Keeping the spark going

As a Consultant I spend the holidays that I so much looked forward to in my many years as a teacher, working in my nearly deserted office.

It is a time to tidy desks, hold planning meetings and also have in depth discussions which you never have time for when the schools are back.

Today, three of us sat a desk and a colleague discussed her young three year old niece. She said that the girl was lively and always inquisitive. She was always asking questions and had begun to develop fluency in three languages, English, Urdu and Arabic. She loved to count and was always willing to take part in word games (in any of the three languages). She said her niece loved to paint and draw and always loved any form of music and to sing all day long. She described her as a “sponge” that seemed to want to explore her environment and interact with her family and their friends until she had exhausted herself and felt the need to sleep.

My colleague  deals with the children in what we call the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 here in Britain. She said that she spent her working life looking at the way that the bright inquisitive children of aged five who are experimenting with language and art and music and the physical world whilst running and jumping and talking to their friends in a free flowing environment, become the often  sullen and guarded children of aged seven who are about to be tested for the first time by their national education system so that they can be assessed against a “national level” of expected achievement.

She said that the “spark” had somehow gone and that when they reached the next phase in their educational development (Key Stage 2 aged 7 to 11) they were now lacking in the free-flowing enquiry and the desire to experiment and investigate.

Last night I watched a video of George Lucas talking about his own experiences in school (see http://vodpod.com/watch/1910194-george-lucas-sharing-his-hope-for-education-at-dreamforce-edutopia. ) He said that he was not a good student and was too often bored in school. He only came alive in the learning sense when he finished up at the University of California and went to Film School, where he was able to investigate and have free play with a media (cinematography) that he at once knew he loved and was also very good at.

Watching George talk about his experiences made me think of my colleague’s remarks about the “spark” going out of so many of our children’s lives. George said that it was because of his own negative experiences at school that he had formed the George Lucas Foundation and later Edutopia to encourage Project Based Learning using new technology that emphasised creativity, innovation and above all exploration. He was fortunate that the “spark” that he had been born with and which accompanied him in his early days at school had been reignited when he went to film school and discovered teachers who let him free up his mind and allowed him to explore a fascinating media that he was able to master and make a huge contribution to.

I can only hope that my colleague’s niece will retain the “spark” that she talked about this morning.That she will enjoy her time in school and find the thing that will become her passion in life and fulfil herself and maybe, just maybe, contribute to the world in some small or maybe large way which may very well benefit so many others.

This will depend not just on her innate skills and abilities but the way that we shape her education in the years to come and the chances we give her to keep the “spark” that she has within her. I am so glad that we have people like George Lucas who are willing to put their money to organisations such as Edutopia to promote an education system that will facilitate this for so many of our children in the future.

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