Avenor College: redesign the educational process to prepare for the future
Diana Segărceanu, co-founder and executive director of Avenor College in Bucharest, was invited to Ideas Shots together with Adina Vlad and Alec Bălășescu in a very interesting conversation about education, in a key of openness towards understanding where education is today in Romania and where it should be.
Before we begin to understand the value of education in Romania from Diana's perspective, a very informed and crystallised one from actually working with educational methods with visible results, we need to make one thing clear from the outset: education cannot happen independently of the cultural environment.
What does this mean?
First of all, education is shaped by a certain cultural pattern. It responds to certain cultural habits and routines and fears. And last but not least, as in a close interdependent relationship, it is generated at the level of values by the cultural profile.
The current educational model in Romania, the result of the totalitarian establishment of the 60s and 70s and 80s, is based almost exclusively at its deepest core on the idea of memorisation: education by heart.
This educational model crystallised against the cultural background of the restrictions and limitations imposed by the political regime on freedom of expression and critical thinking. In this context, education in Romania had to be aligned with the principles of the regime. The perpetuation of this system based on the oppression of critical thought led, according to Alec Bălășescu, to the first major tension that sustained this type of education: mechanical education – learnt by heart.
Another tension that led to the perpetuation of this system was that generated by systemic barriers: linking a grading system to educational performance. This scaling and ranking of education has led to a misperception of the purpose of education.
And from this, stems the third tension: instead of the system being outcome-based, it has been process-based. Instead of focusing on what we learn, on the quality of education, we focus on what grades we take in the learning process.
In order to break the vicious chain of this education system, the idea of empiricism in learning needs to be re-evaluated. There is a cultural tendency in Romania to associate empiricism with an acute lack of validity: it is empirical, then the argument does not stand up / it is not valid.
But empiricism is what underpins science while theory is just the science of the process of empirically examining the world, Alec tells us.
The trap that many stakeholders in the educational process fall into is to associate the airy and lofty spheres of the theoretical environment with a higher intrinsic value of the educational process: the more theoretical, the better and more performant.
Transdisciplinary education, as Diana told us, is one that directs children's attention to more spheres of interest and could de-theorize education, making it more accessible and valuable. Less fixed concentration on certain subjects that are very well isolated from each other and more openness to the environment, to an education based on the natural stimuli around us, which can make children more attentive and focused on themselves.
The transdisciplinary model is the one that trains critical thinking and the model in which grading of educational performance is laxer or lacking, is the one that actually trains the pupil in an open process of free expression. When there is no fear of being graded, then there is openness to individual and free expression and thinking.
Education in the 21st century, in Diana's opinion, is a useful, practical and experiential education: it is education by design and choice, not by heart. Education should come down from the area of meaningless theory, of the arid matrix of lack of seduction and commitment to the learner, and should descend into nature, into closeness to the self, to matter and to culture.
Meaningful education should be a common product achieved both by shaping behaviour through the power of personal example and through an open education system focused on valuing freedom of expression and critical thinking.