Imagine that the space below contains all the knowledge in the world. Within that space is another, much smaller area. It represents all the knowledge that students can gain whilst at school. School is a starting point, albeit an important one, of students’ learning. Every day that a student is at school, is an opportunity for them to develop and put into practice the disposition required for a lifetime of learning.
For students to become lifelong learners and to maintain an openness to tackling and understanding new ideas, that small pinprick of the school experience must set them up to do two things.
Firstly, school must support students to have confidence in themselves as learners. If students don't see themselves as capable, then they will quickly shut down. This might happen while they are at school or it might happen soon after. Either way, without a sense of confidence, students will close themselves off to the much broader field of knowledge that exists beyond school and that can enrich their life.
How does a learner build confidence in themselves? By having positive experiences of learning new things. Being given rewards for finishing work or for bringing equipment to class may give positive reinforcement in the short term, but won’t motivate a deeper sense of success in the subject. Positive experiences happen when a student has success and believes in their achievement.
What's more, the type of experience that’s needed doesn’t come from succeeding in just any form of learning. It must be challenging in a way that brings pride. By repeatedly overcoming challenges, students will see that they can do so at other stages throughout their lives.
Alongside confidence, school should help to spark students' curiosity about what they are learning and what else might exist. Without curiosity, students will shut themselves off from the greater body of knowledge that there is to discover. While confidence gives a belief in oneself, curiosity brings a drive to find out more and to enrich one’s own understanding of the world.
Curiosity is built by having thought-provoking learning experiences. These are experiences that present weird and wonderful ideas, that connect with what students already know and that invite them to go searching for meaning. Curiosity does not come from pre-determined content that is doled out in the same way to each student. In part, curiosity grows out of carefully selected and well-designed tasks. It also comes from the enthusiasm and encouragement of the teacher and students' own decision to pursue what is of interest. School experiences that encourage students to want more and to ask why something looks or works in particular ways, will stay with students well beyond their time in the classroom.
School can never provide all that is useful in an individual's education. It can only support students to be ready for all of the learning that will happen beyond.