Tag Archives: vision

Students deserve a better vision for education

Are schools able to set the priorities that they know are fitting for students for now, rather than they might have been for 25 years ago? Teachers are in perhaps the most powerful position in the world. They personally shape the life experiences of the next generation. Students and teachers deserve a vision. Actually, it is more – the change our young people are facing demands a coherent vision for education – and not one that is dominated by some form of assessment metric.

For those of us subsumed in the everyday life of a school it is all too easy to become caught up with the mechanics of education. The curriculum, timetable and qualifications are often how school life is triangulated. It was ever thus – certainly my schooling fitted neatly into this particular educational hierarchy.

Curriculum and qualifications are currently the meat and drink of our national debate. Much blogging and tweeting captures the lively discussions taking place in this very familiar fulcrum. Very familiar indeed. Canon of knowledge, standards, employability litter the discourse on education. Yet, what we hear less about is arguably most important – how are we preparing our young people as learners for a future which will have a landscape marked at least as much by the unknown as the known?

As we see the technological revolution unfold around us, we lack a road map for this future. The old verities which have traditionally dominated school life are not enough to prepare our young. Their lives will be characterised by change driven on remorselessly by innovation and invention. Surely learning must be about the development of the whole child to ensure they are properly prepared for their world and not just prepped for a set of examinations? After all, life itself is not a set of exam papers where you pass or fail.

As the century progresses, the pace of change is, if anything, increasing exponentially. The capacity to think and more importantly to think differently is critical. Education must be about learning in a way which transcends the conventional metrics : it must also aim to encourage a range of literacies which can otherwise be lost in the melee of schemes of work and specifications. To the twin metrics of English literacy and numeracy should be added amongst others scientific, digital, cultural and visual literacy. In this way an individual is well placed to interact with and interrogate their world in a meaningful way and ensures a young person is properly equipped for their life journey.

The challenge for today’s educators is to lift their focus from the inevitable granular character of our national obsession with measurement, to the future which is broad brushed and uncertain. I do not underestimate this challenge but surely to constrain our debate as we habitually do is failing to educate the next generation in a way which is right for them and their lives in tomorrow’s world.

To find out more about what this vision means, the full animation is available here.

A vision for learning - animation introduction

A vision for learning – full animation

Education – it’s all about the economy isn’t it?

What price education? There are of course a range of responses to this question. Currently the approach to education in this country is driven by the demands of the economy – we need young people who have basic literacy and numeracy skills, and those who aspire to Higher Education must pay for the privilege.

It was therefore striking and refreshing to have this view robustly challenged – not in this country but in South Africa. Novelist and academic JM Coetzee’s foreword to University of Cape Town fellow Professor John Higgins’s new book, a series of essays on “Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa” , captures succinctly a view premised on the public good.

“You argue – cogently – that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and short-sighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society – indeed, to a vigorous national economy – is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves… we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis.”

Coetzee’s primary concern is the absolute importance of the humanities which should not require special pleading to maintain their status within the life of a university. Whilst absolutely agreeing with the principle at the heart of this approach, it is not applicable to Higher Education alone. I believe this broader concept of what learning is for should underpin our approach to education in schools.

With a government which appears ever more obsessed with systems and measurement, our national debate on education becomes ever more reductionist. The lives of children are segmented into qualifications with a National Curriculum, itself a subject of some controversy, not mandatory for schools which are Academies or Free Schools. And as yet another government policy proposal is tweeted about ever before any proper consultation has taken place, educators are looking anxiously over their shoulders. For me, the triumph of process over vision in education is actually quite shocking.

The importance of educating a “critically literate citizenry” should be the Lode Star for a government of any political persuasion because our world is changing exponentially. We live in a time where the world is being transformed by the digital revolution, a revolution which has effectively sidestepped the conventional gatekeepers to information. The “anytime, anywhere” character of our lives made possible by digital technology is hugely exciting creating extraordinary opportunities.

But it also has a darker side. Those of us working in schools are very familiar with this. Whilst the press has focused on the perceived dangers of social media, there is also the realisation that the World Wide Web is the Wild West where everyone and anyone has a platform for better or ill. The instinct of adults is to try and protect young people from such unfiltered information. Any responsible school will operate some kind of screening to provide a learning Eco system which is balanced and responsible. However, the web exists outside of school where even the most careful of parents will struggle to police this particular Augean Stables.

As an independent school, we have the space to determine our own education philosophy. For us, in a time of rapid change, we believe absolutely in the concept of educating a “critically literate citizenry”. The vital importance of critical thinking – rarely mentioned in our national debate – is a prerequisite for anyone being educated in the digital age. With the emphasis on league tables and concomitant focus required from schools on this metric, it is quite possible that a young person can leave school with a clutch of good grades but frankly an inability to think independently. Indeed, we have received feedback from HE Admissions’ tutors who despair of candidates from very successful schools with a starry “A” profile yet cannot respond to questioning which takes them out of their specification comfort zone.

This is not an either/or issue. We believe strongly that students can achieve the necessary results to support their life chances but this need not be at the expense of their broader education. In the end, this is about what we value. And our school values a holistic approach to learning which is about the development of the individual. In the sound and fury surrounding education debate in this country, it is timely to remember the importance of educating the individual who must be critically literate in our brave new technological world.

Leipzig, BMW and Learning.

I had the joy of listening to choral music by the great Tudor composers Thomas Tallis and William Byrd this weekend. What made this experience of the Elizabethan Renaissance so special was the location. The performance was in a church in Leipzig, Germany.

The cultural vitality of Leipzig is a hallmark of its greatness. Not even the post-war German Democrat Republic, toppled by popular revolution in 1989, could muzzle the creative life of this historic city.

Yet, whilst revelling in the history of Leipzig, it is the future beckoning the inhabitants of the city and its environs which I found most compelling. A tour of the award winning “state of the art” BMW plant built outside of Leipzig is an education in future thinking. The principles under-pinning the production line of Henry Ford’s Model T are recalibrated to create a very modern working environment. The car remains the star – however, configuring each car for the individual is the guiding principle of the BMW approach. Form and function are harnessed in a very twenty first century way. This holistic approach to manufacturing represents to me creative thinking of the highest order. The process I witnessed in this inspiring building – to call it a factory is too twentieth century – demanded design which transcended convention.

Why does this matter? It matters because this manufacturing plant outside Leipzig is arguably a beacon for future learning. BMW, like other global corporations, understands that to succeed tomorrow it must push the boundaries of invention today. The reason I am so struck by this is because the education debate in this country is stuck in a past paradigm where discourse has become mired in arguably an old fashioned factory model with emphasis on process. In my view this is a very limited vision of what the future may hold for young people. So how does this compare with Germany?

Given I was enjoying the hospitality of an old university friend and her family whilst in Leipzig, I took the opportunity to find out more about her personal experience of the German education system. First I learnt that Germany, the great economic powerhouse of Europe, is also obsessed with its position in the PISA table. However, because of the decentralisation of education to the states, this particular hobby horse cannot be wielded by central government to effect change in schools (even if they so wished). Secondly, both academic and vocational education are genuinely valued within schools with university and apprenticeships offering equally valid routes for young people. And thirdly, and apposite in the education of my friend’s children, the importance of curriculum breadth until 18.

Inevitably the Saxon education system is not Nirvana. For example I also heard grumblings about limited digital resources in school. And I am aware that there is more general debate taking place about the German education system and whether it is fit for twenty first century purpose. The all too familiar discussions about the Asian education system and the much hyped success of Finland are part of the German discourse too.

My brief sojourn in Leipzig was interesting on so many levels. On a personal note, I have returned home culturally invigorated. Professionally, I remain convinced we must continue our debate in this country on what matters in education. What is best for young people is too important to become a hostage to political posturing of any persuasion. In our globally connected world, what can matter more?