It is unfortunate that imagination becomes alien to our minds as soon as we step into school. What’s even more worrying is that it’s a steep, downhill road from there. Innovation is a word and practice in which we hold immense amounts of value, yet it is much harder for us to actually be innovative in today’s modern and fast-paced society. Our ideas are beginning to seem repetitive and stagnant. Our thought progressions and lines of reasoning are set in molds. We follow a “logical” structure and arrive at similar, if not the same, conclusions. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to think outside the box because chances are someone, somewhere has already thought of it, implemented it and copyrighted it.
Luckily enough for us, we know where the problem lies — our education system. We’ve known this for a while but have been overwhelmed by the task of finding a solution to this problem. The system is set in stone, applied in various ways worldwide and seemingly without a starting point. In this state of crisis, Cesar Harada has shed light on something that is simple, yet empowering. Harada, a teacher at the Harbor School in Hong Kong, uses a method of teaching that I think every school should strive to incorporate in their curricula. He is a French-Japanese inventor who stresses the importance of hands-on, practical learning in schools. His students, aged six to 15, are given the responsibility to solve problems of their choosing with the freedom to use their imagination.
This makes all the difference. Children, when knowledgeable about worldly events, feel empathy. Empathy is a quality that can drive human beings, regardless of age, to achieve the greatest of feats, and his students reflect this.
Cesar himself is interested in addressing the 2011 earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. He is working in collaboration with other professional scientists and, interestingly enough, his students. After data collection and analysis, Harada would seek guidance from his students and together they leaped from local, small-scale problems to global issues. To really break down the boundaries between adults and kids, he converted an industrial site into a space with resources that cultivates motivation, inspiration and, most importantly, innovation.
Parents and teachers may ask, what about academics? What about tests and grades? How does this fit in with the system? The truth is that it doesn’t. We need to begin by changing the way parents view education and learning. It is crucial for institutions to realize that straight A’s and a pretentious list of extra-curricular activities are not going to change the world. Students need exposure to reality. They need a set amount of time devoted to hand-on learning, freedom and resources, but most importantly, they need adults to be honest and supportive.
Children have the imagination and adults have the resources. The combination of the two holds potential, not only for the generations to come but also for the betterment of the world today. There is our solution; all we must do now is apply it at home, in schools and institutions. Cesar Harada has taught us a valuable lesson and I cannot stress enough its importance.