Students to Teachers (Part 2): Education is Supposed to Produce Independent Thinkers, Not Answering Machines.

This is the second in the series of letters to teachers from students. This time, a young man in Grade 12 talks about how we are missing the point of education by obsessing about marks and assessments. He insists that his name is attached as he stands by what he says. Nam-Hwui Kim is multi-talented young man is frustrated by the system (which he has long ago mastered) because he feels that schools do more to stop students’ growth than they do to foster it… (His only experience is with the school I am at, but from my rather wide experience, his points are relevant not only to education in South Africa but to many schools around the world.)


790 million, 1,1 billion, and 1,4 billion. No, they aren’t USA’s debt figures! (Those are much higher!) These are the figures of South Africa’s education budget in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Here are some more figures: 580000, 537000, 496000. They are the numbers of matrics in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Can you spot the problem here? We spend more and more, and yet fewer and fewer graduate. It’s sabotaging our youth. The source of enlightenment is blinding our nation. What are we doing wrong?

Marks and exams. They are the problems. It may sound like a silly claim, because marks are the compulsory component of modern education. However, we must realise the error of principle here:  we learn for marks. Why? This is what the parents want, what the society expects, and what the students themselves want. It’s all about easily quantifiable results.

Everything is geared toward tests. We do not learn about the subjects, we learn how to answer questions in exams with the spoon-fed knowledge that the teachers provide. Every single student is coerced into a rigid, marks-orientated syllabus in order to acquire the expected A’s. Students’ potentials are calculated with mere digits and their futures depend on pieces of paper with red ticks. This is not education. This is a subtle brainwashing process. A true education is supposed to produce independent thinkers, not answering machines.

This cult of marks is creating a tragedy in schools. The learners are becoming mentally dead. The exams-based education system doesn’t challenge the students. The teachers and textbooks dictate on what’s right and wrong, and that’s the end of the story. Everything else is wrong, because the markers don’t award marks for the other possibilities. Any challenges to the system are punished with terrible grades. This traps the learners’ minds, and they become brainwashed sheep. We, the students, are supposed to question the obvious and challenge the norm. We are meant to correct the wrongs of society – just like the students at the Tiananmen Square protest in China, and during the June 16th 1976 protests in South Africa. The fact that the new generation of students don’t challenge the society disheartens me. And schools might well be causing this lack of conscience and mental decay.

Education should be holistic, and schooling should be filled with surprises and challenges. Lessons must be thought-evoking, and the teachers must encourage students to think beyond the given. In this way, there will be in-depth interactions between the teacher and the learners. This will trigger the thirst for knowledge in pupils’ minds, and it will lead to active thinking.

This is how education is meant to be. Education is not about the number of distinctions. It’s about individuals’ distinctive thoughts and opinions. Exams should be a tool for assessing learners’ wisdom, not their memories. Education system should produce innovative, thoughtful minds.

Am I asking for too much?

Albert Einstein once said: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”. This paradox is the unfortunate reality of our education system, and we must act now. We must let education enlighten us again. I plead for change, because we want every child to be a masterpiece, not a manufactured piece.

I thank you for your time.

Don’t forget to look me up on Twitter:


About Sean Hampton-Cole

Fascinated by thinking & why it goes wrong➫ (Un)teacher ➫iPadologist ➫Humanist ➫Stirrer ➫Edupunk ➫Synthesist ➫Introvert ➫Blogger ➫Null Hypothesist.
This entry was posted in Activism, Critical Thinking, EDUCATION, South Africa and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.