Part two of a blog on last week’s NESTA event, Future Shock.
A New Movement in Education
Panelists for this session included Oliver Quinlan, the programme manager for Digital Education at the innovation Lab at NESTA, Simon Collins, the Deputy Principle at The Brit School, and Debbie Forster, the Managing Director of DDI Apps for Good.
So again, to lay out my stall, my view has been coloured as follows:
- I have two teenage boys who are incredibly bright, yet whose primary education didn’t help them achieve their full education potential
- My (unfinished) PhD was around education and identity (a little more obscure and refined than that, but PhDs are!)
- I believe that education is not schooling or indoctrination – or curriculum, although these things are part of education.
- I believe that we have forgotten, as a society, to ask what education is for, and that we swallow that education is always a good thing.
- Schooling should be free at the point of delivery, there is no such thing as a stupid child, and no-one should leave full time formal education without basic maths, reasoning and literacy skills, able to engage with society and with government/authority (ie access to power)
- Our UK curriculum is completely and utterly misguided, and people mistake the trappings of private education as the things that make it successful rather than examining the real difference: contacts , environment and opportunity
- Teachers need more room to inspire, and the profession should be valued more highly
- Your closest school should be the best one for you because they should all be brilliant
- I’m a huge fan of Freire’s work on conscientization and the principles of educational relevance as key to engagement and learning
So that’s my own, admittedly fairly radical, stall laid so that you can see the eyes through which I viewed this session.
NESTA’s recommendations are an end to barriers to interdisciplinary teaching, to encourage more new entries to higher education, combining academic learning with practical, work-based experience, helping schools buy the best digital technologies to allow parents and teachers to judge the effectiveness of technology products; putting digital onto the curriculum by adding a set of overarching cross curricular skills.
Collins of the Brit School, a city tech focussing on performing arts and technology, from where numerous artistic stars, including Adele, have emerged, is everything an educator should be – passionate about his subjects, knows what he wants to achieve, happy to work within the system but getting the system (notably OFSTED) to work with, and understand, the Brit School’s goals. The school is looking at creating rounded individuals and I adore the three goals they aim for with their pupils: original, responsible and ambitious.
But he acknowledges that it has taken time to become what they’ve become, and 25 years ago, the school wasn’t doing its best work. It’s learned along the way.
He is calling for policy that allows us to teach to meet the needs of students in our care. Because students are very different, policies currently conflict with this desire because of the judgements and measurements in place. The school, for example, welcomes student progress measures, rather than measurement on what structures are in place. I am with him on this page. If selective schools that take the academic cream can’t get a suite of A*s for their students, they are failing!
He also noted the high science bias on the curriculum, and that choices are being narrowed; that it can take 3-5 years for changes to really have full effect in education; and that the success of the school has allowed them the privilege of being able to take risks and having industry behind them.
Forster’s Apps for Good runs competitions that allow the winning team of pupils access to business mentoring to bring that app to ‘market’. Tis offers student driven learning, coding and technology experience in a real World context.
A couple of interesting points, for me at least, were:
- STEM should become STEAM (the A being Arts) and should probably even be STEAMED – E for Entrepreneur and D for Design.
- Educational policy needs to remove barriers to good teaching
- She’d like to see a kite mark for digital technology
- We should stop thinking about qualifications as a measurement
- Children need work based experiences
So, here’s the worry that I have with all of this. There is no shame, whatsoever, in working for someone else. It can be rewarding working with other people. We cannot all be entrepreneurs. The best businesses grow from those with experience. This has nothing to do with age. Zuckerberg may have been young when he designed Facebook, but he had years of experience of coding and saw and fulfilled a need. Forster mentioned an app for recording the movement of bulls which had won Apps for Good support. The ‘inventor’ may only have been 10 or 11 years old, but he had 10 years experience of life on a farm.
Many people don’t start having the experiences that shape their lives until they start work and gain independence from their families. Will we condemn these people as failures because they haven’t started a business before they reach University leaving age? Has anyone thought of the consequences of business failure – something in the order of 80% of small businesses fail. Many more barely scrape a living. A tiny percentage become massive enterprises.
I think it’s time we sat up and smelt the roses and asked what we are educating our children for. The premise of this session was that it’s to prepare for work. Others would claim it’s to be good consumers.
One way and another, some of the problems of education are summarised by a three person panel in a room in London. There are as many views of the purpose/meaning of education as there are people. There were constant references across the day to the fact that more of our jobs will come from creative fields in future. Yet arts and creativity are being devalued in every discussion about curriculum that I’ve heard of late. My own experience of the current school system is that language learning, music teaching, art are all second rate citizens as part of primary school ‘basics’. Yet these are enjoyable wealth creators, confidence inspirers and valuable life skills.
There is a huge disconnect between what we need and what we have, and yet our expensive, wasteful juggernaut of an (albeit underfunded) education system continues on Victorian principles, run by people who put a lot down to their privileged education, when it’s probably little to do with the teaching and everything to do with the opportunities that has engendered their success.
I came away with more questions than answers, but glad that there are people passionate enough to swim against the tide and work within our system to make great things happen. I just wished it was a little more radical and questioning!