School 21 – Educating The Whole Child

Some fascinating video insights in to a London school that’s doing some great work using project based learning, strong focus on communication skills, oracy, student voice and the development of students with the ability to go out and make a difference in the world.

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Making Education Human

I don’t believe it’s wrong to say that still way too much of what goes on in schools is dehumanising, disrespectful and too redolent of the factory processing models of the past. I see so much written, and educators spending so much of their time working to tackle what are essentially the symptoms. Bullying is a classic example. Anti-bullying programmes are all well and good, but how much of the efforts are really directed at asking the cold, hard questions about what it might be about our schools as institutions that creates bullies and victims?

We have to be willing to challenge all orthodoxies, to question why we do what we do the way we do. If there aren’t good answers or justifications, especially keeping in mind that we need different outcomes in the 21st Century, then we have to ready to tear up the play book and seriously innovate with intent, with sensitivity and with passion.

I first came across the work of Steve Hargadon around 5 years ago because of his involvement with Web 2.0, School 2.0 and other aspects relating to ICT in Education. He has conducted a very large number of interviews with key figures in education, available as podcasts, as part of pushing forward a reform agenda to support educators who want to achieve real and lasting change.

Here’s a recent article about Steve’s work:

KQED News – Mindshift – Steve Hargadon

His ideas about school creating followers really struck a chord with me, as many parents and teachers have heard me talk on this very issue in recent months. This one issue alone offers many aspects for a teacher to explore what they do, how they interact, what is the nature of classroom discipline – and whether it’s creating followers or leaders. There’s no question, leaders must be self-disciplined, but the argument is that for this young people need a very different set of practice and experiences than the usual teacher-driven discipline of school. All this does is breed surly obedience in too many children.

To get genuine self discipline in schools, we have to enable children to be far more involved and have a focus on student voice.

There’s much work ahead.

5 Changes for 5 Years

here’s an article from Fast Company that explores five ways that education is likely to change in the next 5 years.

Fast Company – 5 Big Ways Education Will Change By 2020

To me, the big takeaway (no real surprise), is that education isn’t yet fully changing in response to technological changes and advances – but isn’t going to be able to resist for ever. If the education delivered is to be relevant and effectively prepare young people for the world of today, then the impact and change from technology is going to be far greater than we’ve seen so far.

And the other one that struck a chord – student voice will be listened to! Well, plenty have talked about that for a long time. It would be great to see, but I’m still not holding my breath about that one!!

What Students Want

Here’s an interesting piece that highlights the views from a handful of students who were given the (sadly all too rare) opportunity to tell the education system what matters to them. It took place in New York as part of the ‘Education Nation’ Conference:

20 Things Youngsters Want Educators To Know

To me, the point is not in the 20 things expressed by the students, so much as the acknowledgement that they must be made part of the debates, their voice acknowledged and listened to. Could we think that here in India all conferences regarding education would include panel discussions that incorporate the genuine voice of students?

Interestingly, when you look at the 20 things that emerged from this interaction, some of them can be subject of further debate, some probably strike a chord with what many educators have been feeling (so parties need to start debating about how they might make those things happen, or happen better) and some reflect a need for greater clarity about what educators are trying to achieve to reduce misunderstandings and misguided perceptions.

Student Voice – Cautionary Tales

A couple of weeks ago I put an article on the blog about ‘student voice’. Strangely, whilst there’s been quite a lot of interest and comments online and offline – nothing has come to me from students!!

Maybe they prefer to go in for expressing their views a little less directly?

Here’s an article from Telegraph newspaper in England which highlights what can go wrong if attempts to increase student voice are done with inadequate forethought.

Telegraph Article

Student Voice in Schools

As the gulf of relevance and increasing disconnection of students from school becomes an increasingly debated issue in education, one of the areas that has been suggested for the last 15 years or so that can enable students to feel more ‘connected’ to their experience of attending school (and the learning process) is giving students more ‘voice’.

When we talk about ‘voice’ here we are essentially talking about students having a greater say in their own experience in school, collectively and/ or individually. Various ways have been experimented with in schools throughout the world. Of course, we know that by and large such a debate in India has only really taken place in colleges.

Personally, while seeing it as a challenging area, I believe it’s absolutely right that educators explore and experiment in this area. It is challenging and clearly entails, at times, educators getting outside their comfort zones. It also requires a great deal of thought to be given to the desired outcomes, risk mitigation and the building of trust as a prerequisite.

Here’s an interesting BBC article which captures some of the opposing viewpoints in the debate going on in UK. Plainly, it is a topic that has the scope to bring out strong emotions.

BBC – Giving Students Voice

To me, the strongest points coming out of the piece are;
a) the need to have really clear understanding about what the goals are,
b) adequate attention to safeguards, checks and balances,
c) Good training for all the educators and pupils involved.

At a college level, one of the first approaches to this we have seen in India is student feedback forms to be completed about their faculty. In my experience, the schemes that i have seen in place had given little thought to points a) and b) and none to c).

The result is best summed up in a comment to me by a prominent professor – “We don’t have to be good at what we do any more, just popular.”

He went on to elaborate how it was becoming near impossible for professors to hold students accountable for anything. Some professors were even threatened that if they didn’t give good marks, allow extensions, set easy assignments etc. their tenure could be threatened.I even know of cases where faculty who were willing to challenge students were forced out of institutes. An Institute headtold me he had lost two of his most sincere and promising young faculty because of this, but his hands were tied.

So, we have to be cautious. However, i still believe it is vitally important that we explore the scope to give more voice to students – not just in colleges, but also in schools. Bad implementation would actually set back the cause of increasing student voice,so it is vital that things are done well.

So, I would welcome people’s suggestions about the ways that we might do this that would satisfy points a) to c) above. What specific areas would people like to see us approach? Could we, one day, go as far as involving students in recruitment processes, openly and transparently, performance management of teachers, student discipline issues, school rules?

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