French celebrate “Festival of Errors”

Whatever happened to “we learn from our mistakes” and “some mistakes are too much fun to make just once”? In schools, children are given little or no room to experiment, to make mistakes and learn in the process, and are expected to stick fast and reproduce what they already know. Though this article from The Guardian is based on students in France, I fear India’s not too far behind. Let’s just hope we don’t have to “celebrate” being able to mistakes and can go ahead and make them normally!

Via The Guardian

In an attempt to counter this culture of “intellectual timorousness”, a group of academics from the country’s elite institutions is hosting a festival in Paris this week with a rather unusual mission: its participants are being encouraged to make as many mistakes as possible.

“A large part of the French school system is based on the idée reçue that errors are negative, when in fact it is by this very process of learning … that you make progress,” said Maelle Lenoir, of the Association Paris Montagne.

“The French system is founded on a strict learning of knowledge, rather than on creativity or innovation. And yet it was Einstein himself who said that ‘the only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas’.” Observers of the French school system, while praising certain key successes, have repeatedly highlighted the shortcomings of an educational process which is highly “top down” and results-driven, and which, they say, puts far more emphasis on having the right answer than the thought process by which a pupil might explore the question being asked.

“I’m a scientist. I had nothing to do with education. But then my six-year-old boy went to school and his teacher told me, ‘He’s a nice kid, but he asks too many questions,’” said Francois Taddei, the author of an education report published last year for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“This is the problem of the French system,” he added. “You are supposed to know the right answer. You are not supposed to express your own opinions or ask questions.”

One teacher who has attempted to rebel against the national model is Girolamo Ramunni, a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris, a higher education establishment specialising in science and industry.

Ramunni, an Italian who left school himself at the age of 14, says he tries to encourage his students to reject the pressure to always be right by, for example, giving them problems to solve “which could not be solved”.

“At the beginning they don’t want to take risks,” he said. “But after a while you notice that they are becoming more creative.

“Once they’ve accepted that getting things wrong is not the end of the world, yes, they may come up with some crazy ideas, but they will have some good ones too.”

Organisers of the self-declared “festival of errors”, which began in the École Normale Supérieure in central Paris and continues until Saturday, hope to demonstrate to young participants the potential wonder of making mistakes through a series of science-based workshops.

Yesterday, Arthur, 12, explained that it was “difficult” to get questions wrong. “You’re ashamed,” he said.

Waiting for him was Isolde Serfaty, a parent who criticised the “competition and pressure to always do better” that French children face.

“They are marked right from primary school,” she said, referring to the marks out of 20 used as measurements of achievement across France.

For Taddei, the problem is just a small part of a wider malaise which is leaving the national education system – which was born out of the revolutionary ideals of equality and fraternity – increasingly ill-equipped to help level out the injustices of modern society.

Read the full article here.

Image Source: anirudh seth


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