Fordism of Education

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Books to be returned...
(Photo credit: flickr/hashmil)

In 1913, Henry Ford rolled out affordable cars after he installed a moving assembly line and used it for mass production. Until then, cars were expensive because they were tailor-made.When we think about our academic system, it works on principles similar to those of the assembly line.Children going through the system are molded to fit the specifications of universities and/or the workplace. They are taught to take on special qualities and to think a certain way, and if a person does not satisfy the desired specifications by not getting the correct grades in the correct courses, he is stamped with the ‘Reject’ label.

The sad thing is while that is the way things have always been, students still ask the question, ‘Why are we in school?Steve Jobs never graduated from college and he made people think of apple as more than just a fruit.’

Besides the obvious answer – to give parents a break – our elders drill into us the statement, “Get an education. Get a good job. Get married. Get kids. Send them through the same path. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are an exception to the rule that you need an education to succeed in the world.”

However, the goal of institutions go beyond the ‘get an education ==> get a job’ road. An ideal school would build a well-rounded individual on the mental and social front. In addition to that, since students spend at least 8 hours in school 5 days a week for 12 years, the responsibility of building the person’s moral basis is dumped onto the shoulders of teachers.

Now of course, reality is very far from the ideal.

Think about the hierarchy that’s portrayed in pop culture where jocks are at the top of the pyramid and the nerds are at the bottom. So even though some people might have naturally high intellectual capacities, but peer pressure might smother their nerdy talents. Students cheat in exams, copy homework, lie to teachers, skip class – so even if they did have a good moral foundation from home, it would crumble under the weight of social pressure. And the sad thing is that many students go to school because of the social life. They don’t understand how knowledge of Pythagoras’ theorem would help them in real life so the social life makes school worth wasting time on.

Children’s natural curiosity is restrained when they are forced into a seat for eight hours per day, staring at a blackboard. They would rather be at home playing video games and watching TV. There is something about the system that stifles their creativity and switches off their interests because of the forced schedules and sylabbi. Yet we have to stick to the current school system because systemization works for people within one (or two) standard deviation of the mean on the bell’s curve.

Can you imagine a school where individual students are asked, ‘What are you interested in?’ Then tailor-making a syllabus that focuses on their individual talents and interests. It would be ideal, but extremely expensive in a school setting because the student-to-teacher ratio would decrease. Fusion Academy is one example which boasts a highly personalized curriculum and a 1:1 student:teacher ratio. But the tuition? 40,000$ per year.

Homeschooling is a cheaper way of helping children get a more personalized education, but it normally happens outside the realm of a classroom. The idea of homeschooling is becoming popular as more families join the Abu Dhabi Homeschoolers association and Northern Emirates Homeschool Associations. Some families have no other option as schools are really expensive in the region. Take for example, Al Yasmina School next door where parents have to pay 41,580 dirhams per year for their children in KG. 41,580?!!! That’s 11,000 US dollars or 952,101 Kenya shillings (KES). Nearly a million KES to pay for one year of a KG1 student.

Another reason some parents might go for homeschooling is the increasing incidents of bullying in schools. I’ve written about Lujain’s story earlier in April; the girl who suffered a brain haemorrhage after getting beaten by four boys in the school playground. The incident left Lujain in a coma for around three weeks at Shaikh Khalifa Medical City and she had permanent damage to the left-field vision in both her eyes. The school refused her entry on the first day of the term this month claiming they would be unable to take responsibility for her. The latest news shows that there’s a meeting with ADEC (Abu Dhabi Educational Council) to decide on whether she would return to the same school. 

The main arguments against homeschooling is that the child will not be able to face and learn from the challenges they face when they befriend other people but families can avoid that by joining other homeschooling families and arrange picnics or sporting events so that their children don’t become too isolated.

Moving on to the syllabus used by homeschoolers, according to the FAQ section of AD Homeschoolers Association, “parents can follow criteria provided by a ministry of education in their home country, or use a curriculum such as K12 accredited by the Ministry of Education in the UAE as well as in other countries.” They also cite the lack of a proper library as a big challenge for them.

Then you have ‘unschooling’ another controversial educational philosophy where students don’t even stick a particular syllabus, but instead learn whatever they want whenever they want. You can imagine such a system won’t exactly work if a person is seeking a degree in the real world, though it might work for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, people will talk about how the current system needs serious reforms, but until something in the way the real world changes radically, they’ll stick with it because it is what gets one the degree, the good job…
So far.
However don’t be surprised if somebody grows up to say, ‘I was born smart but education ruined me.’

Abu Dhabi Homeschoolers Association,
Northern Emirates Homeschool Association, go to,

4 thoughts on “Fordism of Education

    SHS said:
    September 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Having a child-customized syllabus is an interesting idea…
    Another good practice which is there in Germany, as I heard, is for kids to take a 6 month ‘internship’ in the field they are intending to study in university to confirm that it is the field they are interested in..This is easier to apply I believe…

    saffarini said:
    September 16, 2012 at 7:30 am

    good one…i agree

    Amedar said:
    September 17, 2012 at 3:17 am

    I am glad for writing to let you know of the cool encounter my daughter enjoyed going through your web page. She even learned numerous details, which included how it is like to have a very effective teaching nature to let other people with ease learn about some multifaceted matters. You really exceeded our own expectations. I appreciate you for rendering those helpful, trusted, explanatory as well as fun tips on the topic to Lizeth.

    Know Your Basics | A Heart's Echoes said:
    September 30, 2012 at 11:51 am

    […] their dream job for one day in Kadzania and see if they’re up for it. I also discussed about Fordism of Education and how the academic experience would be better if it were more personalized. I also spoke about […]

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