In high school, I was taught about Thomas Malthus’s theory of population in my GCSE geography class. We were taught that Malthus theorized population growth will surpass food production so there will be a point of crisis where we cannot sustain the population.
At the time, we did not delve deeper into this theory and only compare it to Ester Boserup’s agricultural intensification theory which theorized food supply will support population growth so every time humans get close to the point of crisis, technological advancement will find alternatives to meet the demands.
However, we were not taught about the consequences of Malthus’ theory and the devastation it caused. This justified several governments actions to allow mass starvation to occur like the Bengal Famine of 1943. Nevertheless, I did not critically analyse or even questioned Malthus’ theory until I reached university when we were having a debate on the repercussions of theories to real people’s lives.
There were two lessons I learnt from this, first I had more freedom to study and analyse different theories which were limited in high school. Secondly, I believe I knew or had enough knowledge about geography and history to participate in debates but what we were taught in high school was only the surface.
The problem we have in the United Kingdom is secondary level education is not only enough to get a decent paying job but also really limited in the scope teachers could teach us. To be fair, teenagers are not known for their attention span but the way we were taught was arguably boring and curriculum is mostly to blame.
It was not until university I learnt about Marx, Plato, Keynes, Hayek, Friedman to name a few. Ideas that literally shaped the world and yet in high school we were taught about British royalty instead of the pioneers of the time.
On the other hand, without the strict rules and timetable of high school, we were given a lot of freedom in university and the attendance of the class drop considerably after the first week. Additionally, we were expected to study the material that was given to us as well as do further research because lecturers only introduce us to the concept and ideas.
To conclude, critical thinking should be at the forefront of high school education to allow students to question and explore various historical events that shaped the world we live in. But more importantly, high schoolers need to be taught on how to develop their critical thinking outside the scope of classrooms and into their everyday lives.
By Kaled Ahmed Abdi