Backing a Smart Idea

I wrote an article a few weeks ago in which i set out my recent thoughts on how we will tackle the environmental challenges we face today. In the article I suggested that the solutions don’t lie in fanciful ideas of persuading people to either give up what they already have, or to forgo what they believe others have enjoyed and they aspire to. Rather, we need smart technology driven solutions that make a difference. That article was particularly about global warming and the impact on climate. The other major ecological and environmental issue that must be addressed is with regard to plastics, and especially single use plastics.

So, I was really impressed when i came across this video and the accompanying crowdsourcing page on Indiegogo (see below). Over the last couple of years I have made strenuous efforts to stop buying plastic water bottles and to use a reusable bottle whenever possible. However, there’s a world of difference about not making a bad problem worse and making it better.

For the last 20 years I’ve lived in Asia – in hot and sometimes humid countries. This is great as I’d always much rather be hot than cold. However, it always came with a problem as I’ve had a bad habit since i was a boy – I don’t drink enough water through the day. I get busy, occupied and distracted and before i know it I’m flagging as the initial impact of dehydration hits me. There have been times it made me quite ill. So, a few years ago I was glad to find an app for my smart phone that reminded me through the day and provided an easy way to track how much I had drunk (even if it did embarrass me a few times if I’d forgotten to turn the sound down in meetings – a nice slurping noise, but a price worth paying!)

This REBO smart bottle uses blockchain technology to address issues and take responsible water drinking to the next level. It’s a very high grade reusable water bottle. But, with some smart tech it monitors how much has been drunk and gives you that info through an app. But, having gathered that information it goes even further by using the data from all users to provide credits to those who collect waste plastic bottles, thereby taking them out of the environment to be properly recycled.

This struck me as such a neat use of technology to engage people in an act that is vital to life, in a way that contributes positively (instead of negatively) to the environment.

So, for the first time in my life, I’ve contributed to a crowdfunding initiative. I really hope it will be a great success. Here’s the Indigogo link for more information, and if you want to place an order:

Indiegogo – REBO Smart Bottle

I do want to emphasise I have no connection with the company or the initiative, am not receiving commission or benefitting in any way from this recommendation.


Politicians and Historians – Leave Those Kids Alone !!

As our children grow up in an ever-faster changing world, there are those who suggest that for employment reasons emphasis has to shift to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in terms of focus, attention and time allocation in school learning. There are even those who favour elimination, or at least considerable scaling back of humanities subjects such as history.

However, in any country where politicians or those politically connected advocate for reducing the significance of history in schools we need to be very suspicious of their motives. When politicians aren’t trying to reduce the amount of history being learned by their citizens (so that it’s easier to feed them a version of history that suits their future political agenda) we find them alarmingly ready to pressure academics, or reward biased academics, to ‘rewrite history, so that children and young people are taught history with distorted slants.

This is alarming as children and young people tend to blindly accept and believe whatever they are taught in schools, especially what is found in text books and other academic and education material. Sadly, there is ample evidence that academics can’t always be trusted to give our young a balanced, open and fair interpretation of the past, or to encourage them to explore different perspectives on that past to come to their own conclusions about what is most likely to be the reality.

Some might suspect that this is a ‘developing world’ issue and that it only goes on in those countries where their academic systems are less ’embedded’, less established in the longer term. It is true that it’s a bigger issue when combined with extensive banning of books in those countries, as this denies people the right to access alternative viewpoints from those being spoon-fed through the education system. This has, for example, been an issue in India where we have seen this combination of distortion of history with specific ideological and political slants combined with extensive banning of books that put forward alternative perspectives.

However, nobody should be complacent in any country.. The temptations to distort, blow up or play down the significance of particular past events or actions exist in every country. I would suggest in any place where the history suggests a past that was a continuous and virtuous stream of appropriate, wise and prescient decisions is a history that has been rewritten, glossed and beautified (and should be doubted for veracity).

Some of the reasons for distorting history are quite simple to understand. National pride and hindsight can leave many countries’ historians and politicians tempted to gloss over or reduce the significance of acts in the past that are embarrassing or humiliating in the national psyche. However, even here, there can be unhealthier motives than simple hubris or pride.

We can question the over importance of national pride as a form of xenophobia and a base for the kind of nationalism that manifests in negativity towatd outsiders and ‘the other’, rather than inclinations to acknowledge equality and the essential humanity of all. None of us should ever allow the artificial man-made construct of ‘a country’ to become so significant that it leads us to justify distorting the truth of history. Countries are strange, artificial artifacts of history themselves.  One only needs to look at continents like Africa, or the Arab nations. In the latter case the UAE provides an interesting example. Throughout its past it was an area of nomadic tribes for whom the Western construct of a nation was alien. In Africa, we see vast swathes of land bisected by razor sharp boundaries that were laid down by Western settlers to agree between themselves the carving up of different plots of land to satisfy their colonial and acquisitive nature of that time. Frequently, these artificial borders cut through the lands of existing local leaders, tribes and peoples without thought, without their involvement or agreement. To fail to understand this history is to fail to understand the struggles of most of those places today to take on the expected characteristics of statehood or nationhood when their country has peoples whose origins lie in tribes that may have had hundreds of years of animosity and rivalry, whilst their own populations have been split by these artificial borders. We see an example in the Middle East with the problems associated with the Kurdish people. They have no country of there own, but are spread across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

When I studied History in the UK, I think by and large, it was quite honest and open about aspects of the past in a lot of ways. There had been a movement in the 1960’s and 70’s to be more open, transparent and honest about things like the British role and complicity in the slave trade. However, it’s probably true that the history related to colonialisation tended to be heavily slanted towards the contribution of Britian to the countries colonised and how they benefited. There was, from my memory, for example, no mention of British mismanagement in Bengal causing famine that killed large numbers of people. In the teaching of the histories of USA and Australia there was little acknowledgement of the persecution and suffering of the indigenous populations. Some of the issues and heat generated by debate are highlighted in this recent article:

The Conversation – British history is Still Being Whitewashed By the School Curriculum

Here’s another article with further perspective on UK historical distortion:

The Telegraph – History Being Distorted by Politicians

When I moved to India, one of the first realisations I had on this subject was how certain aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal life were completely erased from the history being taught to students. I nearly found myself in an embarrassing situation when I naively started discussing aspects that i was aware of from international writers on Gandhi. Seeing the blank and shocked looks on their faces I backed away quickly and retreated to safer ground.

In subsequent years it’s been intriguing for me to see the ways in which significant aspects of the country’s history are particularly rewritten to suit am agenda preferred by those committed to the doctrine of Hindutva. They tend to play down or deride the impact of the moguls and adjust other aspects related to the past (even denying evidence from archeologists). Initially, this was done in certain states that were controlled by these parties, but as they have gained more power at the centre, so they seek to promulgate these versions of history across the whole country. Today, even the interpretations and conclusions drawn about the assassination of Gandhi are fiercely fought over.

The following article from 2018 highlights that when we look at how this process happens in different countries, one thing is clear – the greater the quality of the country’s education system, the greater the extent to which people are willing, able and ready to challenge and question what they’re being told. As a result, some of the rewriting in India is blatant, unsubtle and pays little heed to the howls of horror from the learned and intellectuals – in fact, it becomes a good opportunity to portray such people as being against the nation and to undermine the respect for learning and knowledge;

Outlook India – Rewriting India’s History, Hindutva Forces Meddling With India’s Present and Future

I was motivated to write this by an article this week highlighting that the increasingly polarised and belligerent politics in the US is now manifesting in the same kinds of historical distortions for political ends, even in what is being taught to children living in different states.

New York Times – Two States, Eight Textbooks, Two American Stories

Many questions arise? Does all this really matter so very much? After all, it’s only the past and history. I believe it matters a great deal. History, as a store of knowledge should be there to guide societies in to the future and hopefully even enable them to learn from their errors, make better, wiser decisions and progress better for the good of all. Regrettably, too often, when history is being distorted it’s being done to favour one group of people over another.

There are issues in education where it’s hard for politicians to interfere, because the combined voices of educators and parents limit their misbehaviour. Regrettably, this isn’t one of those issues. Too often, we find that there are large proportions of the parents whose own political ideas, beliefs that they’ve bought in to cause them to seek and encourage those things that endorse and justify their stance. Thus, they can be the politicians’ biggest allies. It would be nice to believe that educators would raise their voices for what’s right – fair and critical exploration of history (warts and all), that enable children and young people to develop their skills of reasoning, questioning, analytical and critical thinking. Sadly, whilst some educators stand firmly on the high moral ground, we see too many who are not able to see past the fact that they are citizens in a polarised society first, educators second!

It’s a sad fact that when most of the loudest and most strident voices are leading towards extremism, including reshaping of history to create justifications, anyone who dares to speak out for moderation or balance is liable to find themselves labeled extremist, reactionary and divisive. The lemming that refuses to go with the flow over the cliff doesn’t make itself popular with its fellow lemmings.

Ultimately, what’s right goes to the very heart of what school, learning and education are for. If we believe that they are not to pander to the agenda and manipulations of politicians, then instead we must de-empasise the importance of the curriculum content that may come and go, but rather focus on the skills and competencies to develop in our students. Those who develop their skills of critical and evaluative thinking will draw their own conclusions and practice healthy skepticism about history that doesn’t seem consistent, congruent or on which different commentators have put forward different perspectives. They will also have developed the character, personal strength and resolve to be questioning of all orthodoxies, even those to which they may personally be most drawn.


Sleeping For Exam Success

Sleep for exams

Particularly in India, I know that with the festive season and New Year over, for many students their thoughts have turned to exams in March. Some will believe that through super-human and inhumane scheduling they will squeeze out phenomenal marks in order to secure the college or higher secondary stream of their choice (and because they and their parents are going to wrap a considerable amount of their own identity and societal status on the height of those marks and especially beating their peers).

Whilst it’s laudable to set goals and put maximum effort in to achieving them, so every student has to acknowledge they were not born with the ability to do the impossible. Their relative success will actually be most down to how smart they plan and execute their preparation. Smart, intelligent planning, execution and consistency will always trump random, unplanned or unscientific effort.

Probably nowhere is this more important than in relation to sleep. There’s a certain irony that students spend much of their time these days bemoaning their special needs for sleep, only to ignore all their needs and the science when exams loom on the horizon. I can admit that when i was young I made a lot of mistakes in these areas – mistakes that undoubtedly cost me and prevented me from fulfilling my full potential. However, today’s youngsters have access to so much more information, science  and really should find it much easier to do what is in their best interest.

The following article is fascinating. Some of the conclusions are pretty obvious, but there are also some surprises;

Science News for Students – Surprise

a) Lack of sleep WILL impair performance in exams,
b) Good sleep habits before exams doesn’t just have a small impact on performance – it may be one of the biggest influences,
c) Losing sleep for one or more nights can’t be made up by sleeping longer on another night. (This isn’t just important for exam preparation – there is now copious evidence that old habits common when I was young, to incur a sleep deficit during the week and make it up at weekends doesn’t work!)

Maybe the biggest surprise – the biggest impact doesn’t come from the overall quantity of the sleep, the quality, the amount of restlessness, but the consistency AND this doesn’t need to be consistent just for a few days, but ideally for weeks or even months.

I don’t have any exams coming up, but have set as a health goal for 2020 to be more consistent on bed and rising times.

Students, that consistency needs to start now as a habit and then be maintained right through to your exams. Here’s to your success!!


Parenting Online Conference

Happily Family Conference

Educators work with a variety of key stakeholder groups. However, there are none more important than children and parents. We live in an age where, rightly or wrongly, people believe that parenting is harder than ever. I don’t actually believe that it’s overall harder, but there are certainly new challenges and issues for parents to deal with that were not there in the past.

For many parents change, challenges and new issues can leave them like rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. I also believe that too many parents dissipate all their mental bandwidth on other issues leaving little or nothing left over for their parenting. I’ve often marveled that apparently highly educated and intelligent people too often apply more thought, care and diligence to decisions they make in their professional lives than in the raising of their children. In the distant past this wasn’t considered to have mattered – the world changed very slowly and people lived in multi-generational family units. Family elders were seemed to have all the knowledge and experience to guide their children as they in turn raise their own children. Today, parents are dealing with such different issues to earlier generations that the elders have little to offer that’s really valuable (and they often live a long way away).

As educators we find parents often seeking guidance or suggestions. Also, strong educators are continually engaged in dialogue with parents to dovetail what’s happening in the school and the home aligned for the benefit and development of the child. Both need to be working in ways that are positive in the child’s growth, development and to be and become the best possible version of themselves.

The reality is that there are great resources and opportunities for parents who want to tap in to knowledge, experience and ideas. These are also of great use for the tribe of educators. For me, I think this will be the fourth year that I’ve signed up for the ‘Happily Family’ online virtual parenting conference.  This is organised and compered by husband and wife team Cecilia and Jason Hilkey. They are former early years educators who saw a need to meet for parents to access the best possible advice and ideas for how to enhance their parenting skills.

The sign up is a quick 1 minute through the following link:

Happily Family – Online Conference Sign Up

The way it works is very simple. Each day around 5 interviews are put up live online. They can be accessed free for around 48 hours (if I remember correctly). Within that time you are free to watch as many as you like. Another 5 come online each day. If you want full, long term access to all the videos, for example for use with parent workshops or teacher CPD,  they offer a simple arrangement to buy that access.


The Changing Job Market

Job Changes

Along with others, for years I’ve been writing about how education and schooling needed to adjust to prepare young people for a fast changing world and particularly to acknowledge that many of the jobs our students will go on to do are vague or unclear when those children are in school. This has been one of the strongest forces and arguments behind ‘lifelong learning.’

But, occasionally some might be tempted to ask whether there is proof on this. Has it turned out to be true that the nature of jobs is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. Well, yes, in fact there’s plenty of evidence and here’s a very interesting article that highlights evidence of rapid growth in demand for 15 jobs that didn’t exist in 2010:

Ladders – Article – 15 Jobs No one Knew About in 2010 That Everyone Will Want in 2020

This is the reality and is so clear to me that debates about needs for lifelong learning preparation in schools are superfluous. Instead, we need to be talking about how best to prepare children and young people with the right mindsets to adapt and succeed in this fast changing world.

Bringing Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Into The Classroom


There was a time when AR and VR were the stuff of science fiction. Then, there was a phase when they appeared to have little more value than as expensive novelties for the amusement and entertainment industries and costs were still very prohibitive.

Today, stand alone VR and AR materials are a lot cheaper than they were, but would not be considered cheap by any means. The uses and potential are now better understood and costs are continuing to drop. Both are seen to offer career options for the future and for this reason alone it’s important that children get some exposure to them. However, in addition, as time goes on, more and more are finding uses and benefits in education that are effective because of the highly immersive nature of the medium.

So, it becomes even more important to ensure that AR and VR are made accessible in schools. However, whilst this is very practical for well-off private schools or even public schools in countries with well funded education systems. Therefore, I am always pleased to see initiatives that bring free or cheaper AR and VR access to the education environment. In too many schools, even when financial assets are not a challenge, I’ve seen too many instances where these things are treated as some sort of novelty to be parked in an extra curricular activity  – then selected by a few children who happen to have an interest. In these situations i also often see the classes being lead by outsiders, companies that offer VR and AR services to the schools as a bolt-on activity. The ideal is for teachers to integrate VR and AR in to the existing curricula activities.  Too often, teachers will shy away from this approach because they are not the experts. However, far better to acknowledge this and figure it out alongside the pupils.

Here’s a very good Edutopia article that shares some resources;

Edutopia – 5 Worthwhile Augmented and Virtual Reality Tools

My Best Reads – 2019 – Part 1

OK, I’ve been promising a round up of my favourite reads over the last year. So, here goes:

  1. The Harry Potter Series, JK Rowling

    Yes, all seven of them, even though they’re quite big books and (allegedly) written for children.The reality was, I’d made promises to my son, Thomas for years that I would read them, that I would put in the time and effort to understand what enthralled him about these books (he read them all multiple times).
    The reality was, the more I got in to the books, the more I relished my time with them. Even though I’d seen most of the films, the books go way beyond, creating a world into which the reader is drawn. This was time very well spent – eventually, thank you, Thomas. I feel like a better man for having read them.

  2. Barking Up The Wrong Tree, Eric Barker

    I’ve been a reader of Barker’s regular email newsletters/ blog posts for a few years. I admired that, in these days of allegedly short attention spans, here was someone bold enough to write long-form articles that really went in to depth on fascinating human issues related to living life more successfully – and to do it very well accumulating a large audience.
    There are a lot of basic things that people believe, but don’t really question very much, especially around aspects of how people can be successful in life. With substantial and detailed research, Barker pulls together the research that brings many of those ‘old wive’s tales’ in to serious question and explores what the science says is right. His writing style is very conversational and fun, whilst exploring some weighty topics.

  3. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murukami

    There are some writers you discover very late and wonder why they didn’t cross your path earlier. All too often, i believe, the answer is that those writers cross your path at the time when you’re ready to experience them.
    For me, there were two such writers in 2019, both very different. The first was Murakami. This book was captivating, thought-provoking and left a warm feeling of gratitude when i finished the last page. 2020 will see me catching up on many more of his books.

  4. Like a Fading Shadow, Antonio Munaz Molina

    I think this book came to my attention through a recommendation list of book reviews some time ago. I’m so glad it did as it was a superb and original read. Based around perspectives on the events that culminated in the assassination of Martin Luther King, it’s original and deep. Exploring the inner thoughts of the killer, James Earl Ray.

  5. Tribe of Mentors, Timothy Ferriss

    Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week was a favourite read of mine a few years ago. ironically, it has to be one of the most abused books by people who’ve never read it – but simply made big sweeping assumptions based on the title.
    This book is quite different, big and ambitious, but benefits from the incredible array of people he was able to persuade to contribute. The idea of the book was a simple one – the same set of questions put to a huge variety of influencers and reputed people.

  6. Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman


    Today, Marty Seligman is considered to be the grandfather or elder statesman of the Positive Psychology movement. Most often one sees suggestions today that the approach was born out of a desire to get away from psychology as being about repairing sick people and to focus more on how healthy people can achieve more happiness and lead even better lives. However, on reading this book it’s clear that Seligman’s motivations were driven by the rapid increases in depression and suicides, and research that found a strong link between depression and pessimistic outlook.
    It was interesting that the three measures of pessimism (or optimism) were permanence, pervasive and personalised explanatory style. However, for most of us today we’ve been fed an almost continuous diet of the need to take personal responsibility, particularly for failures and when things go wrong.
    A book I want to explore more, especially as i believe that some of the material in it deserves revisiting as we tackle the ever growing anxiety and depression levels of young people today.

  7. Wired to Create, Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire

    Wired to Create Crop
    I wrote a blog post about this book back in June, you can read it here:

    My June Blog Post – Creativity Key Skill

One book that would, most certainly have been on the list was “Work Rules” by Laszlo Bock about the wonderfully innovative and visionary leadership and talent policies and practices in Google – if I didn’t harbour fears that the company is selling out on those values that were the core of those practices. I have written about this in a couple of recent blog posts.

Part 2 of the book list will follow soon.

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