We cannot must not go back

Education experts in a range of settings around the world were unanimous on this point in last week’s WISE online conference: Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined. This blog is a digest of session 3 of the conference.

Kiran Bir Sethi (Design for Change) suggested we spend too much time at school teaching children what they can learn by themselves, as the current crisis is proving. What we cannot teach online is what it means to be human. She maintains that a classroom should be a safe place for children to share ideas and explore compassion, empathy and ethics. Teachers would become facilitators: “A tool to coach, to listen.”

This idea was echoed by Jahwara Al Thani (WISE), Urvashi Sahni (Study Hall Education Foundation) and Louka Parry (Karanga) Rather than being “a stage for the perfunctory performance of teacher and student roles” (Thani) the classroom should be a space where children discuss the issues that affect them most, developing their social, emotional and political awareness; a holistic approach to finding solutions. “The purpose of school will change. Social, emotional and cognitive focus in a place where people feel held not challenged. A sense of possibility and belonging” (Louka Parry). Various presenters  suggested classrooms should be places where questions which promote deep thinking and discussion should be asked: What does success look like? Why does it matter? What are you grateful for? What does it mean to be human? Who am I and how am I related to the universe?

Margot Foster (Professional Practice, Department for Education, South Australia, Australia) cited their research with over 20,000 children responding. The overriding findings were that children said they wanted

  • more challenge  – they were bored
  • more time to collaborate and talk with their peers
  • more time to ask questions and think.

She felt teachers were rescuing kids from thinking by wanting them to have fun in the classroom. Children are not waiting to be formed into active, thinking adults; they already have opinions and ideas and can act.

What she advocated was a programme of what she called “disruptives”. The first step was to conduct a student voice audit and then to co-design the change with the students. Her presentation was, appropriately, supported by young students eloquently and confidently expressing their views.

Interestingly, this was the core of my work back in the 1990s. I was North Wales development officer for Plant yng Nghymru / Children in Wales and my job was to ensure that the voices of children and young people were heard and listened to by decision-makers in the statutory bodies such as Education, Health and Social Services as well as by Council planners. Working outside of school at that time, I set up evening events with panels of young people questioning panels of public officers on specific topics such as substance abuse and bullying. The ‘rules of engagement’ were clearly established so that both groups could listen to each other’s views. The events were welcomed and some changes that might not otherwise have been made were the result. Both sides were pleasantly surprised by the attitude and demeanour of the other and both sides found it enlightening and informative.

Thought-provoking insights were presented by Allan Walker, based in Hong Kong: a location which, in his words, has recently been through three phases: social unrest, a period of calm and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Had society in Hong Kong learned from the first crisis? He felt the jury was still out on that one. Walker outlined the challenges for leaders in a crisis and made the observation that complaint should be seen as a rich source of ideas and innovation; an attractive idea. Another point he made, which resonated with me, was that in a crisis you cannot have perfection. This practical statement of what ought probably to be obvious, should come as a source of relief for the many struggling to maintain stability in the midst of chaos.

Amongst the lessons learned from the social unrest and education shut-down in Hong Kong Walker highlighted the fact that a strong values platform is what carried many institutions through. “They didn’t have the facts, but they still had a basis on which to act.” This is precisely what we at Values and Visions advocate: start from your values, hold true to them and pass everything you do through the prism of your values.

Overall the discussion reiterated the message at the heart of the WISE2019 Summit in Doha: Unlearning, Re-learning what it means to be human. Education is not serving our young people well and in the fast-changing, volatile world in which we live reimagining is needed. Let classrooms become places which prepare young people to engage actively in the world in which they live and will work. Let children’s voices be heard and listen to them. Enable them to establish their values, develop their inner strength and sense of meaning and purpose. Now is a time to reflect The pandemic is an opportunity. Let us seize it! We cannot must not continue the way we were.

List of these presenters and links to their presentations

Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder and Chairperson, Design for Change, India

Margot Foster, Director – Professional Practice, Department for Education, South Australia, Australia

Al Jawhara Al Thani, Head of Educational and Community Programs, Qatar Foundation, Qatar – Download the presentation

Joseph Lau Chair Professor of International Educational Leadership, The Education University of Hong Kong

David Ng, Associate Professor, National Institute for Education, Singapore

Louka Parry, Executive Committee Karanga and Founder and CEO The Learning Future, Australia

Urvashi Sahni, Founding President and CEO, Study Hall Education Foundation, India

Respondent: Stavros N. Yiannouka, CEO, WISE, Qatar

Moderator: Anthony Mackay, CEO & President of the National Centre on Education and the Economy, USA

Links to the presentations can be found here https://www.wise-qatar.org/education-disrupted-education-reimagined/

By NO Comment April 21, 2020

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