Are we in a ‘Post Truth World’?



Have you ever personally been caught out by a piece of fake news? Have you ever forwarded something through social media that you then later discovered was fake news?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, does it trouble you? Should it trouble you? When we move beyond the personal level to the wider society, what are the potential risks of fake news? How can fake news manipulate people by playing upon their existing beliefs, values and even prejudices? Would you know when you’re being played?

Historians have a whole field dedicated to the study of how history comes in to being – historiography. This is the study of how to interpret historical source materials, how to discern the ‘truth’ in conflicting so called factual records of past events and how they can be subject to different interpretations. There is an intrinsic acknowledgement that history has always been open to manipulation and distortion, as highlighted in the quotation around since the  about history of wars always being written by the victors (wrongly attributed to Sir Winston Churchill)

Online fake communication and even the increasingly sophisticated ‘deep fake’ capabilities to morph pictures, video and voices to suggest that people have said and done things they never said or did bring a whole new alarming factor. The near past and even the apparent present can be distorted by those with an agenda to manipulate public opinion, to undermine or harm others. This has potential to move political debates and elections, impact individuals’ careers and even disrupt their entire lives.

The simple reality, revealed through studies and research carried out in many countries is that most people, regardless of age and level of IT-savviness, are not very good at determining what is or isn’t fake, how to discern reliable and questionable sources and how to carry out simple checks on authenticity.

With this in mind, I was very happy to see the following article from CNN that outlines a multi-pronged approach by the government of Finland to raise awareness levels, educate citizens and raise children’s competency levels for the future.

CNN – Edition – Finland is Winning the War on Fake News
(Click on the above link to open the article in a separate tab or page)

I was particularly struck by the phrase, “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

The article goes on to talk about the increased emphasis being given to critical thinking  in Finnish schools. I believe that this emphasis is really smart. Not only does it help in the issue of dealing with fake news, but it also helps students to build a particularly important set of skills that will mark them out as more valuable in the employment markets in the future. it will also enable them to make better, more effective life decisions and to pass on these skills to their own children.

In the final section, there is an acknowledgement that some aspects of Finland’s success might not be so easy to replicate elsewhere.  It’s a small country with a lot of clarity about its own identity. Its population is already highly educated  (evidenced by strong performance in international education comparison exercises).  Also, there is a high level of understanding and agreement among the population about the actions and intentions of their neighbour, Russia. In these circumstances it’s much easier to focus people’s minds on the need to guard against fake news.

Nevertheless, there are lessons here for all countries;

a) The wheel doesn’t have to get re-invented. Programmes and expertise exist that countries can tap in to,
b) Developing thinking skills, especially critical thinking will pay off in this as well as other areas to benefit the country,
c) This focus on developing critical thinking skills should start as early as possible in all children’s education.

One final thought – in any country if the government in power shows disinterest in this area and a lack of willingness to invest time, energy and funds then their motives must be challenged and questioned. Is it important that they retain the power to manipulate and control their own population with fake news, or fear being challenged to prove factual veracity behind the statements they make?


The Merits of Active vs Passive Leisure Activity

volley ball

For my fifth article for Gulf News 6 years ago I turned to the issue of how young people choose to spend their non working time. Firstly, it’s vitally important that young people (or any of us for that matter) have time away from their work and studies. The brain needs to recharge and needs vital time to rest, recover, absorb learning and be energised to take on board more learning effectively. It goes without saying that they also need enough sleep as this is vital time when the brain organises new learning that’s been acquired to make it permanent and to synthesise it with what’s already known.

In the article i sought to differentiate between active and passive forms of leisure activity, stressing the positive nature of the former and how it is to be encouraged by parents. The latter is really just ‘time waste’.

I also emphasised the value in reading purposefully in pursuit of personal goals.

gulf-news-article 5-22-09-2013
(To read the article, click on the link above – it should then open as either a new browser tab or a new window)


Mobiles in Schools

In secondary schools today, few issues are likely to generate more heat and angst than those that relate to mobile phones. The ‘right approach’ is as fought over in schools as it is in many homes.

At one extreme are those who simply say mobile phones have no place in schools and pupils should be banned from bringing them to school. This can get reactions and kick back from both students and parents. It also, all too often, brings an encouragement to subterfuge and dishonesty as students work to find ways to get around the strict rules.

The premise for such arguments is students can’t be trusted and have inadequate self-control. Also, it says that the mobile phone has nothing (or little of benefit) to offer to the learning process in school and the downside is distraction and disengagement from the learning process.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe children should have full freedom to carry phones in school. Such approaches usually emphasise on expectations of appropriate mobile phone etiquette, common-sense and responsibility, rather than strict rules around phones.

The starting point for those at this end of the spectrum is high expectations of students, their ability to acquire the skills to master their own phone use responsibly and to do what’s right in their own best interests for effective use of their learning time in school. Also, there’s a strong belief that whether we like or not these children are going to live and grow in an environment where the mobile phone is so ubiquitous, so embedded that the process of learning to control the phone needs to start as early as possible.

There are, of course, many shades of perspective in between these two extremes. However, if there’s one thing that is common in my experience, it’s that when you talk with people they struggle to determine whether their approach is right. Are they making the best decision? We’re all fumbling in the dark on this one a bit.

The video above shows one perspective – a scheme that has moved from theatres and concert venues to schools. In many ways this solution comes from the ‘they can’t be trusted’ mindset. Allowed to carry their own phones through the day children won’t engage effectively with their peers, they will undermine their own ability to build effective interpersonal skills. When we think about it, the reason performers found this solution appealing was because they were offended by audiences’ divided attention, and also that they wanted to prevent recordings being circulated freely to others. It could be argued that educators are in the business of sharing knowledge, and therefore should not be taking steps that limit the spread (if they really believed students might circulate recordings of their lectures!) or that educators should want to create learning experiences that hold students’ attention, are engaging and don’t fear distraction by phones.

I’m very interested to know what others think on this. Is the mobile phone, and particularly social networking so pervasive and addicting that personal discipline cannot be the way forward for children? Are these actually bigger issues for adults who are digital immigrants than for the digital natives for whom choices about how to keep the phone in perspective in their lives is a part of growing up?

It could be argued that, in the face of learning experiences that are boring and uninspiring, early generations of children didn’t need mobile phones to be distracted. From solitary pursuits like gazing out of the window or doodling, to participatory processes of cheeky note passing, hangman or battleships my own school days saw plenty of ways to be distracted long before the arrival of mobile phones.

So, are you a hard-liner, a soft touch advocate or something in between? Please share your thoughts.


Being Likable

If you bring together two of my current favourite writers for a discussion, you’re going to have my immediate attention.

Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, came to my attention first for articles and a subsequent book on the personal benefits of being a ‘go-giver’. He’s followed up with work related to creativity, success and most recently has published a book with Sheryl Sandberg about how to bounce back when things go wrong. She, of course, was uniquely placed to co-write that particular book having lost her husband very suddenly and publicly, leaving her with young children and a high pressure silicon valley career to manage. That book sits on my shelf as a recent acquisition waiting to be read.

Like many people, I first came across Simon Sinek because of his famous TED talk (still well worth a view, whether you’ve seen it before or not). Then I followed his work talking about millennials, especially how best to lead them, manage them in the workplace and even inspire them to be engaged, committed and passionate employees who do meaningful work. As far as his books, I’ve gone the wrong way round. I’ve recently finished reading ‘Leaders Eat last’ – his most recent book and have waiting on the shelf still to be read his earlier – Start With Why.

The discussion went on for about an hour, led by Katie Couric, the international journalist. It took place at the Aspen Ideas Festival – and it’s a real gem. You could just read the article, but i’d really recommend the video embedded on the page as worth an hour of anyone’s time.

During the discussion there are some interesting insights in to types of popularity and the risks of ‘the wrong type’. They talk about the perils of device and social media addiction and the need for occasional detoxes. There’s an interesting discussion of the skills needed to be likable and the risks in society because people are not getting as many opportunities to practice those skills. The comments about how willpower is an inadequate tool to overcome addiction, or addictive behaviour was a useful reminder.

So, here’s the link:

Heleo – Conversation – How to be likable – no Facebook Required

If you open the page, you’ll see the video some way down the page. I really recommend that it’s worth the time to listen to the whole thing. For educators, or parents, there’s much to ponder on here about how we work most effectively with young people today.

Looking on the Bright Side for the Future

When Jared Silver writes, it’s frequently thought-provoking, enlightening and worth considering.

This is a very interesting piece he’s written for Edu Surge that puts the argument that as the internet becomes readily available to anyone anywhere in the world, so, we are entering a new human revolution that will unlock human potential at levels we cannot even imagine.

EduSurge – The Impending Human Capital Revolution

His evidence for this is the rarity, historically of Indian or Chinese Nobel Prize winners – because the people in those countries didn’t have the same access to knowledge and education compared with those in more developed nations. Now that the internet is freely available everywhere, so everyone can have access to all of human knowledge.

The first issue I would have with this argument is that by no means does the internet contain all of human knowledge or even most of the best knowledge. I think we’re a very long way from that and will continue to be for a long time. For one, even if we think of new knowledge that is published in books. At most, people give access to snippets of it online in order to entice more people to buy the books. They’re not about to give it all away for free. Secondly, there are vast parts of the world’s population who have severely restricted access to the internet, with large parts of knowledge placed behind curtains where they are not permitted to go. Laws and rules that restrict access can all too easily be imposed on people in any part of the world, justified by nebulous concepts like ‘national interest.’

As highlighted by Daniel Kahneman in ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ there are different kinds of thinking (engagement with knowledge) that lead to advances in human development. Whilst the internet and ubiquitous accessibility might give greater potential for the fast and shallow kind of thinking, it gives little scope for the slower, deeper forms of thinking. For that deeper thinking, people need access to the kinds of written material not generally accessible through the internet (at least for free) and access to other thinkers and experts in the chosen field with whom to share thoughts and ideas. On the latter point, email and ability to ‘find’ experts has had interesting implications. I recall a meeting and discussion with Dr Howard Gardner in which he slightly ruefully acknowledged that today he spends a far greater proportion of his time responding to speculative communication that he receives from people all over the world who want to tap in to his knowledge and insights. There is serious risk that this heightened level of accessibility makes his work less whilst giving little benefit in the enhanced knowledge of those corresponding with him – considering that the vast majority will still only be engaging with him at the most superficial levels.

One thing that Jared Silver’s article doesn’t really make clear, is whether he sees this human revolution emerging because a few more exceptional people will be able to emerge because of their newfound access to knowledge, information and each other, or whether he actually foresees an overall raising of all intellectual levels of all people. If he’s arguing for the latter, I’m really not sure that his examples about Nobel Prize winners are convincing proof as these people are by their very nature the exceptional, rarest of the rare.

If you walked in to most western school classrooms (or those in more affluent private schools anywhere in the world) and asked students what the internet changes, gives them access to most of their answers would relate to social networking and gaming. There is a strong argument to say that, especially with its addictive qualities, the internet is far from fueling an intellectual step forward for mankind, but rather giving him new and previously unforeseen ways to fritter away life on meaningless, addictive and compulsive activities. This is at its worst for those receiving a lot of unfettered access in their youth when the wiring of their brains predisposes them towards addictive and compulsive activities that give them repeated doses of dopamine and other neural ‘drugs’ that have nothing to do with enhancing mankind. instead, like the Soma of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ it dulls the mind, eats up their time in ways that don’t challenge or move them forward intellectually and keep them limited in their advancement.

This has become of such concern to some educators that it leads to news articles like this recent one from the UK:

The Times – UK – Your Teacher’s At The Door – He Wants Your Xbox

Some years ago i had the privilege to host as a guest in one of our Delhi schools the great economist, CK Prahalad (who I suspect if not taken from us too soon was destined to be a future Nobel Prize winner). over coffee before and after the event we had conversations ranging over a wide array of topics. The one that has always stuck in my mind was his fears and apprehensions for the youth we worked with. The new young elite of India whose parents were all too frequently the first generation in their families to taste real economic success. he saw them suffering from a disease he described as “Affluenza” – an infection of plenty that undermines motivation and drive when these young people are growing up with all opportunities handed to them with ease and lacking the drive and the need to strive that marked out their parents’ generation. Such a level of complacency is more likely to lead to short cuts than hunger to use and access all possible information and knowledge that is accessible in the world.

The workings of human motivation, drive and the inclination to purpose have been areas of fascination to many (Daniel Pink – Drive, Roy Baumeister – Willpower, Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Just because opportunity is available to people, doesn’t mean they will take it, grasp it or see it as important. People’s aspirations and feelings of what’s possible or what are realistic and meaningful life goals are not simply shaped by exposure.

For example, ten to fifteen years ago, there were plenty of eminent experts who suggested that the growth of the internet would lead to new and greater levels of cultural understanding, empathy and recognition of common purpose amongst people of the world. The argument was that knowing people from all over the world, being exposed to them, understanding more of their culture would reduce fear, animosity and distance. however, as we see a wave of nationalism, protectionism and inter-cultural and religious sabre rattling, it’s clear that there is still just as much potential for people to be divided on ethnic, racial, religious or nationalistic lines as there ever has been.

In conclusion, the possibility that future Nobel prize winners might be more evenly distributed throughout the world doesn’t, in my view, automatically add up to a human revolution. Access and opportunity don’t change things on their own. Whilst i can agree that intellectual and knowledge accessibility may contribute to greater equity in the world, there is no rule that says a rising tide of accessible knowledge will raise all boats.


I’ve shared a number of articles here in recent months on the subject of children and ‘screen time’ and, as it is one of the most critical issues confronting parents and chilren today, I make no apology for sharing another.

Forbes – Are Your Kids Addicted To Their Phones? Screenagers Wants To Help
(Click on the link above to read the article and to see a trailer of the documentary)

This documentary looks to be well worth seeing once it goes on more general release. Seeing the trailer it came across very obviously that a lot of parents and children know there’s a problem, but nobody’s too sure about what to do about it. One of the scariest comments is the one about the evidence that children tend to believe that they are perfectly able to multitask whilst all experiments have shown that the effect is to perform worse on everything.

Futher, here’s an interview that the documentary maker did for American television;

I think one of the most valuable lessons she brings out is that extreme reactions aren't going to work. parents mustn't take a laissez faire view where they do nothing at all, deny the issues or do nothing because they're unclear about the way forward. Neither is it right to treat the child as 'the problem' or as though they are fundamentally bad. Bans, refusal to give the smart phones and other apparatus of the digital age isn't going to work. In such circumstances children, feeling the need to fit in with peers, will simply find devious ways to get online whenever they get the chance. In these circumstances trust is majorly undermined.

Rather, as the film suggests, we've got to maintain open dialogue with children. I've said before, it's vital that parents (and educators) share with children the simple rudimentary basics of the science of the brain that makes them more vulnerable and susceptible. In turn, we also need to make them part of the solutions, involving them in discussion and dialogue about setting reasonable boundaries. They are always far more likely to work to stick to limits and barriers that they have agreed, although even in these circumstances we have to acknowledge that they will have successes and failures, good days and bad. The key is to see this as a long term project - no point abandoning the process, giving up on the child, as soon as they have a bad day and make a mistake.

There are no easy answers, but i believe the children who will come out best adjusted are the ones whose parents and teachers are consistent and work for the long haul with the children to get these habits right, to learn what's best and to build good practices.

And, ............ as this article sets out and I've said before - we have to walk our talk. A parent who takes calls on the phone from friends or work colleagues during a family meal loses the right to complain when the child is texting and not listening to them!

Teenagers in the Twenty First Century

Who would want to be a teen today, given the choice? Not me, thanks.

It was bad in enough in ‘our time’, but I reckon that for teens today there are extra layers of challenge, complexity and stresses that we were spared. However, it’s also a reality that the burden and unpleasantness today isn’t all experienced by the child – us parents carry our share of the burden too.

This article from Huffington Post UK, written by Chloe Combi highlights realistically some of the challenges and issues, especially related to the role that technology plays in the lives of today’s teens;

Huffington Post – Parenting Teenagers in the 21st Century

Whilst reading the article I couldn’t help wondering a bit about the extent to which teens are the architects of their own challenges. So much of the competition, the bullying, the offensive online behaviour is done by teens to teens. Also, as an educator, I’m inevitably drawn to question whether we and the way we run schools are part of the problem or part of the solution. Do we contribute to that sense that teens have of being in competition over everything? Would the situation improve if more emphasis was placed on the development of empathy, EQ and collaborative skills?

There is a perspective that suggests that for those who moved from teens in to adulthood over the last 10-15 years life was harder than for today’s teens. In Western ‘advanced’ economies the baby boomers are reaching retirement at such a rate that far exceeds the number of Generation X coming in to the working environment to replace them. This brings all sorts of other risks such as skills shortages, a sense of privilege and poor work ethic, but it may well mean that they don’t need to be as competitive to fight for themselves as those who went before.

Inevitably, the article also talks a lot about the role of technology in teen’s lives. It really can be all-consuming and, I fear, is creating distorted perceptions about human relations. When a young person chooses to be ‘online’ using social networking, they can portray themselves in any way they choose and interact with others who are also ‘acting out’ roles. In the real world, when teens interact with friends, they come to understand that all have good days and bad days, say smart things and foolish things, have strengths and weaknesses – in short – they know and accept their peers as three dimensional human beings. However, in online social networking everyone becomes a bit less themselves, can keep their weaknesses, foibles and less positive aspects hidden and can therefore seem simpler, easier to deal with and more appealing. Whilst this may be beguiling for the teen, it presents a distorted experience of human nature.

There is much that is happening with today’s teens that is unprecedented. As a result, nobody has all the answers or can accurately predict all the implications. We need more research and we need it quickly.

Twitter for Education

Here’s information of an interesting new platform for educators and all those interested in lifelong learning – the launch of EdCast – a sort of Twitter for education.

I’ve downloaded the App and started exploring it – looks interesting:

Report About Edcast

Safe Social Networking for Education

I wanted to share this link that teachers might want to explore as a safe and secure social networking site designed specifically for the education sector:

Edmodo Site

Web 2.0 and the Power of Crowds

Here’s a really fun and interesting article that explores how use of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies may see us all playing a collective role in solving some of the world’s great challenges.

Yet another reason why Web 2.0 technologies should be a vital part of daily learning for our children:

Paulina Street Journal Article

(Click on link to open article)