1 Sports
2 Culture
3 Trades
4 Academic
A Softer Option
The Future
Future 2020

 RMJ Atkinson, teacher

The author of this programme is currently working in a high school so this programme is designed with that environment as a basis; there is no reason it could not be altered and adopted by other schools around the world.

High schools typically enrol students for three five years (aged 13 ~ 18), after which students either move on to tertiary education, enter a trade as an apprentice, or seek a general job. Schools typically have students for at least five hours a day and most of that time is taken up with academic study where they sit restlessly on hard chairs staring at whiteboards trying to remember 'stuff' for tests and exams. I aim to change that.

The current educational paradigm is based on academic study. The entire curriculum is designed like a pyramid, with primary school students at the bottom and university professors at the top; the whole system is designed towards becoming that professor. It is a one-directional vertical approach where everyone is pushed 'up' together until, at some point, they reach their 'limit' and either fall or get kicked off the 'educational conveyer belt' and become workers.

Teaching is just delivery; most of what students study today is based on receiving and remembering information, yet, more than ever before, in today's world, almost any information we need is instantly available at the push of a button. The current paradigm was set up to provide industry with mildly educated workers who would understand and obey instructions in their one-job-for-life. The current educational system remains single-minded in its methods of indoctrination. Those that fail to fit in are either forced to fit in more strongly or are pushed out. Teachers do their best and rely on their own improvised methods of 'differentiation' to improve the lot of those less 'academically' minded. Creativity, often nothing more than a lip-service window-dressed aim, is stifled early on lest it interfere with the almighty standardized tests and exams. The future requires teachers that stimulate and provoke a multitude of answers. The students need to become seekers, not receivers of education. The future needs people who can search and find their own creative solutions. In the future, the most successful will be those who are highly motivated to achieve excellence in anything and everything they set their sights on.

The typical student today sits on a hard chair in front of a small desk for five hours listening to their teacher and writing notes - and they are not happy. The students are restless. Too much sugar, too much TV, too many video games, too much tapping and chatting on the phone; it has become a real problem. They are withdrawing into a fake virtual reality - most of what they know is not real, but made-up in Hollywood or Silicon Valley. Nothing is being done about it; no one has a solution; the problems get worse. They are not listening and they are not taking notes. This educational program aims to change that. 

Though not always true, tradesmen by and large are typically made up of those who got kicked off the educational conveyer early on. However, Bob the Builder, Phil the Plumber and Eric the Electrician have all been able to learn a heck of a lot about their trades. They listen to their peers and learn what they need by themselves. Not only that, there are increasing numbers of ordinary people making names for themselves in online intellectual debates on topics they have become interested in. At school, they may have had no apparent intellectual vitality in the eyes of their teachers, but in their chosen profession they are often motivated to learn a great deal by themselves. Simply, most people have a great capacity to learn if well motivated. With true purpose, most people have the capacity to learn whatever is required in their immediate sphere of interest. What we need to do is to create a program where students want to come to school everyday to ... develop themselves. Schools need to offer choice and relevance, both of which lead to ownership.

The origin of the idea

I first did an apprenticeship in a steel foundry and became qualified in various aspects. At some point, I ended up helping train others to get qualified. Then, all change, I went to university to study languages and eventually became a teacher. I have worked in several schools and have always had a keen interest in sports. My first teaching job (1989) was teaching English at a high school in Japan. The school was entirely sport oriented (but also taught all the standard subjects). Certain sports clubs would start training at 1pm, others from 2 or 3pm; some would not finish until 6pm. They were very serious about their sports. As a direct result of this, the school came first or second in several nationwide sports competitions in the year I was there, which was very impressive considering that there are 120 million people in Japan with thousands of schools. However, because they concentrated on sports they did not do so well academically. What with the primeval push for education in Japan, I believe that same school has now become more academically oriented. I remain astounded at their sporting accomplishments while I was there and the recognition the students received.

I have worked in a number of schools over the years and have always taken note of those students that do really well, and sometimes those that do not do so well but later have successful careers. Being smart helps, of course, but more often than not, being smart can be just being a little ahead for your age. In sport, that might mean being a little heavier, taller or stronger. Some people are just late developers, but school does not account for that as everyone is ranked by age for their convenience. What sets someone off is when they really begin to get good at something ... and that something is typically, one thing. I have seen many amazing success stories at school, but often, it is in spite of the system rather than because of it. Schools are quick to claim credit when in fact, the student has spent hours and hours of his/her own time 'working on it'.

Recently (2018-onwards), in my current school, I have seen incredible change in boys starting a new Trades-oriented course. Previously lackluster, totally unmotivated students acquired new focus and made a 180 degree change with a view to leaving school one year early. They suddenly had focus. School now had purpose. Meaning. By the end of the first year of operation, all of the students had learned various metalworking skills in which they became totally absorbed, passed various qualifications, and gained various engineering related apprenticeships or jobs. The course gave the boys real-world direction and they became focused on achieving everything that was put in front of them. In short, they grew up and became adults and before the school year was over all but one had gained an apprenticeship or a job. To be fair, the school did a lot of work and should take some credit but the real change occurred when the students woke up. Boys turned into men before the end of the year, and when I see them out and about at work in the local township they are always happy and positive. They have all developed a good group consciousness and they mostly keep in touch with each other, which should serve them well moving forwards.




Developing the self - in practice

The idea of this educational reform is to vastly reduce the academic focus and concentrate on developing self-directed learning and meaningful skills. Success in one area of life can only lead to benefits in other areas. The opportunity to really excel at something, combined with subsequent increases in determination and perseverance to succeed, will provide gains in confidence and the creation of better character.

In this programme, a student would be free to change their chosen area at the end of the year. Or, they could choose to continue it. A student who did rugby for three hours a day for five years would narrow his employment potential but would be an absolute expert at rugby.

The purpose of morning study is to reach a certain level of literacy and numeracy. If not achieved, it would have to be studied again the following year. With such a plan, a two year junior programme could be completed in one year by a keen student thereby giving them more freedom to chose what they wanted to do from thereon. This would motivate some to study harder. In terms of results, competence supersedes qualification (I don't want to see your piano certificate - I want to hear you play).

Afternoon programmes would have zero assessments. All study areas would have equal weight. The entire emphasis is to be on the 'doing' and to do it as well as it can be done, intensely, over a long period of time. On graduation they would receive a report on what they have achieved.

After graduation, the school releases its students into the local economy. They will have had a great learning experience and will have enjoyed it. At school, they will have succeeded and bettered themselves. Their self-direction and creativity will have been expanded. They will have the ability to adapt to learn new skills. In their future, they will know how to continue to succeed and better themselves ... because they have already done it. 

Programme Focus

Students could


choose the same study area each year for five years


Switch to a different area after a couple of years


choose a completely different area each year


focus entirely on academics if they so wish




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 Copyright rmja

Last updated: 02/25/18.