Motivation is key to success: but schools are killing it

March 5, 2020

In recent years, there has been controversy on whether school is effective at providing students with the necessary values and knowledge in order to truly find their passion. Or… do they dumb students down to match societal expectations to not go beyond the blueprint? Or worse- to just pass exams? 


I’m sure I speak for the majority of students who feel like death waking up in the morning—if you actually slept—and dread going back to school,morning after morning. There is a huge problem with motivation, which is influenced by many things: parental pressure to perform, overflow of assessments and deadlines which seem insurmountable, or working your hardest and not getting the results you want. The statistics tell the same story: while 74 percent of fifth graders report feeling engaged in school, just 32 percent of high school juniors say the same.


School certainly doesn’t make it easier for students to be passionate about certain subjectswithin restrictive curriculums and rigid, narrow criteria which all of us—different people with different abilities —are assessed on. School makes it seem like it doesn’t matter whether you enjoy doing your subject—all that matters is getting into that one special university. 


But think about what happens when you exit school and then university. There is still that same criteria present in your work, your daily life, to the point that it almost feels like you’re going up a ladder with no end. This raises the additional question, what are we really working for? Why are we, as people, letting these systems dictate our way of life? Surely education should be about you as a person, discovering your opportunities and passions to the best of your abilities? What is happening to the academic world that is making learning so daunting for so many current students? 


Learning, before the advent of compulsory education systems, was an enriching experience which armed people with valuable knowledge. People strived to learn and develop themselves. However, in recent decades—and what many of us don’t even realise has happened—the attainment of knowledge has become mandated for us by a system whose primary role, from the beginning, was not to uplift and enlighten, but to act as a form of social control. 


The more modern form of compulsory schooling originated in the 16th century, however, it was not until the 18th century that the modern compulsory schooling began to take hold internationally under King William I of Prussia. Prussia established its national compulsory schooling system in 1717, first of its kind in Europe. Subsequent schooling reforms throughout the 18th century built on this foundation and paved the way towards the development of the factory model of schooling, which is still the dominant public schooling model in the West today. The model emphasized standardization of teaching, testing and learning rates, respect of authority over exploration of truth and uniformity over progress and innovation. The Prussian system was so efficient at inculcating into its citizens a worldview which benefited the Prussian state, that by the end of the 19th century, North America and all countries in Europe implemented the model in their own countries. Many individuals and states that were promoting this model were not looking to stimulate innovation, invention, and development of ideas to promote social prosperity, but instead, wanted to exploit the model as a means of social control and social engineering. It’s extremely telling that the Founder of the Board of Education in 1903, Frederick Taylor Gates, said this about the system: “In our dream… the people yield themselves with perfect dolicity into our molding hands.” 


With the advent of manufactured education, the values which lead to true student motivation were gradually lost. So, how can we be expected to navigate ourselves in the ever-demanding world of academic pressure, while remaining truly passionate about the things we learn? In a telling interview with Mr. Alexander, this was revealed: “Some people see the IB program as being almost like a factory, producing products, and the exams are just a way of shaping those products. I think within those constraints, there is room for creativity. But unfortunately, subjects which permit a lot of creativity, like the Arts, don’t get a lot of students taking them, and that is partly because universities don’t accept them, but it’s also because of parental pressures that students end up taking slightly less traditionally creative subjects.”


So programs like the IB have made strides in order to improve the situation at hand, however, many other factors need to be accounted for when talking about student motivation. A huge part of this is the lack of creativity which schools allow for the lack of intrinsic motivation in students, which is the internal motivation to do something. “All schools encourage conformity, to an extent. All societies, to some extent, have conformity at their root. Schools are trying to prepare students for adult life, and a part of that is teaching students how to conform.” From a teacher’s perspective, this task is no less harder: “One thing we always have to be careful of as teachers, if we are trying to encourage the kids to think for themselves. Unfortunately, there is a lot of comfort to be had in being told what the answer is and to be passive, and only absorb things. It is very hard, as a teacher, to develop intrinsic motivation in students, when there are so many extrinsic motivators out there that are competing.” 


Extrinsic motivation is present in learning everywhere, where that wasn’t much the case even 50 years ago. Students often feel a lot of pressure, and feel like they are being overassessed, depending on extrinsic motivation in order to keep going, leading to overstressing, worse academic performances and sleeping issues, among others. The response to these issues is quite slow, not helping the case. 


This is not an accident that students aren’t feeling motivated. The system itself is made in a way that limits the ways that students can become motivated in the first place. And although systems like the IB have greatly changed the way that the education system teaches young minds, an effective solution still needs to be found in terms of truly inspiring students and preparing them for a fulfilling future. 

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