quickly be reassigned to a special, albeit temporary, class that would include all the disruptive students. Of course, this special class would have a far more disciplined teacher and stricter penalties and a more structured environment. What I mean to say is that the environment has to be malleable enough to adapt to most situations. Every child is different, and we can’t treat them all the same.