Prison Break Time

 

1s-School-to-Prison-Illustration.jpg

The curious similarities between prisons and schools have recently been the subject of a number of Blog posts, including Rough Justice by All Change Please! and Learners Voice by Graham Brown-Martin. Indeed it seems almost too much of a co-incidence that Michael Gove has moved from being in charge of schools to being in charge of prisons.

Perhaps more surprising is Gove’s for once very sensible acceptance of the recommendation that education needs to be an important part of life in prison, and to this end he has endorsed “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently”.  All of which seems at odds with the general approach to the use of IT in schools which is that it is unhelpful to learning. At the same time some prisoners will only be required to spend the weekend in jail.

Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, is reported to have said: “For too long, schools in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with children struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”  However, this was quickly corrected as he continued: “I’m sorry, I’ll read that again –  For too long, jails in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with prisoners struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”

In further developments All Change Please! can’t help wondering when it will be announced that in future Judges will be able to decide whether to send convicted criminals to prison – or instead for more serious offenders, to schools?

After being sentenced John ’Stick-em-up’ Smith said:

“I knew robbing banks might land me in the Nick one day, but my sentence is well out of order – I’ve got to spend the next ten years in a school where there is no wi-fi access, no Skype and laptops are banned. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope with being completely cut off from the world like that – I was maybe expecting solitary confinement in prison, but at least with fast fibre broadband in my cell. And I have to attend five full days a week, not just at weekends. And then there’s all that homework and the rigorous academic EBacc… It’s just inhumane – my lawyer has advised me to appeal to the court of human rights.”

Meanwhile in the Queen’s Speech it was also announced that semi-autonomous “reform prisons” will result in groups of prisons being run by a single governor in the same way that academies have turned into chains of schools.

All Change Please! imagines this will make it easier for the poor and non-academic to make a smoother direct transition from Primary and Secondary Multi Academy Trusts to Multi Prison Trusts. Indeed, to increase CEO salaries, MATs will doubtless be encouraged to share resources and administration systems by building Reform Prisons on the same sites as Academies.

Image credit: The US Youth Justice Coalition

The Really Big Issues

1s-14890067137_6be3d1650d_z.jpg

First a reminder that the House of Commons Select Committee on Education Consultation on the Purpose of Education closes on the 24th January. Well it’s great that they’ve finally admitted they have had absolutely no idea what they’ve been messing with for the past 30 or so years, but All Change Please! can’t help but think that education policy in future will be justified by the statement that the government is following the direction established by the full public consultation which has proved they were doing the right thing all along and intend to continue in the same way. ‘We’ve been listening‘ they’ll say, ‘It’s just that you didn’t say what we wanted you to so we completely ignored it‘ they won’t add.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s completely robust, accurate and reliable poll made of straw is predicting that the responses will fall into one of two camps. The first – the type that will be ignored – runs something like this:

“Everyone is good at something. The purpose of education is to help children find out what they are good at and use the confidence and self-worth they derive from this to confront their weaknesses. Education nourishes the broad natural and individual cognitive, emotional, moral and spiritual development of children and young adults in ways which ultimately gives them a sense of fulfillment and a desire to go on learning, both within work environments and in their personal lives. In doing so they will survive more easily and comfortably and pass on such nourishment to their own children and to society, thus helping ensure the successful continuation of the community, the nation, and ultimately the species.”

And the second – which is what are expected to say:

“The purpose of education is to create a pliant, well-disciplined, hard-working and employable population that doesn’t ask questions and will be led by a small highly-capable elite who will run the country specifically in order to increase their own wealth. However, in the interests of social mobility this involves giving everyone the opportunity to join the elite, whether they want to or not, providing of course they prove themselves to be sufficiently academically able and attend a Russell Group University.”

This will in turn lead to the inevitable conclusion that in order to improve the quality of education good old-fashioned traditional knowledge-based teaching is best, even more testing is needed, and the EBacc is the best thing to come along since the invention of homogenous, completely tasteless sliced-white bread.

All of which is however pretty much beside the point, because there are some much bigger, important and far more disruptive mind-bending educational issues on the horizon that are what we really should be spending our time, effort and money on if we don’t want the country to go the way of dinosaurs, horse-drawn carts and Woolworths – which is the general direction we are currently heading. And they don’t centre around obsessively arguing about whether one style of teaching is better than another, which subjects should or should not be included in the curriculum, how to make it easier to memorise unnecessary information and how many times children need to be tested on their tables.

Indeed All Change Please! isn’t called All Change Please! because it wants Just A Little Bit of Change Now and Again Please! It’s because all things need to change. What we really should be discussing is our ideas about how all schools are going to need to change and evolve rapidly evolve in the very near future, and at the same time how to ensure the quality of the almost inevitable growth on online learning and assessment that will lead the change. To get an idea of the scale of the implications for the world of education, just ask someone in the music, publishing and retail industries if the way things work now are the same as they were in the year 2000, and how much time they spend debating whether or not we should be going back to using traditional methods of selling the same products and services from the 1950s. While everyone else prepares for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – that’s the one after the IT age – education is still way back in the second one.

Thus the first Really Big Issue, which the Df-ingE seems intent on denying and publishing misleading figures about, is the consequences of the forthcoming teacher shortage, due at least in part to their highly successful ‘Let’s Blame the Teacher’ campaign they have been running (together with the recently launched parallel ‘Let’s Also Blame the Parents’ campaign). That’s because there’s an easy solution to the shortage that the Df-ingE have doubtless had in mind all along, following the worrying lead of Brazil and Australia, which is to simply plug children into ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up’ computer-based teaching systems for several hours each day. This has the extra advantage of giving the large corporate preferred suppliers massive contracts to make loads of money while spending as little as possible on the actual teaching and learning content, which will be created by programmers rather than educationalists. The companies that create these teaching systems don’t really care what the purpose of education is – beyond making them a healthy profit – let alone how to achieve it, and so just churn out an endless stream of personalised big data generated knowledge-recall multiple choice questions and test scores. This isn’t education. It’s factory farming.

And the other Really Big Issue is the ingrained belief that we still live in a world of the individual expert who knows a lot about very little, and that by the time a child leaves school and university they have been told and remembered everything there is to know. We appear to be obsessed with the ability to remember things at the expense of problem-solving and management skills. Just saying “Because we don’t know exactly what knowledge will be needed in the future we will go on teaching them the same old stuff in the same old way” and implementing the EBacc isn’t an acceptable answer. And it’s starting to look like the only way to achieve this is going to be for headteachers to unilaterally agree not to play the numbers game anymore.

Meanwhile what we do know is that our children will need to be creative and collaborative team workers and communicators, have excellent personnel management and communication skills and be able and willing to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lives on an almost daily basis – all with no teacher there to inform and test them. More than ever before they will need to identify and maximise their particular individual capabilities and passions and be able to apply them alongside a sound, fundamental grasp of digital technologies, business, economics and psychology. And if we are to remain competitive as a nation and as a culture, these aren’t things that can be just bolted-on in the occasional off-timetable after-school club, but need to underpin the whole curriculum experience from Year 1 to Year 13 and on into further and life-long education. Make no mistake – if we don’t, then China will – or rather, already is.

It will also become increasingly important that today’s children realise that learning is not just something boring and tedious that happens under duress at school sitting at a computer answering endless multiple choice questions, but is something that is pleasurable, enriching and fulfilling and happens throughout life, and through the whole community. Importantly, as adults, they will then need to pass on the same positive values and aspirations to their own children.

The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future. Not the past. 

Or perhaps it’s just really as All Change Please!’s Smith and Jones previously observed:

Jones: But I always thought the purpose of education was to learn useful things, get some qualifications and then a job serving coffee somewhere?

With thanks to Tony’s Mum and Alan.

Image credit: Flickr ozz13x

Big Issue Seller

Now We Are Six

NowWeAreSix

Ever since All Change Please! celebrated its first birthday, it’s been waiting until it could fully reveal the extent of its intellectual middle-class up-bringing by using the title of the book of poems by AA Milne it was bought up on, and to point out that its alter-ego is not the only person to spell their surname that way. Anyway, finally, today’s the day…

As has become the tradition on this great annual celebration – in future doubtless to be recognised globally as All Change Please! day – it has become customary to review what’s been hot and what’s not over the past twelve months.

Rather than building the suspense way beyond the unbearable and then dragging out the final moment of truth for as long as possible by making you wait until the very end of the post to find out, All Change Please! will immediately reveal that and winner of The People’s Vote, i.e. the most read post of the last year, is…

Mark My Words…Please! which helps confirm All Change Please!’s assertion that examiners should be paid more for their services.

Meanwhile curiously the Number 2 spot is taken by Left, Right, Right, Right, Right… which was first released in July 2012, and and is followed onto the turntable by the Number 3 spot by another Golden Oldie, even more curiously also from July 2012 Are Janet and John now working at the DfES?.  For some unknown reason these somewhat dated posts just keep on giving, and All Change Please! can only assume that there must be some tag or keyword in there somewhere that keeps on coming up in searches. There must be a Ph.D. somewhere in there, as people keep saying these days.

Other posts that did better than others during the year included Fixated by Design, Virgin on the ridiculous, New A level D&T: Dull & Tedious and Goves and Dolls.

But now it’s time for All Change Please! to reveal its own favourites for the year in the pathetically vague hope of improving their stats a bit. As so often happens in life, what All Change Please! reckons to be its best works are generally ignored, while the ones it dashed off in a matter of minutes and that it didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in them prove to be the best sellers – which makes it a bit of a shame seeing as they are given away for nothing.

So, if you kindly will, please take a moment to click again on some of these:

Goves and Dolls: All Change Please!’s 2014 Festive gangster satire, written in a Damon Runyon-esque stye

Way To Go: in which Nicky Morgan seems to think that the BBCs WIA spoof fly-on-the-wall comedy series is for real.

And the two Alas! Smith and Journos posts: Have you ever Bean Green and Beginners Please

Meanwhile, here are a few of All Change Please!’s favourite bits:

I expect all the schools requiring improvement will be given those special tape measures now?’ (Jones from Have you ever Bean Green)

Smith:“It’s a new play by Tom Stoppard – you know he did ‘Jumpers’ and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.”

Jones: Oh, the National Theatre, I thought you meant the Grand National and there was a horse called Stoppard who was a good jumper, and there were two other horses they’d had to put down.  (from Beginners Please! in which Smith and Jones are discussing the merits of Nick Glibbly’s suggestion that all children need to be able to understand plays performed at the London Doner Kebab Warehouse)

Swashbuckling Pirate Queen Captain Nicky Morgove has recently vowed to board so-called coasting schools, make the headteacher walk the plank, and academise the lot of them to within an inch of their worthless lives. With Nick Glibb, her faithful parrot, perched on her shoulder squawking ‘Progress 8, Progress 8…’”  (from Pirates of the DfE)

‘So the thing is like that with the DfE, in branding terms it’s really boring. It’s like politics and funding and pedagogy. I mean, who’s interested in all that stuff? So what we’re talking here is like major brand refresh surgery.’

‘They’re terribly excited about ‘Strictly Come Teaching’ in which B-list celebs are paired up with classroom teachers to see how really strict they can be in classrooms up and down the country. We love Strictly!’  (from Way To Go).

‘However, instead I am allowed to prescribe you a course of new scientifically unproven Govicol, but I should warn you it’s rather indigestible and you will have to be spoon-fed it. And what’s more it not only has a nasty taste but has a whole range of unpleasant educational side-effects. (from Nice work).

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.  (from Chinese Takeaways)

 

And finally:

“Now We Are Six”

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

Author: A.A. Milne

Image credit: Wikimedia

Rough Justice?

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 18.35.49

A Justice Department spokesperson has reported that one of Gove’s first priorities will be to introduce a new ‘Just Ice’ bill banning the addition of mixer drinks to spirits. Officials are busy trying to decide who’s going to be the one to tell him…

Around the country this weekend all those involved in education could be heard breathing a big sigh of relief as Herr Gove was assigned the job of, amongst other things, sorting out the prison service. Having once being put in detention while at school, he is obviously highly qualified for the post.

Gove will also bring with him his valuable experience of reforming the nation’s schools. All Change Please! has already seen rather leaky documents outlining his plans to lock prisoners in to what will be known as ‘classrooms’, where they will be required to sit still and in silence for up to 6 hours a day while being forced to listen to and memorise an endless stream of irrelevant facts, which they will be constantly tested on. Prisoners will be required to successfully complete a minimum of five years of hard EBacc subjects before they can be considered for parole.

Robby Hood, currently serving 20 years for taking variables from one side of an equation and giving them to the other, said. “It all sounds absolutely horrific. If this doesn’t stop us outlaws re-offending, nothing will. It will certainly make us think twice before risking actually learning anything worthwhile again.”

Meanwhile privileged wealthy offenders – such as bankers, lawyers, global company directors and former politicians – will be allowed to attend fee-paying public prisons, sometimes known as luxury hotels or cruise ships, where they will each have their own butler and maid service to help them re-adjust to normal life after their release.

Meanwhile it seems that Gove still plans to interfere with Nicky Morgove’s Department f-ing Education. It has been reported that he would like to see classrooms renamed as learning cells, and playgrounds will be renamed as exercise yards.

Examinations wiScreen Shot 2015-05-10 at 20.44.01ll in future be called Trials and marked by jurors, with children first entering pleas of ignorant or not-ignorant. Gove is also apparently keen to see bars added to windows to help children, or young offenders as they will now be called, feel more secure in their environment and to better prepare them for life after school. A spokesperson for the prestigious new Wormwood Scrubs Community Academy thought it doubtful that most students would notice the difference. The design for their new school uniform is shown on the right.

 

It is believed that in another five years time Gove hopes to become Minister for Health where he can develop a similar approach to hospitals and care homes. “It’s all part of my brilliant scheme to offer a cradle-to-grave experience of blind obedience, pain and suffering”, he refused to admit.

In related news, the BBC are considering re-making Grange Hill under the title of Porridge, and producing a new series of Dixon of Dock Green Free School.

Continue to reduce your blood pressure levels here: games.usvsth3m.com/slap-michael-gove/

 

Image credits: Flickr / Nattu and Wallyg

Hancock’s Half Hour

2385282543_9c4abd7d2f_b

Talk about taking one step forward and six steps Baccwards…

All Change Please! can report that the other day Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock spent his Half Hour announcing further details of the new TechBacc.

Teenagers-to-sit-tough-new-Tech-Awards-to-learn-a-trade 

tech-awards-to-boost-vocational-education-for-14-to-16-year-olds

On the one hand was the laudable statement that “From 2015, all practical qualifications for 14- to 16-year-olds will be forced to meet rigorous new standards… to put them on par with academic qualifications”.  Now if All Change Please! didn’t know better it might believe the DfE really did know what they’re talking about this time, but as soon as it read “Previously, young people were encouraged to study meaningless qualifications completely unrelated to their lives or the rapidly changing world of work”, its suspicious were quickly aroused. The statement continued:

Previously, the development of practical skills for 14- to 16-year-olds was too narrowly focused on abstract theory. This has changed so that pupils could now:

  • in woodwork, measure, cut, joint and finish their own piece of furniture – previously they may have just studied the design of a chair

  • in textiles, students may now design and make an outfit from start to finish using a range of dressmaking or tailoring techniques – previously they may have just analysed the impact of changing technology on dress making

  • in electronics, use motion detectors, batteries and microprocessors to wire movement-controlled lighting – previously they may have just analysed a light to see how it functions.

Given that vocational courses are generally aimed at those who find abstract theory difficult to grasp and write academic essays about, it seems rather unlikely that any previous vocational qualifications were awarded simply on the basis of studying the design of a chair, analysing the technological history of dress-making, or describing how a light works. And of course designing and making furniture or an outfit from start to finish, or designing with electronics have long been a feature of GCSE D&T courses.

It rather seems that the DfE have followed Michael Gove, slipping down some sort of mysterious worm-hole time-warp and have found themselves stranded in a make-believe wonderland back in the 1950s where youngsters who are good with their hands end up learning a really useful trade that will see themselves through life, help them set up and maintain their nice new council house and have something nice to wear to church on a Sunday. What appears to be on the horizon is a return to woodwork for the boys and dressmaking for the girls, or as it used to be called in the good old 1950s, ‘Homecrafts’. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning these things, it’s just not even going to match up to the future needs of the ‘white heat of technology’ envisaged back in the 1960s. Somehow it sounds more like a preparation for life on benefits or the minimum wage.

And whatever happened to good old ‘social mobility’? Over the last thirty years the whole argument against these sorts of courses has been that they did not contain enough academic content to enable children who used to be called ‘late-developers’ to change their ‘learning pathway’ and gain entry to University. So how is that going to be resolved? Exactly how will the standards be equated with academic qualifications? It all sounds like another case of something the DfE have not thought through properly, but that doesn’t matter provided it gets some positive spin in the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile these days simply having specific ‘practical’ skills, while better than nothing, is not enough to ensure worthwhile 21st century employment. For example, to have any relevance at all, the ‘woodwork’ course will need to offer a much broader based experience, from wood crafts, coppice management and sustainable forestry, through construction carpentry and joinery, to automated wood fabrication techniques and modern engineered cellulose materials derived from wood products. And the content will also need to ensure that students have a wider understanding of the nature of business and the expectations of the workplace.

And anyway, if we’re going to have a TechBacc, isn’t it also time we had an ArtsBacc?

In other news… an article by Liz ‘No support’ Truss Britain-needs-a-revolution-in-the-classroom claimed that teaching was now the preferred option for Oxford graduates. And that’s the problem: academics are simply breeding more academics – education is little more than a self-perpetuating academic renewal device completely unconnected with the real world.

She’s right of course in one respect, Britain does need a revolution in the classroom. Just not the one that she has in mind.

And finally… some breaking news… Apparently:

Alan Milburn, the Government’s social mobility tsar, says that schools are “wasting young talent on an industrial scale” as figures suggest 2,000 bright pupils from poor backgrounds never reach their potential.

Meanwhile yet another spokesperson from the DfE said: “Improving the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the gap between the rich and the poor is our overriding ambition.”

By ‘potential’ Alan Milburn means attending a leading academic Russell Group University and doubtless ending up with a job serving coffee at Starbucks, or, of course, teaching. As opposed to the quite unthinkable alternative of following a technical or vocational course and setting up a successful business. Provided that is it’s not in woodwork or dressmaking of course.

 

Image credits: Flickr  Philip Howard    /  Britt-Marie Sohlström

Getting IT Right – again

All Change Please! is still the tiniest bit concerned about what seems to be a distinct lack of debate concerning what schools should be teaching in terms of IT. The broad media message is that spreadsheets, databases and presentations are now Out, and that coding is In. The first question no-one seems to be asking is exactly what level of coding needs to be taught? Clearly some basic principles should be established during primary school, but flogging away at dead computer languages through secondary school is going to be about as relevant as learning Latin, and indeed probably even less interesting and fun. I first raised this in Rasberry Pi in the sky back in March. And indeed here is some evidence of what all pupils will be doing if we are not careful: 12 Things to do with Raspberry Pi. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with this Boys’ Own construction kit approach as such, providing it is just a small part of a much wider programme of IT-related learning.

Next question:  how essential is it actually going to be for everyone to be able to code as the 21st century progresses? Back in the late 1980s if you wanted to use a PC you needed to have some understanding of DOS – and then along came Windows. In the mid 1990s if you wanted to set up a website you had to learn html – and then along came a variety of iWebGoLiveDreamWeavery programs that more-or-less did all that for you. And just a couple of years ago if you wanted to create an electronic multimedia textbook you needed to be able to apply some fairly heavy-duty coding – now you can use iBook author. So I’m not entirely convinced that in the future everyone needs to be fluent in high-level programming languages. Though obviously at the same time we do urgently need to find ways to attract and encourage our more capable students – and especially girls – to consider working in the IT industry.

Meanwhile the flavour of the month appears to be ‘Create your own App in your bedroom and make a fortune‘, which I have to say I find a little dishonest, in that the average student probably has probably got as much chance of doing so as they have of winning the ‘X factor’ or ‘Britain’s got talent but I just hope this isn’t it’. Creating successful apps involves a great deal more than a good idea – thorough market research into user needs, wants and behaviours is required, along with some high-level coding expertise, an Apple developer account, a US tax reference number and a substantial marketing budget. If we really are to become a nation of enterprising app-builders we need to be teaching coding in the context of creativity, risk-taking, on-line collaboration, business management, venture capital and crowd-sourcing, along with user-interface design and information metrics.

We also need to be seriously questioning whether IT as such should be ‘taught’ as such in the current formal education system, particularly given that, by and large, the BBC Model B/Microsoft Office raised workforce in place to teach it often have little or no experience of the reality of the fast-moving, agile and highly competitive IT industry. The anticipation in the late 1990s was that IT would soon simply become embedded in the curriculum as a whole, with a properly coordinated scheme in place that ensured appropriate coverage and progression over the years – which of course never happened. Would it perhaps be more beneficial for schools to focus more widely on how to effectively use IT to learn independently, rather than how to create new content?

Meanwhile outside the school system, those who are sufficiently interested and motivated (aka ‘geeks’) should be offered guaranteed access to regular informal sessions to develop their expertise, alongside an online collaborative network of professional programmers and designers who recognise the need to themselves participate in the life-long learning community. Now that really would be 21st Century Learning.

These may not be all the questions that need asking (or indeed the right answers) but at least All Change Please! is asking them…

*Older readers might recall that Getting IT Right was the title of a series of KS3 ICT textbooks and support materials All Change Please! was the series editor for back in the late 1990s.

The Unbearable Obsolescence of Learning

It may be a sad fact of life, but when something has ceased to be of any practical use or value, it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump, before being replaced and updated by a brand new model that works a whole lot better – even if it maybe doesn’t last quite as long. And that’s exactly what needs to be happening to our current education system right now.

All Change Please! has recently come across three very different posts that are essentially about the same thing – the need for completely new approaches to teaching and learning, fit more for the remaining seven-eighths of the 21st century than the 19th. (Yes, this month we’re exactly 12 years and 6 months through the 21st century! Well, depending where you start counting from, anyway.)

The first: Unwilling to learn?
http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2012/06/unwilling-to-learn.html

This post endorses something that All Change Please! expressed a while back, that children do actually want to learn – it is after a basic survival skill – but that the problem is that we are not currently teaching them things they don’t see the relevance or need of, and don’t care about.

“Let’s put down the burden. Just set it down and walk away. Make schools places where the first job of adults is to discover who these kids are, and provide support, time and resources to help them become the people they want to be.”

Meanwhile in the (much needed) haste to reform the ICT curriculum, all those BBC Micro enthusiasts from the 1980s have taken the opportunity to get back to the good old days and promote the idea that everyone should take a course in Computer Science. Now I agree that all children should experience the basics of programming to discover if it’s something that appeals to them, but the thought that everyone should become coders is nonsense. So it’s good to read this post:

Let’s Not Call It “Computer Science” If We Really Mean “Computer Programming”
http://codemanship.co.uk/parlezuml/blog/?postid=1109

“Of all the mathematical sciences, computer science is unquestionably the dullest. If I had my time again, despite discovering just how much I love writing software, I still wouldn’t study computer science. I’d program, for sure. And I’d buy books on CS and learn what I need to make me a better programmer. Which is exactly what I did. It’s my deepest concern that we don’t put off a new potential generation of software developers by teaching them stuff that a. they probably won’t need to know, and b. will be taught at the expense of things they might actually find useful.

“The graduate would be able to write a program, but write a program to do what? … It’s no good being about to program if you don’t know anything of how to solve problems.”

And finally, designer John McWade on The Vanishing Master:
http://www.mcwade.com/DesignTalk/2012/05/the-vanishing-master/

“You spend a career mastering a craft, over decades becoming so deep, so knowing, so capable, that you are now the wise old man or woman to whom even teachers of teachers come for guidance. And then the craft vanishes, leaving what?  “That’s what’s going missing! We’re not making masters. The changes are coming so fast that everyone is always beginning.” ”…Skills, entire professions, especially in tech, now run a 100-year life cycle in a decade or less. No one gains the wisdom of years.”

Our education system has yet to really consider that impact on teaching and learning of the rate of change we are now experiencing. In the 1950s, you left school feeling you knew just about everything there was to know. These days you leave knowing virtually nothing in terms of the amount of global knowledge there is. And whereas before you spent a lifetime gaining experience and wisdom, now, if you are lucky, that experience lasts just six months before the world has moved on, long before any wisdom has begun to emerge. If it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, then it is important to discover early on in life what that skill might be.

At present, the majority of children moving from Year 1 to Year 11 spend more than than discovering that they are not cut out to spend the rest of their lives as an academic. And we need to ensure that the skills we need to master are as transferable as possible. Somehow we need to find a way of teaching essential and desirable skills and knowledge that will still ultimately lead to some sort of wisdom, while at the same time preparing children for a world in which the skills and knowledge they will actually need are, to a large extent, currently unimaginable.

The world of education is still tinkering with the past at a time when its approach is obsolete, and the time has come when it needs to be disposed of. Dismantled. Torn apart. Recycled and re-purposed where possible, and the rest sent unceremoniously to the dump – and, unlike the last three sentences, not just be repeated again sometime later when everyone has forgotten how inadequate it was the first time round.  Just as we need completely new processes of collaborative thought and action to deal with things like the global economy, future sources of more sustainable energy, the potential use of new and emerging electronic and bio-technologies, etc., so we need completely new processes of thought and action to deal with the requirements for a future education system that is flexible, appropriate, effective, and fit for purpose – well for the next six months into the future, anyway.

Image credit: Mattias Olsson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/maol/254171944

21st Century Schizoid Learning

I first encountered the world of education (as a prospective teacher as opposed to a student) some 37 years ago, in 1975, which by chance marked the dawn of the final quarter of the 20th century. It was a time when design and processed-based education was being pioneered. The phrase ‘throw-away society’ had already be coined, and we all knew about the hidden persuasive power of the media and advertising. And because of the oil crisis in the early 1970s there was much talk of the need for conservation and alternative energy, and public collaboration and for greater participation in new design processes. Quite clearly the end was in sight for the then current approach to the industrial society, mass-production and established design-by-drawing methodologies. By the end of the 1970s the impending impact of the computer on our lives was becoming evident too.

So when I come across the phrases ‘21st Century Learning‘ and ‘21st Century Skills‘, I can’t help thinking that what is actually being discussed is ‘late 20th Century Learning and Skills‘. The need for critical evaluation and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration was clearly identified way back in the last century, but it has taken 37 years for them to start to become more widely identified and accepted (except of course by the present UK government).

Let’s project forward another 37 years then, to 2049. What are the educational needs of someone actually born in the 21st Century? The oldest will be turning 12 this year, and by 2049 will be 49. But unlike the 1960s and 70s when the next 25 years seemed relatively easy to anticipate, there’s now little indication as to how things will be in the future. The only prediction we can perhaps make, based on the fact that technology has clearly entered a highly disruptive phase, is that the next quarter of a century is completely unpredictable.

Thus the so-called ’21st Century Learning and Skills’ might well be hopelessly out-dated and inadequate to deal with living and working in the later years of this century. I suspect (and hope) they will still have some value, but who knows what things will actually be like in the brave new world our current generation of school-children will find themselves?

Perhaps the most important thing we should be focusing on is to ensure the inhabitants of tomorrow’s world are as flexible as possible in their thoughts and actions, well prepared for and accepting of discontinuous change as something normal, and more than willing to take risks and deal with failure. But surely the most important thing of all is to ensure that 21st Century children gain a positive view of education, and the ability to be able to learn for themselves in whatever future they encounter? Sadly, at present, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Image credit: Photo-Extremist: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevlue/4839060646

Let them read books…

1001 books you must read before you die. That’s equivalent to about just 10 a year if you live to be 100?

There’s been a lively debate recently about Mr Gove’s suggestion that all children should read 50 books a year. This presents some interesting problems, not the least how the books will be selected, who will pay for them and how each child’s reading will be monitored, and of course, most importantly, assessed. How long will it be before the smartest children simply buy a copy of ‘1001 books you must read before you die’, which neatly summarises each one?

http://www.amazon.co.uk/1001-Books-Must-Read-Before/dp/1844034178/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302461606&sr=1-2

or as one reviewer has put it:

‘you don’t have to actually read all those classic and influential novels, because this superb reference book provides enough information in itself to give the reader an excellent literary overview. With this single volume, you can avoid feeling that you’ve read so much that dying might be a merciful release from all that goddamned literature; instead, each pleasantly brief entry provides enough to grasp the essence of the book in question’.

Meanwhile for the less ambitious, there’s always ‘501 must-read’ books. That’s just 5 a year…
http://www.amazon.co.uk/501-Must-Read-Books/dp/0753713438/ref=reg_hu-rd_dp_img

Of course another really good solution might be to equip every child with an iPad-type touch tablet, loaded with the 550 books they are expected to read as they move through school (or 650 if they stay on to the Sixth Form).

And why exactly 50 a year one wonders? According to the Guardian:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/mar/22/gove-50-books-children-laureate
it seems Mr Gove picked up on the idea while visiting the USA, so we can safely assume it’s been worked out as one a week, stupid. Err.. does that mean children are excused from reading a book during Christmas week and Easter week then, or….?

It’s a sad reflection that something that is actually potentially worthwhile ends up being widely ridiculed just because it’s been said by an education minister whose pronouncements can only now be read as a bit of a joke…

“I want to teach the world to learn…”

In my last post I innocently asked one of my famous awkward questions when I queried how we might actually start the learning revolution advocated by Sir Ken Robinson?

It’s true that education has got so far behind the times that a major change is needed, but unless we can imagine school-children, students and teachers rioting in the streets and sending all the Oxbridge-educated politicians and journalists to the guillotine in a bid to achieve a really effective sort of education cut, it’s hard to imagine what other event could possibly act as a catalyst for the revolution.

Instead, somehow we have to find ways to be more sophisticated and strategic, working from within, getting the politicians and the journalists to buy into a simple media message that sounds positive and attractive to Daily Mail readers, and that isn’t going to cost too much to implement.

Now I’ve always considered that learning is a basic survival skill, not that far behind breathing, eating and keeping warm and dry. Children have an instinctive desire to learn, but the problem is that what they are currently being taught is not what they know they need to be learning. There is no longer a fixed body of knowledge that will see them through their lives, and the former holy grail of an academic degree is no longer a guarantee of life-long employment and a good pension.

One of the main problems with education is that as a society we still think of school as being somewhere children go to learn about things, and that’s what is they are then examined on. Perhaps all that’s really needed to achieve something more appropriate is a shift of focus towards an emphasis not so much what you learn, but how you learn? The QCAs ‘Personal Learning and Thinking‘ skills have been around for a few years now, but I doubt whether many teachers are aware of it, and students are certainly not assessed and certificated in things such as being independent enquirers, self-managers and effective participators. Of course a reliable and valid means of ‘on the fly’ collaborative assessment would need to be found to enable students to measure their progress against the learning performance of others, but we all know something that will do just that, don’t we?

Wouldn’t it be great if teachers were encouraged to share and pass on their own expertise in how people learn, instead of keeping it to themselves?

And as an employer in the 21st Century I’d much rather my future workforce had certificates to show that they have the capacity to work collaboratively to acquire the unforeseeable knowledge, understanding and skills that will emerge over their future working lives, rather than having a list of academic qualifications rooted in the incomprehensible suburban sprawl of the ‘just in case’ subject knowledge defined the National Curriculum.

So as a more positive reason for going to school, maybe ‘Learning how to learn‘ is a catchy enough proposition to one day persuade some enlightened and ambitious education minister (sadly not the present incumbent) that here is the basis of a policy that might actually make a difference and also be a potential vote-winner?

Let’s provide some TLC in our schools! That’s: Thinking, Learning and Creativity.