Jane Austen bans homework! Ex-soldiers to discipline unruly pupils! I- Levels to restore rigour to examinations!
The breathless Sun-like approach to educational news captures our imagination but leaves us none the wiser about the vision for education in this country. As a leader of a school, I remain bewildered by the fast changing landscape around us. Indeed, where in the hurly-burly of educational news is the “why” behind everything we do? Looking at education piecemeal is a function I know of politics. Identify the issue, make it a problem, proffer a solution. “Simples”.
Imagine for a moment a different world. A world where education is not a political football but is the focus of educators who understand learning and what it needs to be. Of course learning for its own sake is integral to the human condition. As a student of history I revelled in interrogating and trying to make sense of the past but I learnt so much more from this endeavour. I learnt how to think critically.
I recently enjoyed a very twenty first century lesson in the application of learning. I had the privilege of meeting Roberto Cipolla, Professor of Information Engineering, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and a thoroughly nice guy. Interestingly Professor Cipolla also works with Toshiba and is a frequent visitor to Japan. His interest in future learning is focussed on the ways young people learn and the importance of problem solving. He demonstrated his latest creation which has enjoyed world wide coverage. “Zoe” is a virtual talking head who displays emotion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21827924. The work of a team led by Professor Cipolla drawn from the University and the Toshiba Laboratory in the Science Park, it offers the potential for a range of applications. I was fascinated by the creative process behind “Zoe” and how her creators are still investigating how she can be best used in the real world.
Professor Cipolla’s message to us as teachers was to the point. We must educate our students to take risks, be confident. From the perspective of Silicon Fen, we should be encouraging problem solving. Don’t fear coding – embrace it because it is the future.
The message resonates with us because of our approach to learning. A student is not a list of subjects but the sum of its parts. This year we introduced a new series of modules into the Year 9 curriculum which are all about “Myself as a Learner”. Included in the carousel is a module inspired by the Paralympics where students learn about how sport is played when athletes have physical limitations; another module introduces students to the world of forensics where they learn the science behind solving a crime before themselves having to investigate a murder scene set up just for them. Apart from clearly enjoying themselves, the students also engage in making connections between the subjects they study. Taking them out of their comfort zone is challenging but is essential for their learning.
So in my world, where educators call the shots, education would be underpinned by a vision. This vision would be informed by the world our young people live in rather than the politics of the moment. The prevalent discourse, which is akin to ever decreasing circles, would be displaced by thinking about education which is expansive and ambitious for the students. It would not be a world where policy initiatives jostle for position in the media.
I can but dream.