Opinion

The benefits of experiential learning

  • Diallo Rabain

In my motion to adjourn speech on July 19, I stated that I intend to be the longest-serving education minister in Bermuda. This was not said to be vain, but was said because I recognise how disruptive it can be to our education system to have a revolving door of minister of education.

I am committed to transforming our present education system into one that we as a country can be proud of and is first choice for our children. This transformation includes not only curriculum but accountability of our staff and the infrastructure of our buildings.

To carry out this promise, a vision of what education should look like to satisfy the needs of our students from 2022 and beyond is required. A vision of what a 21st-century student profile should be is required. As we put together the whole picture of what this vision for the future of education should be, we are putting in place now what we can that is a part of that vision.

Although school has been out since the end of June, staff within the Ministry of Education and Department of Education have been working hard on behalf of students within the Bermuda public school system. Over the next few weeks, the ministry will release information on initiatives that we are embarking on to give the public a better understanding of what we are doing to transform education and why.

This week we focus on experiential learning, which at its most basic is learning through doing, or learning through reflection on doing.

Most adults were taught through a teacher-centred approach, whereby students listened to a lesson or read a textbook. This is increasingly a method that is decreasing in effectiveness for our modern learners. Proposed by the psychologist David Kolb, the main steps of experiential learning are experiencing, observing, analysing and experimenting.

Concrete experience provides information that serves as a basis for reflection. From these reflections or observations, we take in this information and form abstract concepts asking questions. We then use these concepts to develop new theories about the world, which we then actively test.

When students are able to see, hear and interact with topic matter in this way, their attention is held, making for greater retention of knowledge.

The benefits for students who learn through experiential-learning methods include:

• Increased motivation and engagement, encouraging self-directed learning

• The ease of exploration of the relationship between academic theory and practice, increasing clarity around academic and career goals

• Leadership, technical, and professional skills

• Increased confidence, maturity and self-management

• Improved problem-solving, critical thinking, research, communication and teamwork skills

• Developed skills to transition to the workforce

While experiential learning is not a new method of teaching, it is a method that supports the first priority of the Plan 2022 strategy: increasing academic rigour and student engagement.

When engaged as a teaching method, it has great impact as was shown through the work of Somerset Primary P6 students. On June 13, the Somerset Primary P6 Social Studies class learning about politics and law shared what they were learning about the political process and elections with their entire school when they held a mock election.

Students formed four parties brainstorming on issues they thought were important to include in their manifestos, which they wrote in persuasive essays and read to the school over their PA system. All students played an active role in the process, with persons chosen as party chairmen, committee members and candidates. Students also chose party colours and slogans, canvassed the student body in their classrooms and held a rally within the school.

On election day, the Somerset Primary student body lined up with their voter ID cards in hand to be checked off on the voter registry. The election was made to be as realistic as possible with security, a returning officer and scrutineers. To add even more realism to the event, students witnessed what happened when a student “forgot” their voter ID card or their name was not included on the registry.

Teacher Lisa Siese said: “I was really pleased with the range of issues which [the students] selected for their platforms. I’m sure that this experience will help shape these, the future voters of Bermuda, creating politically aware and informed citizens.”

This election is a great example of experiential learning at its best. It is our intention that more opportunities such as this take place in our schools.

• Diallo Rabain is the Minister of Education and the government MP for Devonshire North Central (Constituency 13)