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.

Children Who Fly Below the School Radar

bell-curve-math-is-fun

Six years ago, when I was based in the UAE,  I was invited to share my thoughts on key educational issues through a series of seven articles that I wrote. I recently read back through those articles and was especially worried to find them still so relevant today, the issues raised still largely unaddressed. When it comes to reforming and changing education there has to be atime when we stop debating what needs to change and get on and make it happen. To do that, we have to sometimes ask some tough and uncomfortable questions about who benefits from maintenance of the status quo and what needs to happen to break down those entrenched positions.

Here, below is the first of those articles that dealt with education’s obsessive interest with the ‘outliers’ and non-conforming students (under and over-achievers) that meant that little was happening to ensure that the children in the middle get a fair and reasonable, personalised learning experience.

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(Click on the two links above to open the two paged article in pdf form. it should open as a separate tab or page in your browser)

Even More Great Reading

Reading a book

It seems that good reading lists are a bit like Number 11 buses – none come for ages, then they come three in a row. I shared a really good list a couple of days ago and here are two more. Needless to say, these have simply added to my ‘to be bought’ list that was already quite long enough, and motivated me to push on reading what I’ve already got lined up a bit faster!

Inc – 25 of the Most Inspiring Books Everyone Should Read

McKInsey – What Executives Are Reading in 2019

And for anyone who looks at these lists and says, “I don’t have time to read,” they had better never utter the words that they expect children to grow up to be lifelong learners (especially my fellow educators).

Enjoy 🙂

 

The Library as Core of a School

Library

“Lifelong learning is the core of all we do and a key part of our school’s values.”

Yada yada. I call inconsistency on any school that doesn’t put its library at the very core of its school in terms of physical focus, time spent, focus, teacher focus, employee skills and seniority. In many schools today the library is the ONLY place where a child can be free to pursue the learning that interests and enthuses them, instead of learning what they’re told, when they’re told, how they’re told, as deep as they’re told.

I’ve been writing on this issue for many years – here are couple of articles that are nearly 8 years old:
Technology Changing the Concept of Libraries
Role of Librarians in the Twenty First Century

(The first one might be interesting reading for those with short memories at The Shri Ram School, Aravali!!)

However, what’s the reality of libraries I’ve seen in schools across a number of countries?

a) A library in an English medium school where the librarian didn’t speak English,
b) An occasion where I sought to persuade English teachers to take over control of a school library – all resisted as they saw this as a demotion, humiliating and a move away from teaching that would be terminal for their careers,
c) A school library that was often used as a storage space for used stage scenery and props, kept locked through most of the school day,
d) A great big clue – the number of international schools where the librarian is part of the administrative staff headcount, not academic (meaning that as well as being employed on salaries much lower than teachers, they have little or no contact with teachers, especially on academic matters, are excluded from meetings on academic matters and are treated as ‘keeper of the books’.
e) No feedback related to the library in school reporting to parents (meaning that children are taught to think the library unimportant – in fact time there is seen as a ‘free period’.

To be fair, I’ve also seen some very enlightening and positive practices. However, many of these involved people who were not traditional librarians trained through the conventional routes;

a) A librarian who made it a significant part of her role to improve the reading abilities of every child in the school, backing up this work with annual reading competence tests (with a page included in the annual reporting to parents),
b) A librarian who regularly created special displays for holidays, festivals, special public events (e.g. Olympics), with colourful visual displays, relevant library resources on the topic and registers of relevant websites that students can access to learn more,
c) Similar to b), special displays related to particular children’s authors,
d) A librarian who created a maker space, including a 3-D printer,
e) A school in Gurugram, India that has opened its school library outside school hours for the use of pupils and family members. This is especially valuable in environments where public libraries don’t exist.
f) A school librarian who had read every book in the library! He used to have conversations with children when they returned books. For example, he might ask if they had enjoyed the ending of a book. If the evidence was they hadn’t made it to the end of the book he’d probe further to find out why. If it had proved too challenging, but they liked the genre, he would suggest an alternative and actually take them to the shelf where that book was located.
g) A school library that kept an online catalogue of the learning resources that provided scope for the pupils to write reviews, suggestions and recommendations that would guide the reading habits of their peers,
h) A library that kept a full record of all books read/ withdrawn by a pupil over an academic year and provided a report to parents at year end on what the progression suggested about their reading habits (and what they might do the following year to advance their reading).

Lifelong learners as grownups are likely to have had the opportunity as children to learn how to find resources, how to use resources to set up trails to related resources and how to pursue personal interests and fascinations to considerable depths. This includes exploring different perspectives and views on issues. Libraries are the best places for young people to acquire these skills.

This is why i suggest that the treatment of a school’s library tells a lot about that school’s real approach to the education of the whole child, the acquisition of Twenty First Century skills and the development of the habits of lifelong learning. Many schools have a very long way to go to make their actions match their words.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s a very good short article from the US, published just last week on the subject;
eSchool News: 10 Reasons School Librarians Are More Important Than Ever

 

Who Said Lectures Are Useless?

There are plenty of people in education who want to suggest that the lecture offers a very poor way of learning, is old-fashioned and out of date. However, I suspect that none of those people have ever taken the time to watch Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University holding a lecture theatre of students spellbound in the palm of his hand.

His subject is Human Behavioural Biology and you might think there would be few takers for such lectures on Youtube. However, if you go and check out the lecture above, you’ll see it currently has over 3.2 million views. Sapolsky’s appeal is that he makes what he does look incredibly easy, and that’s a fine art. He takes complex subjects and through stories, humour and superb delivery makes them accessible.

We are truly living in an amazing world today. For those with the energy, the commitment and motivation and willingness to allot the time, learning can be gained from such a source for nothing more than the cost of internet bandwidth.

This is not just one lecture, but the first in a series of 25. That’s a lot of hours investment, but these days Youtube does offer the scope to speed up such videos. Even running at 1.25X speed cuts the time by 20%, without any loss of comprehension.

Before anyone asks – yes, I’ve watched them all. And it was worth it.

Lifelong Learning – How Are We Doing?

Lifelong Learning

These days it seems that almost every school, new or established, mentions in its mission, vision, values or some other important statement that lifelong learning is a major priority of the school. School Heads, Principals and Directors talk a lot about lifelong learning in major events and gatherings with students and/ or parents.

This has now been the case for a few years, so it’s worthwhile to pause and ask – How are we doing? Has all this attention on lifelong learning changed anything?

Well, first of all, where did it come from and why did people start to think it mattered? Around 10-15 years ago more and more evidence was emerging that pointed to the likelihood that young people in school were going to grow up in to a world and environment where they would not simply have multiple jobs, but multiple careers. It was clear that the pace of change in the world, especially technological, was accelerating and the best prospects for the future would lie with those people who through continuous learning were most capable of reinventing themselves, shedding their existing knowledge and taking on the right new learning.

I believe that if we look at the tertiary sector first, quite a lot has changed in response to the recognition of the need to support lifelong learning.  We have seen quite a rapid increase in the availability of online learning options that support adults in processes of continuous learning. There are also many brick and mortar institutions that have supplemented their traditional learning programmes with more modular offerings, sometimes offered as hybrids that are conducted part face to face and part online, with scope for people to learn more at their own pace to fit in with the fact that they’re often still working full time.

There is a definite break away from the idea that formal and informal learning are completely separate, or that formal learning all takes place in a purely linear fashion, to be completed in the earliest part of ones life by the age of about 21 – 25. We see Universities and colleges questioning what they should look like when it comes to physical infrastructure. It’s costly to create physical places of learning and therefore there must be a justification to create the physical infrastructure. Then, there are considerations about how specialised or general the learning spaces within those buildings should be in order to best support modern and effective learning practices.

Too often I see these debates happening when new institutions are being created, or where major construction is due. There are still arguably too many institutions (especially in developing countries) that look to purely and simply replicate the traditional models of the past, more intent on churning out young people with bits of paper than focused on enabling learning.

In developing countries, universities and colleges have not gone far enough to place the focus on self-directed, self-driven learning, owned by the learner. There are all sorts of arcane rules about attendance, rigid generalist course structures with whole cohorts progressing through at the same time, at the same pace, subject to strict rules, hierarchies, even uniforms. They look little different to traditional schools for overgrown children.

So, overall, worldwide i might be inclined to give the tertiary sector about a 5 out of 10 for progress towards playing their part in a world of lifelong learning.

And what of the K-12 schools?

Firstly, what is the role of K-12 schools towards lifelong learning?

I believe it’s twofold;

a) To equip young people, in age appropriate ways with the tools and skills to be effective self-directed lifelong learners. 
b) To ensure that pupils have the motivation to be self-directed lifelong learners

Every baby and infant is a highly self-directed, highly motivated learner. They don’t wait for anyone to come with a syllabus or a curriculum. They don’t wait for permission to learn or to be instructed. They don’t go out of their way to take short cuts to learning so that they can spend their time idly. So, we’d do well to question ourselves about how our schools stifle these natural inclinations that ought to be the perfect foundation to grow and develop tomorrow’s motivated lifelong learners.

I believe that one of the biggest problems with point b) is related to teachers. If, as an adult and potential role model for lifelong learning it would be fair to expect;
(i) Teachers admit to their own learning and talk about it openly.
(ii) Focus on potential more than performance, both related to themselves as well as their pupils,
(iii) Shed their focus on competence, in favour of vulnerability and the ambiguity of openly being a learner. If a teacher has to be the ‘fully complete expert’ in the classroom, then by implication their learning process is complete and they no longer need to be learners,
(iv) Teachers would be open about how they drive their own personal learning curriculum. They would openly talk about things they’re not expert in.  They would reveal to their pupils the things they’re learning. They would even be open to learn from the pupils in areas where they have more knowledge (such as IT).
(v) Teachers would not say things like, “Yes, I believe in lifelong learning. I’m always looking to learn from everyone around me.”
That’s a cop-out, an excuse for not pursuing real, hard learning. Instead, it implies that this lifelong learning is just another name for a dab of responsiveness and listening to others around – not something like real learning that involves investment of real time and effort in risk, vulnerability and deep dives in to new and varied areas of learning directly or even slightly linked to their work.

Our schools and school leaders still behave as if learning is something that is done to pupils, not something they do for themselves. The assumption built in to the culture of schools in dozens of ways big and small is that pupils would not learn unless made to do so. And, we have to say that the way most of the learning  in schools is still done, it’s no surprise that it will only happen under duress. It’s one-way, one size fits all (that it’s not personalised despite all the talk of personalisation I’ll save for another post).

Turning to point a)  a school/ learning environment that really cares about development of lifelong learning would place at least as much emphasis on process as outcomes. And our schools don’t. Schools would be places where children are encouraged and motivated to pursue deep and broad learning according to personal interests. They would be helped to understand HOW to learn most effectively.

This would bring in opportunities for children to learn and understand how their minds work, how memory works, how motivation impacts learning. They would not simply learn to read, but would be equipped with opportunities to acquire skills to read in different ways for different purposes. Children would be learning effective ways of note taking and how to work out the learning techniques and methods that work best for them.

An open climate based on common growth mindset, the presence of healthy grit to push through when learning is challenging, to seek out one’s own sources, to discern between the quality of different sources etc.

So, in conclusion – is it really fair and honest for schools to be telling the world that one of their core values is the development of lifelong learning? Are the school leadership really doing the introspection about every aspect of their school’s practices, habits, methods and whether they take their pupils towards or away from lifelong learning?

Are pupils walking out of the school gates the day after graduation saying  – “that’s all over and nobody’s doing that learning stuff to me any more,” or “Ok, I’m ready – where’s the next great learning that i want to bring on for me?” Are they seeing learning as a pull rather than a push process?

If not, then K-12 certainly isn’t at five out of ten. It might not yet even be at two out of ten.

A long road ahead and lots of work to do. And we won’t enable lifelong learning for pupils until we embrace it for ourselves.

That easy!

RIP Tony Buzan

This isn’t the next blog post I expected (or wanted) to be writing. However, one of my personal heroes has passed away and I wanted to take a little time to share my recollections of this formidable man. I understand that Tony was still actively working. He had moved in to a new home from where he hoped and intended to produce lots of new creative work. Regrettably, that was not to be. A massive heart attack and a fall resulted in complications from which he was never to recover. He passed away on 13th April.

tony_books

I graduated from college at the age of 22 with a degree in law. I had been schooled in vast amounts of information and material, memorized enough of it, spewed it back in exams and been granted passes. However, it had left me cold about the whole process of learning and with rather mixed feelings on the potential of my own mind/ brain.

Then, in my mid twenties I was introduced to a few important books. These included “Accelerated Learning” by Colin Rose and a couple of the books written by Tony Buzan for the BBC. I was blown away. Suddenly, here were people sharing information with me about how my mind worked, how to make the learning and creativity processes more effective. Whilst I was excited, I was also more than a bit angry. This material had all been in the public domain for over 10 years. It was all as available to every teacher who ever taught me as it was to me. So, why had they denied me this critical learning about how to use my mind most effectively and how to maximise my potential as a learner? I felt like i’d been cheated, but had now opened Pandora’s box and there was no looking back.

That took me on a journey that was all essentially about learning, whether it was becoming a trainer in British Junior Chamber, training to teach English with CELTA, being a University visiting faculty, and then over time towards leading, setting up, turning around and overall trying to change and improve schools as places where others would be as inspired and excited by learning as I am.

So, in many ways, i owe so much to Mr Tony Buzan and it is with some little sadness today that I think I shall never get the opportunity to meet the man. There was a time, around 9-10 years ago when he was due to come to India and it was likely that I was going to get the chance to meet him. however, he got ill and had to cancel the trip, so the opportunity was lost.

I believe he was ultimately responsible for writing (or co-writing) over 80 books. I believe one of the reasons he was able to be so prolific was because of the learning, creation and ideation methodologies that he had developed.

Mind Map

Of all Tony’s work, to me, the stand out will always be mindmapping. However, whilst I saw and experienced the benefits so much, it was often frustrating to say when others treated it as though it was something a bit ‘weird’, a bit out there. I still use it for every speech or presentation, every major piece of writing (including most of the posts on this blog), any times when i need to unleash my creative juices or to formulate ideas. I’ve used them collectively in groups as well as on my own.

I remember an occasion when some teachers did extensive work with students of Classes 6 and 7 to familiarise them with the techniques and benefits of mindmapping. Responses to a short immediate survey were that students found it exciting, interesting and intended to make it a natural and regular part of their study and learning approaches.

However, we then went back to do a further survey with those same students after about 6 months and found that less than 10% were still using mindmapping at all, and even some of them only sporadically. What was most disheartening was that the most significant reasons why students had stopped were associated with the fact that others weren’t doing it. Children were uncomfortable to do it if everyone else wasn’t doing it, or it wasn’t being imposed. There was a “people like us don’t do stuff like that” inertia that meant the students had largely dropped this very promising set of techniques. Worse, what were they doing instead? Spending hours using highlight markers to mark out significant sentences in textbooks – a method scientifically proven to be a very poor and inefficient way to learn. However, people like us do that, so we blindly do it.

I’m not sure whether Tony or his companies around the world conducted research on the stick-ability of their methods and techniques. I suppose it wasn’t really in their interest to do so if the results might have been weak. However, I personally would love to see more work in this area.

At this time as Tony has passed away, my thoughts are with his family, friends and all his colleagues across the world who have lost a leader and inspiring teacher. I hope that the best legacy for Tony Buzan and his work will be a renewed interest and enthusiasm for his ideas and their application to bring about better learning and greater creativity. People will readily jump in with phrases like ‘being a lifelong learner’. We haven’t yet done nearly enough work around what this means and how, most effectively, people should learn most effectively throughout their lives and how to harness that learning creatively. There is much work to be done.

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