The World Changes. Education …….?


Here’s an article I wrote that was published last month in the magazine Expat Go. This is an annual edition produced by The Expat magazine that focuses on the education sector and provides information to help parents select the right school for their child.

My focus was the changed world in which our children are growing and the ways in which modern education needs to respond. When expat educators come to a country like Malaysia, I believe it’s vitally important that we don’t just simply take the path of ease and relaxation by reproducing some kind of old-fashioned and largely irrelevant Western (British?) education of yesterday. Rather, we have a duty to work with our local colleagues to produce dsomething new, uniquely different, relevant to the environment where we’re working and that does not saddle the country with undesirable legacy processes. Together, we have to produce something new, unique and special that is thoroughly of the Twenty First Century.

Growth Mindset in Practice

The concept of growth mindset and the recognition of its relative merits over a fixed mindset have now been with us for quite a few years. I’ve written about the concept, the work of Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University and also her reservations about some of the practical misunderstandings on a number of occasions over the last few years, especially since reading her book on the subject.

To me, it was already clear in a number of ways that there was a gap between the theory, the concept itself and even people’s expressed positive views towards it and the actual practical application of the growth mindset in classrooms and schools on a day to day basis. So, i was very interested to see that some research had been carried out on this subject. It’s reported in research shared through the Edweek website:

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom – A National Study of K-12 Teachers

Now, the report does acknowledge that the sample is not wholly statistically balanced. Firstly, the participants were self-selecting. Next, they were all in the American education system (though as the concept originated there, we would expect to see higher levels of engagement with it). Maybe, to me, most relevant and not really mentioned – they were all users of the Edweek website. In my experience, that marks them out as a cohort of educators with stronger inclination towards their own continuous professional development.

Nevertheless, even allowing for these shortcomings I still believe it offers some interesting insights. The first is that, not too uncommonly, teachers perceive that their own levels of awareness and comprehension of an important concept in education is better than that of the administrators in their school and most certainly better than their peers! Teachers still, at heart, love to compete. Further, there was clearly some hesitancy amongst teachers about how important growth mindset was for children’s learning compared with other factors, even though they rated student motivation and engagement strongest – and there’s lots of evidence that these are heavily impacted by mindset.

On aspect of the survey that saddened me a little was that it didn’t dare to step in to the delicate area of the extent to which the mindset of the teacher themselves impacts their approach to mindset with their students. One of the toughest aspects may well be that a teacher really needs to imbibe the concept very deeply with regard to themselves, their professional and personal growth journey and potential before they can truly address it with children or integrate the approach fully and effectively in their teaching practice. A bit of a case of practicing what we preach and willingness to model the attributes that we wish to see in our students.

The survey is also interesting, but not wholly surprising in highlighting that most teachers believe they haven’t received enough training on mindset. Here, yet again is the deep irony – teachers, by and large still go through their lives as products of their own education and still believe in a paradigm that learning is being taught. My question – if you want to know more about Mindset, as a teacher, what’s stopping you? Do you have to wait for others to train you? Could you choose to learn, share with peers and then experiment and practice the different approaches?

In short, the data carries a clear message that if we want our children to be learning and developing in school environments where growth mindset prevails, there is still a great deal to be done. A gulf exists between theory and acknowledgement and actual practice and we need to address this gap.

The Harm Done By Tuitions


Here’s an article I wrote that has been published in this month’s edition of Ipoh Valley of Dreams magazine.

With apologies to Jane Kuok – I’ve got no idea why i look so white in the photo, or where the full stop went at the end of the article – but well spotted!

How To Mess Up A Good Thing

Formative assessment has been a vitally important element in education, as educators seek to have ways to move away from the old fashioned models based endlessly on the use of standardised examinations to provide data and evidence of student learning. Incidentally, on that, I read yesterday that in Japan, children don’t take any kind of full summative assessment until the age of 10.

Formative assessment goes by many names, the most common other name being assessment for learning (AfL) to differentiate it from assessment of learning (AoL) AoL can be compared to cracking eggs open on a regular basis to find out how the chicks are developing. When we consider that the man who invented standardised tests (especially of the multiple choice variety) actually came out after a year or two to say that they were too crude and unsophisticated to use to measure school pupils’ knowledge, skills or academic performance (and was promptly sacked for his honesty!) we have to say that if we are to have assessment it has to be something a great deal more advanced.

AfL sets out to pay more attention to the future, rather than looking solely backwards like summative testing. It includes a variety of techniques and methods to gather clues as to how well a student is progressing in some learning and to have clarity about where they need to go next to best build on to their existing knowledge, skills and competence. Also, and perhaps most critically, AfL is not just predicated on the need to produce a set of data for the teacher, but aims to have the learner themselves reflect on their learning, the journey they have taken up to the point in time and where they are going next – including what they will need to do to get there. It

In November 2008 I was very fortunate to attend a presentation in Mumbai, India arranged by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). The keynote speaker was professor Sue Swaffield of Cambridge University, a leading proponent of AfL and researcher in educational leadership, assessment and school improvement. She presented powerful research evidence about the ways in which grades and marks demotivate all but the strongest of academic achievers, lead to negative approaches to learning from children and teachers and advocating strongly for stronger training of teachers in the techniques and methods of AfL.

So, I was very interested recently to come across this article written by professor Swaffield nearly a year later that really highlights how good ideas can get mangled and abused in the education domain. The needs of those in power for data, control and top down dictating of how things are done is the very opposite of what we see throughout the world in the most dynamic, creative learning organisations.

The Misrepresentation of Assessment For Learning
(To download the document as a PDF you will need to have Adobe reader or some similar programme loaded)

I particularly loved the section on the second page of the paper that talks of the origins of the word ‘assessment’ in latin, deriving from a word that means “sitting beside”. Tell that to the exam invigilators – they would call that cheating!

Training The Brain

Generally, on at least 20 days in each month, I set a bit of time aside to do the online ‘free’ tests available on the Lumosity website. Most often, this is with my morning coffee when i get up. if not, at some time later in the day when there’s a logical time to pause for breath. Many years ago, the fad was sudoku puzzles and off and on over the years I’ve got in to the crossword habit.

Does all this activity make me more intelligent? Do the memory exercises boost my memory, the task swapping exercises boost my ability to focus? Or, should it just all be treated as a bit of fun? If I’m having fun and it ‘gets me up and going’ in the mornings, does it really matter?

To my mind there are two specific reasons why it should matter to us what these online programmes are actually achieving;

a) They make some pretty big and grandiose boasts (claiming to back them with genuine hard scientific research data) about the benefits,
b) Some varieties of these programmes are being marketed more aggressively towards schools and parents as ways to boost the ‘brain power’ of children – by implication boosting their academic abilities. These are tempting claims, sometimes tied in some way to the ideas of growth mindset propounded by Carol Dweck of Stanford University.

There’s potentially a great deal of money at stake here (not from me, I’m only using the free version!) so it’s inevitable that any new research or authoritative statements in this area are going to have an impact and be hotly contested. So, it was with all these factors in mind that i read the following article published recently in ‘The Atlantic’. It sets out details of a recent review of all the scientific papers identified to date on the subject. The overall conclusions suggest the complexity of measurement in this area and highlight that the companies marketing the programmes have, at least, been guilty of some exaggeration of the direct benefits.

The Atlantic – The Weak Evidence Behind Brain-Training Games

If I believe that by doing such exercises regularly, day after day, my brain will work better, faster, with more creativity, dexterity and deliver me superior results AND as a result of that belief, I get those benefits, then can it be said that the programme itself did or didn’t have the positive effect? If i got the positive effect i wanted, does it matter how it was achieved? Has similar research looked at the issues of weight training or other physical fitness based techniques? If I do bodyweight exercise three times a week, and as a result find that I can carry heavy loads easier and for longer day to day, do i need scientific evidence to conclusively and quantifiably link the two things? Surely, it’s enough that there is no evidence of adverse impact from the bodyweight exercising? In other words, it’s not harming me, I have benefit that may directly or indirectly flow from the exercising – then surely I will consider it’s in my best interest to carry on exercising.

As for me, as long as I feel that these exercises are a fun accompaniment to my early morning coffee I will continue to do them. I am certain as I can be that they’re doing me no harm. If I feel that afterwards, I start my day with a bit of extra mental ‘zip’, energy and feeling like the engine’s properly cranked up, then I’ll not worry too much whether that was the games or the coffee that did it for me.

Focus On Peace in Education

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
George Satayana, philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist

The Vision of the Tenby Schools states – A United World At Peace – Through Education.

I believe that there has never been a more important time than now to treat peace as a major area of importance in education. Sadly, 2015 proved to be the year that saw the highest levels of death, displacement and destruction from war and conflicts in over 25 years. We now live in a time when there are very few remaining veterans from the world wars still living. For many in the Western countries, those people (especially when they held positions of power in their countries) were the voice of restraint, the living memory of the atrocious conditions of war.

Now that the collective memory of the horrors of war is passing away, we’re seeing the rapid rise of nationalist politicians in many countries. These are opportunists who see their route to political power on the basis of dividing people, rather than putting in the intellectually more rigorous work of bringing people together. They are able to peddle their messages of division, jealousy, envy and greed in a climate where people believe, especially in Western countries, that they have the ‘right’ to more, rather than making the connections between personal responsibility, effort, commitment and dedication and accountability for the outcomes in one’s own life. In many Western countries today people are little better off than 20 years ago. However, seeking to raise their living standards they resort to borrowing, resulting in a vast cliff of debt that threatens to tumble down on the society with the slightest negative twitch of the economy.

Recently, the United Nations held a major conference looking at the issues of refugees and displaced persons – a massive issue in the world that threatens to spiral out of control as people flee conflict areas. During the opening of the conference, the UN Human Rights Chief had this to say:

Facebook – UN Human Rights Chief Zeid

This was a very powerful speech that should have received wider coverage than it did. Take, for example, the following;

“”An epidemic of amnesia is at the heart of this moral collapse in some quarters. Many seem to have forgotten the two world wars – what happens when fear and anger are stoked by half-truths and outright lies. A density of hatred builds up. The pin is pulled. The timer, released. And humanity’s rendez-vous with the ‘demon of world history’ beckons again”

A further article about the speech: CNS News – UN Human Rights Chief Lashes ‘Race-Baiting Bigots’

If we are to see peace in our world, not only at today’s levels avoiding escalation, but offering a better future for today’s children, then education has to be one of the most important aspects in the solution. We truly can ‘educate for peace’, as highlighted in this excellent Huffington Post article;

Huffington Post – Educate For Peace

The Blockchain

The blockchain – know what it is? Need to know as an educator?

Yep. I believe so. If it has even a fraction of the impact that it could in the world, then it’s going to have a vast role in the lives of our children.

This video explains it in a way that’s clear for all. I believe this is going to be very very big.

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