The traditional Education

The traditional education is based on a curriculum designed by a group of academic experts who think they know what students SHOULD learn instead of what the students NEED to learn to build a career in this fast-changing world. How many teachers were asked by students: “Why do I need to learn this?” How many teachers give them a direct answer? And how many would say: “You have to learn it because it will be on the exam?

The traditional education is based on the old concept of assessment by exams. Passing an exam is a heavy burden to many students as failure is a shame and inexcusable. Therefore, many students only study to pass the exam but not to develop the appropriated knowledge to apply later in their career. Many know the theories because they learn by memorization but cannot apply their knowledge to solve problems.

Image: Internet

The traditional education is a “time-based” system where students move from one level to another with various and mixed knowledge, some learn more, other much less until they are assessed by the graduation exam where some pass and others fail. Before the exam, high school students who do not have the proper knowledge are still allowing to continue to the next levels. Since knowledge is accumulated from previous learning, without a good foundation, it is difficult to learn in the next level. That is why many students are having difficulty in a class where learning is based on prior learning. But they must continue as there is pressure from the family that they move up.

The traditional education looks great in theories and it is the pride of some societies. If you look into the International Mathematics and Science competitions, you will see that most winners were from Asia where the traditional education is well in place. Asian students always have the highest scores and many have won this prestigious award. But high test scores do not mean education is perfect across these countries.

A few years ago, when teaching in S. Korea, I met one of the winners of this award. He explained that he was tutored several hours every day to prepare for the math competitions. Even he won and got accepted into the best university, he was not comfortable. He said: “In my country, studying means go to “Cram schools” where after regular school, many students would go to special tutorial school, to study more to pass exams or win awards. It creates a major division in our society because only rich people can afford cram schools, so their scores are better and they can go to the top universities. However, excessive homework, nightly reading requirements, and rigorous studying often overwhelm students. The heavy workloads at an early age often have negative consequences and by the time they finish their education, most students do not like to learn anything anymore. The Korean student told me: “I do not have any time to enjoy myself. All my life from 5 to 21 years old is about the study, study, and study. After the math competition, even I got the award, but also burned out.”

There are many students who did well in their traditional education system with good grades, only to find out when they entering a completely different educational system in the U.S. or Europe, many fell far behind others. Many Asian students told me: “I was the top student in my country but when coming here, I am at the bottom and I do not know why?” Another student complained: “Do not tell me about lifelong learning, as soon as I get the degree, it is goodbye study, goodbye learning as I am sick of studying.”

My questions are: “How do we solve the issues in the time-based education system that leaves some students with large gaps in knowledge, skills and abilities, and a lack of preparedness for the future career? How do we encourage lifelong learning when many students are so afraid of studying due to the overwhelming pressure from multiple sources when they are young?


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

You may like