Changing education paradigms: a personal reflection

The RSA Talks are  excellent. They bring   great talks by brilliant speakers about fascinating subjects and rivals TED Talks in its interest level and power.

I am, as those of you who follow my blog will know, a great fan and supporter of the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson. I have made quite a few blog postings about his work (see the Tag on this post).

This shortened version of a talk that he gave as recipient of the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal at the Royal Society of Arts (henceforth just RSA) is wonderfully animated as are all of the RSAnimate series of videos (if you haven’t seen them then I suggest that you look them up, there are excellent ones from David Crystal‘s talk and also Daniel Pink‘s).

In the talk Sir Ken talks about the fact that we have moved into a new world which needs collaboration and creativity and that the present education system is rushing backwards towards a now defunct industrial model of education which gave us schools that look like factories and have bells that keep students to strict timings throughout the day, a curriculum that is about instruction by a “sage on the stage”  and that segregate students by the accident of their birth or as Sir Ken so wonderfully puts it “according to their date of manufacture”.

This week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of Polish teachers from the town that is twinned with Southend-On-Sea where I work, Sopot. We were showing them a few of our schools to give them an idea about how the English education system works (I say English as against Scottish since they had been on a study visit to Scotland last year and the two education systems run differently).

I have reported about the first day in an earlier blog (“Banging Our Own Drum”). The second day we went to a local secondary school called Futures College. This has students of 11-16 in it and has now had a brand new £19 milion  college put up that is serving students from across the whole area of Southend and South-East Essex and has been built to work within the school for lessons to their 14-16 year olds as well as being a resource for apprentices in a large number of craft and commercial skill areas.

The differences between the two parts of the school couldn’t be more marked. In the college there were young people occupied at brick laying, carpentry and hairdressing. There was a busy learning atmosphere. There were expert adults who were there to advise and guide but no direct teaching with a black or whiteboard and there was a free flowing space. In the large open area canteen there were computers which students could use which by-passed the Council’s strict censorship of sites such as Facebook and Twitter and allowed the students to use the social media that they use in their “outside school” life. In this canteen  mobile phones could be used freely and therefore the students did not feel the need to break the prohibition of their use during their “learning time”.

The teachers and myself witnessed an atmosphere of busy learning with young people who were following their passion which may have been for carving of wood or producing a wonderful hair design.

We then walked back to the older school buildings. There was the closed classrooms and the dark corridors. We witnessed a French lesson with a cheerful teacher (who was actually French) teaching a group of Year 7 pupils. She told them to recall last week’s lesson.. that we always make the adjective fit the gender of the word.. so therefore we had une porte bleue and that this stayed the same for the plural which we add the “s”.. so we get des portes bleues.

The children ranged from interested and occupied (“thank you for taking a learning risk” she said to one student for a good answer) to bored and staring at walls or at us visitors trying to be invisible at the back of the classroom!

It struck me that Sir Ken’s words about what we need to move away from and towards were starkly present in this one school.  The journey we need to take is from the Victorian factory building that is the old school building to the bright, open and student-interest centred environment that is the new college.

I am not suggesting that there is a limitless pool of money that can create new school buildings throughout Britain or the rest of the world… but we need to think about how we can change and use the buildings that we have at present to facilitate this new paradigm. We need to allow mobile phones to be used as a learning tool, we need to discourage segregation by age and we need to think about boxing our students in and having them work to particular timings.

I also think we need to take in new developments such as Karl Fisch‘s idea of turning the approach to school work on it’s head and making videos for the students to look at in their own time at home (he uploads them to Youtube) and then get the children to work through the ideas in school.

We do need to encourage collaboration (and not call it “cheating” as Sir Ken says in his talk) and we need to allow students to follow their passions and interest and not dictate to them what we feel they need.

This is the changed paradigm that Sir Ken talks about and I know in my mind that it is where we have to go (and I feel we will go in the future). This has been my own personal reflection on how I have caught a glimpse of it in practice and why I continue to shout about it in my blog. Thank you for reading this.

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