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Improving WA Education Means Including Kids in the Process

PHOTO: Nikhil Goyal. Courtesy of School's Out Washington.
PHOTO: Nikhil Goyal. Courtesy of School's Out Washington.
October 8, 2012

SEATTLE - Education reform efforts are underway in Washington and across the country. Students may be the focus of these discussions - but they are not often asked to be part of them. At a conference today in Seattle with the theme "Empower Youth Voices," educators and community leaders are learning how to change that.

One conference speaker is a high school student - and newly published author - sharing his views on how to keep young people learning, in and out of school. Nikhil Goyal says for the most part, kids are left out of the education process, so it's no wonder some aren't that interested.

"If you look at just the normal school day, yes, kids are participating in class, but beyond that, the teacher really dictates, or an administrator dictates, exactly what kids are learning. If you try to question it, you're seen as really a troublemaker, somebody who doesn't want to follow along."

Goyal says his own boredom with school prompted him to write a book of recommendations for improving education, from a kid's point of view. It's called "One Size Does Not Fit All." He interviewed his peers, as well as educators and experts.

Goyal says it isn't surprising that students do best when they're learning things they think are interesting or important to their futures. He also thinks that, in school and in life, not all the lessons should end in success.

"Let them fail. That's one thing I wish my parents did to me at an early age, let me fail more often, make mistakes. Because I think in our society, 'fail' is a four-letter word. Failure and learning to make mistakes, learning from them, is so important."

To encourage leadership, Goyal's advice to teachers and parents is to hold kids to the same standards as they would an employee in the workplace. By expecting more from them, he says, you're more likely to get it.

"Make them feel like they're professionals, they're doing work that matters in the world. Because when kids are doing work that's meaningful to their lives, there's no reason they won't continue to be motivated by that activity, over and over again."

He is speaking at the Bridge Conference, so named for connecting traditional school and informal learning programs. Other topics include racism in schools, the importance of arts and a renewed focus on STEM programs - science, technology, engineering and math.

Conference information is online at www.schoolsoutwashington.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA