‘If today we were to meet with Martians, freshly arrived on planet Earth and looking for tips on designing their own education system, what would we suggest?’
The Google engineers and the world’s best linguists had worked extremely hard to develop a new version of Translate that could accommodate the weird Martian language. But they had accomplished the seemingly impossible task, and it had become possible to communicate effortlessly….
The Martians sent a delegation to find out about Earth’s concept of education. They were fascinated and astonished by some of the answers they got.
MARTIANS: Thanks for agreeing to meet with us. Like you, we see our young as our most important asset, so we are keen to know how you prepare them for the future.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Indeed, we love our children and do all we can to give them everything that they need for the best possible future.
MARTIANS: OK, so we hear that you have established special buildings called schools. How does that work?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Well, every day, the children go to their school and get taught useful things.
MARTIANS: So, let’s get this straight. You want them to learn how to function in the world, so you take them out of it for all their learning time?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Yes, it’s easier that way. We can keep control of them and be sure that they are learning the right things.
MARTIANS: And what are the right things? Who decides that?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We do. We are the experts, after all.
MARTIANS: And you know what every child needs?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We have figured out the basic information and skills that all children need depending on their age.
MARTIANS: Mmmmm… Okay… And who is entrusted with imparting this all-important information.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We have specialists called teachers. They are highly trained and are able to work well with kids. Well, that’s what we aim for.
MARTIANS: Wow, they must be really amazing. I guess they have a very high status in your society and get paid more than everyone else.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Not exactly… you see, we feel that being a teacher is a calling, so by not paying very much, we ensure that only the most committed choose this career path.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: But teachers are held in high regard…
MARTIANS: So, what do you actually teach them. I guess, given that you want a good future, you are teaching them how to save this planet. Believe me, you don’t want to end up like Mars.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Well, we believe in getting across the basics first. It’s not really fun, and doesn’t involve much creativity, but, hey, it has to be done, right? Teachers are really good at this – they can talk and explain the basics for days on end.
MARTIANS: And how do you know that the children have acquired the knowledge and skills you have taught them?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Oh, we have these all-important activities called exams. To show that they really know their stuff, kids have to be able to recall information without any assistance and write it down on paper in a limited time.
MARTIANS: What? All on their own? No friends to help them? And without access even to your, what’s it called… Google?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: No ways! That’s cheating! They have to be quiet and do it all from memory.
MARTIANS: It must be quite hard to keep kids quiet and working on their own for so long?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: No, our teachers are specially trained to make sure that exam conditions are maintained. It is tough work, but someone has to do it, and who better than our highly trained teachers.
MARTIANS: And how do the kids feel about these sessions? Do they really get a chance to show what they know and can do?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We’ve never actually asked them. You see, it’s just what we’ve always done, and it seems to work for us. Some kids get really good at doing exams.
MARTIANS: It must use up a lot of paper? Are you worried about the environmental impact?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Well… We think it’s worth it. Exams are very valuable to us as a way of determining children’s futures.
MARTIANS: And who makes sense of what the children write on the papers?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: The teachers, of course. It is an important part of their rigorous training.
MARTIANS: As we’ve travelled around, we’ve seen some beautiful rainbows here on earth. We last had them on Mars about 4 billion years ago… (sighs). Is it true that there’s a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: No, it’s a myth or a metaphor.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: It’s when you… Oh, never mind.
MARTIANS: Anyway, we heard about your Rainbow Nation… We haven’t seen many pots of gold. In fact, the opposite… Lots of people seem to be really struggling. But we’re sure that you are using education as a way to fix this problem in society?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Yeah… that’s the theory.
MARTIANS: But what we observed is that the people who need education the most somehow end up with the least, and … (Google Translate stutters and beeps)… vice versa. Why is this?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: That’s a very good question.
MARTIANS: And the answer is…?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Do you have any other questions, perhaps?
MARTIANS: We heard you’ve been fighting a pandemic? Almost like an alien invasion? (HaHa – weird alien laugh). But don’t worry. We come in peace!
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Yes, it’s been devastating. It has changed many things in our society, including education.
MARTIANS: How so?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: It hasn’t all been bad. We’ve made this great discovery that kids can do school at home on a computer. It’s brilliant. We don’t need buildings anymore, and we also need very few teachers. One teacher can reach countless students through a video lesson. It’s amazing. There are no more discipline issues – if they answer back you just mute them!
MARTIANS: What about your beloved exams?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We’re working on that. But with hi-tech like face recognition, we think we can monitor and control the children.
MARTIANS: OK. Moving on… (Consults super-gadgety clipboard) Can you tell us about emotions and emotional intelligence? It seems to be something important for earthlings. We don’t really understand what all the fuss is about…
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Well, I guess you wouldn’t. This is what makes us human, it’s the core of our being. (Voice cracks with emotion) We laugh, we cry, we love, we get angry, we…
MARTIANS: Yes, yes, we get the point. So, if it’s so important, how do you integrate this into your schooling?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We have lessons dedicated to it and other important topics of this nature. (Proudly) Two hours every week!
MARTIANS: (Trying out sarcasm…) That’s impressive… And that happens in a classroom with a teacher explaining it all?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: (Not picking up the sarcasm) Yes, we want to make sure that they learn about relationships, values and other things the right way.
MARTIANS: Okay… and you do this online also?
EDUCATION EXPERTS: We try our best. At the end of the day, there are certain things the kids need to know. We explain them and then give a test to check that they know those things.
MARTIANS: That must be very helpful for them…
EDUCATION EXPERTS: Oh yes, it is. The kids really appreciate all that knowledge, even if they don’t always show it.
MARTIANS: Well, thank you. This has been a most informative session.
EDUCATION EXPERTS: It’s a pleasure. Anything to build inter-planetary understanding.
MARTIANS: Er… could you perhaps refer us to some other experts on earth, you know, so we can… er… learn as much as possible?