Education and Relevance
Life has changed radically throughout human history and our approaches and attitude towards education have transformed with it. In ancient times, people gathered around the fire and the elders told stories about their own life and the experiences of their ancestors, passing down important knowledge to the younger generation. This kind of early education was a social act and was the most interesting part of the day. It involved people’s creative imagination while also being connected to their every-day lives and survival. Knowing what former generations experienced could make a difference between life and death.
Later, education by teachers and masters was a privilege for the rich and nobles, as a way to strengthen their social status and power. The one-on-one interaction made this education very personalized. Even in the dawn of institutionalized education, getting into school held the promise of a better life. The choice was between studying and advancing in society or hard physical labor without proper social respect. In those circumstances, studying was the desirable option for many, and it did not matter that it was not “fun”.
But these are different times. Education is obligatory and as an obvious consequence, it is much less appreciated. Children often do not see the point of what they need to learn. Questions like “when will I ever use this in real life?” are repeatedly asked as a protest against the educational system. And we can’t even say that they never have a valid point.
The challenge of growing up today
Our lifestyle has changed dramatically as well, and we live in an era of instant gratification where everything is only a button-push away. Countless digital platforms are competing for our attention, offering endless entertaining content. Understanding the newest technology is becoming more and more important in the labor market. Kids are aware that the ease with which they can use and adapt to the latest tools gives them a serious advantage over their seniors in the modern world. Never before in the history of human civilization has a situation like this occurred. For the young minds it might seem like technology, which they take for granted, can offer a shortcut through the difficulties of life, so why should they bother with all the boring stuff? Why know how to calculate the area of a polygon when their phone can do it faster and better (in the unlikely scenario of ever needing such a skill)? On top of that, social media is full of people who are traveling and having fun, often also making a living out of it. They stand as new role models for many kids, while these influencers often speak about how they would never get this far following the regular path and entering the higher education system. All this creates a historically unique situation where the traditional institutionalized schooling system seems to be an irrelevant and boring obligation.
Make them feel the relevance!
Despite resisting this institutionalized obligation, most children are actually curious at heart and want to know about the world and how things work. They want to explore and experience, and with the right type of motivation, even the “difficult” kids can show incredible improvement. The present schooling system is apparently failing to do so. Therefore, it is time for us to rethink our educational approaches and reform it in a way that can make kids feel the relevance of studying in their own life. And not just in the future but right then and there.
As a first step to achieve this goal, we need to define “relevance”. The word might seem self-explanatory at first, but this is exactly why it can be tricky when we try to put our finger on it and give a definition. So, let’s start from the basics and break it down.
First, a relevant issue must appeal to the audience in certain ways. Most importantly, it needs to interest them. Then they should see the usefulness of the topic in real life and a way it relates to them specifically. Since kids usually don’t have the perspective to really see the connection between what they do in school and their “far-future adult life”, the necessary information must be placed into a world that they understand and are interested in. One that their imagination can reach.
Such an approach, called theater pedagogy, was developed as an alternative or reform teaching method in the 20th century [1,2]. At the heart of this technique is learning through (dramatic) actions. In other words, theater pedagogy is a group play in which the participants build an imaginary world and then become involved in it. Within this fictitious world, however, they encounter real problems, and they gain real knowledge and experience from them. The stimulating atmosphere created by theater pedagogy increases kids’ emotional response and motivates them to participate.
Learning through emotions
Thanks to research, we now know that the appropriate emotional responses are very important during studying, since emotions play a huge part in the process of storing memories 3. One of the ways the brain selects among the tremendous volume of information that reaches us every second is to tag every piece with emotions. A frightening experience must be avoided, while a joyful one must be practiced more. Our brains store these pieces of information as important for the future, while it sorts out the rest. Therefore, if we do not care about something, we also won’t remember it. Hence, teachers have a huge responsibility, since their behavior and approaches can fundamentally predetermine a student’s emotional response to a given subject.
Similarly, active participation is also critical 4. If you found the solution to a problem yourself with all the challenges you experienced during the process, you would remember it much better, longer and more vividly than if someone just told you how to do it. The feeling of the discovery makes it much more exciting. And this is precisely what theater pedagogy does and why it can go a long way. The fact that this method is increasingly used for therapeutic purposes speaks louder than any words about its powerful motivating effect.
Mastory is built on the basis of theater pedagogy. It takes children to a well-orchestrated fictitious world with a carefully developed storyline where they need to think, investigate, measure, count, and explain to solve the different challenges and tasks they are facing. They learn mathematics, social skills, and critical thinking as a group and as individuals. They learn while using their knowledge and so the relevance of the material is self-evident for every participant. “Gamifying” the learning process in this deeper way makes education fun by creating a meaningful, social, and interactive atmosphere. The story keeps kids interested, involved, and motivated to discover the mysteries of Mastory’s world. Meanwhile, with the use of modern technology, teachers can adjust difficulty levels to the performance of the children to keep them in the flow-experience. This is how we reimagined education at Mastory to meet the challenges of the modern age using new technology and psychological discoveries, while making learning a social act again. We believe storytelling and experience-based learning is what education is and always was all about. And now we have the knowledge and tools to level it up!
- Tyng CM, Amin HU, Saad MNM, Malik AS. The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1454. Published 2017 Aug 24.↩
- Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, et al. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(23): 8410-8415.↩