Hitchhiking (towards) Education

by Stephanie Cox, Land der Bildung

As part of the LightsOn:Education journey within the Impact Hub Vienna, I was invited to write the first online inspirational boost on my experience in education. Nowadays, education is one of the most discussed topics. Media, politicians, parents, students or just friends like Clemens, Mathias and myself talked and exchanged ideas about this topic on a regular basis. We came to point, that we wanted to stop talking and act instead. What’s a more effective way, then talking to people who are different and have totally different background? It was time to leave my comfort zone and start a hitchhiking trip to experience what education really means to my fellow Austrians. That’s how I started my trip „Auf nach Bildung“ (“Towards Education…”), connecting my two passions hitch-hiking and education.

wir drei

Entering a car of a stranger, that means also his comfort zone, gives you the chance to get deep insight into his/her opinion & experience. The aim was clear: exchanging with everyone I meet, entering places where education takes place (not only schools) and challenging myself to find new ways/inputs and opinions how we can help this education movement to move forward.

First of all this trip, should have just been a kind of „Barometer check“ for our upcoming project. But it turned out really different. Let’s call it crazy. After friends of mine created a website and the design two days before my trip started it helped people to be part of this trip through our blog. I decided to spend no money and show people, that you can start with no money and still learn a lot about education. Mathias and Clemens were a great support during the trip. Helping with the Blog and Social Media. We were overwhelmed by the reactions.

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On 13th of January I packed my bag and left for a 2 weeks trip, through all the Austrian federal states. Mathias borrowed me his big  „like- thumb“, which turned out as the trip mascot and big help to make people stop and take me. My sign said “education” and my non-defined plan where to go and what kind of questions I would ask brought me to some amazing places all over Austria.  It all developed during the trip – people told me where to go, where I could find education. I talked with over 170 people during these two weeks about their experiences, thoughts and way of seeing education. 42 people gave me a lift with their cars, no money, but all Austrian federal states in two weeks. I travelled 2171 kilometres and got a crazy amount of input, stories and inspiring solutions. The critical words about the present school system were pretty similar; it didn’t matter in which village, city or house I ended up.

The following points were mentioned most:

1) Desire to have a stronger connection to nature + learn more about what/why we consume

Katharina, Single- mother from Linz: „It’s really important for me, that my son spends a lot of time in nature at school and kindergarten. He should get the chance to learn more about where food comes from. It would be amazing if kids in school and kindergarten could grow their own vegetables and experience nature and consumption like this.”

2) Loss of creativity and independent way of thinking

In Salzburg I visited a kindergarten, there kids surprised me with a great & creative breakfast: paper lasagne, glasnuggetsoup. Pure imagination and creativity welcomed me there. The outcome of the discussion with one of the kindergarten teachers was, that she’s convinced that schools kills creativity. In the afternoon I visited a college of education and I discussed with future teachers about the fact, that kids lose their imagination and creativity early in school. They told me „Kids come super motivated to school. How come, that most of them lose their motivation and fun learning new things, when they have reached their final exams?

3) Culture of failure:

“Focusing too much on their weaknesses and being controlled by the red pen in school” This was mentioned really often. Instead of focusing on strengths of the individuals, focus lies on the weakness in the present school system. Felix, a multimedia arts-student at the university of applied science in Salzburg told us about the extraordinary talents at his university and what a shame it is that there is too much focus on things they’re not able to manage or do. Many of them said, that they would have chosen different paths after school, if they would have had the chance to focus and strengthen their strengths back in school.

4) “why” is missing:

Lukas a student from Innsbruck gave me following input about the missing explanation in school: “It’s not only important to understand the input and theory they tell you at school. It’s more about understanding why you should know these things and connect them to life/society/practical examples. Student should get the possibility to understand, how they can implement this input in their lifes. It’s so much easier then to study hard and enjoy it at the same time.”

5) Student/teacher relationship

One of the schools I visited was a technical college in Fulpmes, in the middle of nowhere in Tirol. What really struck me was the brilliant student- teachers relationship. Basically the professional competence of the teacher is the foundation of a good student/teacher relationship. To deal in a polite way with each other is a must, but still the student must get the chance to grow up, question the teacher and input.  The teacher accompanying the students during this process is really important. Otherwise we would end up only with students with no opinion, we don’t want that to happen.” Herr Schmid, headmaster in the school, said.

Two outcomes from this trip will always remain with me:

1) People want to participate, no matter where they live;

2) Education is more than school.

This trip showed me, that hitch- hiking and wanting to improve the education system has more in common, as you would think at first. Leaving your comfort- zone and exchanging on an “eye to eye” level will let you know more about education as you would have ever imagined. We all have the chance to pack our bags full of experiences and knowledge and explore and improve the education system every single one of us is living in. The magic formula is:

Start now!

About the author: Stephanie Cox was born 24 years ago in Australia and ever since her earliest age she was interested in hitchhiking and education. She works as a self-employed trainer, in the area of ​​intercultural training & team building for start-ups. She is one of the Impact Hub Vienna members who make LightsOn:Education happen, considering it an important journey that enables people from different fields to co-create valuable outcomes.

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