When I was 9 or 10, I wanted to be a teacher. I used to play ‘school’ with my peers and design my own classes. After a while, I lost it… the more I grew up, the more I understood how uninspired and unmotivated I got with the educational system.

12 years later I am more determined than ever to make a change in the field.

Here is the thing. I always had this frustration of how the world works and the feeling that things are not supposed to be like this.

I grew up in Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe, with huge power distances between teachers and students; and where little I learned about personal development and finding your passion and path in life.

My goal in high school was to get the best grades possible, because this was expected from my family, from my teachers, from society as a whole…because receiving a 10 or an A makes you a better person, right?…

Moving to the Netherlands, I have experienced a different, more innovative approach to education however my frustration has never gone away. Things are still NOT working as they are supposed to.

The problem with education is of course no old news: the basis of the system we have today has been put in the Industrial Era analog to the factory model.

The mass instruction, the administrative hierarchy of education, the bureaucracy, the grouping, the grading, you name it, all these activities are organized around the assumption that all people are the same.

I remember I was in the 5th or 6th grade when we were already instructed to prepare and study hard for our final high school exams, the baccalaureat as we call it, which were not due for another 7 years.

It was only about memorizing information, voicing the ‘right’ opinions, and competing for higher grades. Only when I moved to the Netherlands I realized how hard it was for me to form and express a genuine opinion: I was always looking for right or wrong answers, when an opinion is just that, an opinion and it cannot be compared or graded.

My question here is: where is the person in all this? Where do students’ desires, dreams and learning fit?

A diploma does not define a person’s worth.

A university name does not make a person more or less knowledgeable.

It strikes me how we simplify the world’s complexity by creating boxes and tags and attributing them to people.

With my background, I have struggled so many times with stereotypes, racism and unfairness; because it’s easier to stereotype than to genuinely discover the person behind.

In education, it’s similar: it is easier to create boxes and ignore differences in learning needs than to pay personalized attention to every individual.

THIS FOCUS ON JUST ACCUMULATING KNOWLEDGE AND PASSING EXAMS MAKES THE SYSTEM VERY STATIC AND STUDENTS OFTEN HAVE NO IDEA WHY THEY ARE LEARNING WHAT THEY ARE LEARNING.

On the other hand, why do we as students just accept things as they are?Why don’t we take control over our own learning journey?

A few months ago I have come to the conclusion, that we students are not so different from startups: we both operate in a very uncertain and dynamic environment.

So why not apply a bit of the lean startup philosophy to our own journeys?

I propose to engage in a cycle of ‘try-reflect-connect’ loops in which we apply a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset to our education.

In the end, whatever the system currently is, we can still shape it by taking more initiative and being curious about what is happening in the world.

I made my mission to empower young people to become more self-aware about who they are and where they want to go, and thrive in an ever-changing world.

I strongly believe that education and learning are at the basis of any change, that’s why it must start with a purpose: people should be encouraged to become change makers, to use their knowledge, skills and potential to shape the world as they want it to be, and to become true citizens of the world.

We should stop seeing education as a mere development of academic skills and think of life in a more holistic sense.

I have engaged in a journey to transform my frustration about the current system in an opportunity to do something about it.

Education can and should be a tool to empower people to engage in a lifelong learning process, design their path, be empathetic and collaborate to tackle serious issues.

In my ideal scenario, educational frameworks should reflect the complexity of the real world and give students an idea of how everything they learn can be applied in real life situations, but I won’t get too much into details now.

More on these lines of thought in the next articles, so bare with me: this journey should challenge the status quo and provoke you to re-imagine education.

To quote Jenny Elissen and David Smith, the authors of the Perfect World Principle

‘it’s not about fighting the past, but creating the future’.


Comments? Questions? If you’re as excited as I am about changing education, feel free to reach out: info@catalinacatana.com, or follow me on Medium for more stories: https://medium.com/@catalina_50321