Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was the first non-television exec to deliver the McTaggart Lecture at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival last night. A core part of his talk was on the state of "UK education", and how "over the past century, the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. You need to bring art and science back together." Britain should look to the "glory days" of the Victorian era for reminders of how the two disciplines can work together, he said.
"It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges. Lewis Carroll didn't just write one of the classic fairytales of all time. He was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford. James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton – but was also a published poet."
"I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made."
It's a shame, though, that he didn't Google a little more on the education system of the country in which he was speaking. Scotland.
There is no such thing as "UK education", only English and Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish. The latter is significantly different from the others, and programming is a core part of our curriculum for excellence Technologies strand, from age 3 through to 18.
It's why my daughter learns input-process-output at nursery school (kindergarten) through computer programmes and robots. It's why the literary structure and coding expertise needed to create a computer game is taught in more and more primary (elementary) schools. It's the reason that the very "learn how to use, not how to make it" approach to software has been questioned for the last eight years or more in Scottish computer science circles, and moves are made to reinstate the importance of programming at secondary (high school) level.
It's why our definition of 'text' in the Literacy (arts) guidance moves well beyond "the three Rs" and includes the likes of text messaging, computer games and the web at large.
Yes, the McTaggart lecture is designed to "boil down to anger and arch-villains, impossible proposals and insults". But, Mr Schmidt, before going in for a great, potentially constructive insult for our neighbours, please accept an invitation to discover more about the country - and its own education system - that you have been kind enough to visit.
This week I'm back at Building Learning Communities (#BLC11), Boston, MA, after a three year hiatus (as I dipped my toes into something totally different). I can't wait to see old friends and make some new ones, and to hang out with some of the brightest thinking you can get in the education space.
The keynote is the one thing both Alan November, the host, and I wanted to do differently. Based on NoTosh's work with Cisco this past 18 months, I'm delighted to be in a conversation with their Director Global Education, Bill Fowler, a conversation we want you to help shape, whether you're at the event, or spectating from afar.
There are seven key questions we're probably going totally fail to tackle over the hour, but I vouch on my part to follow them through for the next few months in the work I do with schools around the world with Tom. Most of the readers of this blog have influence - on their school, their district, their government. We want you to join the already burgeoning debate and contribute your own take on things.
Can you add your own thoughts, arguments, research pieces to these questions and help us create a long-lasting set of strong arguments with which to influence the Governments, districts and schools with whom we all work?
The questions are co-written, and those of you who know me well will know what my own angle would be on some of them - but I want challenged, pushed, cajoled into thinking about others' views on the same subjects.
The keynote later this week will be tweeted live, hopefully webcast, too, and I'll be doing my best to keep up with the live online action as well as responding to points from Bill and the audience. I look forward to seeing you there, in person or online!
Rupert Murdoch isn't someone I'd normally have flocked to for advice on how to transform education, but I was delighted when a contact at the EU forwarded me a speech he had delivered to senior government officials from around the world this May.
Murdoch makes some powerful points that speak the language of Government and business, two groups that must be convinced the current conservative and Conservative means of bullying learning into doing better just will not do. Here are some of the most compelling parts:
Every CEO will tell you that we compete in a world that is changing faster than ever. That it is more competitive than ever and that it rewards success and punishes failure to a greater degree than ever before.
In other words, our world is increasingly, and rightly, a world of merit. In such a world, the greatest challenge for any enterprise is human capital: how to find it, develop it and keep it.
No one in this room needs a lecture about how talented people in tandem with technology are making our lives richer and fuller.
Everywhere we turn, digital advances are making workers more productive - creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago, and liberating us from the old tyrannies of time and distance.
This is true in every area except one: Education.
Think about that. In every other part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognize the world around him.
My friends, what we have here is a colossal failure of imagination. Worse, it is an abdication of our responsibility to our children and grandchildren - and a limitation on our future. As Stendhal wrote: "Qui s'excuse, s'accuse".
We know the old answer - simply throwing money at the problem - doesn't work. In my own country, we've doubled our spending on primary and secondary education over the last three decades - while our test scores have remained largely flat. The reason this hasn't worked is that more money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate - it's become a jobs program for teachers and administrators. And yet we Americans wonder why we have cities like Detroit where nearly half the population can't read and the disadvantaged are on a fast-track to failure.
The mandarins of mediocrity will tell you that the problem is that the kids they are teaching are too poor, or come from bad families, or are immigrants who do not understand the culture. This is absolute rubbish. It is arrogant, elitist and utterly unacceptable.
If we knew we had a gold mine on our property, we would do whatever it took to get that gold out of the ground. In education, by contrast, we keep the potential of millions of children buried in the ground.
Fortunately, we have the means at our disposal to transform lives.
Technology will never replace the teacher. What we can do is relieve some of the drudgery of teaching. And we can take advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analytics that will help teachers spend more time on the things that make us all more human and more creative.
Let me be clear. What I am speaking about is not the outline of some exotic, distant, fictional future. Everything I have mentioned is something I have seen in the here and now.
In schools and in 'educational' media created for young people, the adults always give too many instructions rather than investing in better structures for thinking.
Gever and I ran a session together today at INPlay where we wanted to take educators, games designers and media producers through the experience of being a learner again, learning how, not what, and hopefully gaining more empathy for the five year olds for whom they design media products.
We kicked off with some structured constrained activity, but with no knowledge of what the final result looks like, using John Davitt's LEG to find loosely structured activity for our delegates. The picture above shows one group doing "A 12 Bar Blues as a Mind Map", but harnessing filled glasses of water, laid out to create a blues tune when struck in sequence with a spoon.
We then asked the producers to conceive of a new experience, rather than an educational product, concentrating for 8 out of 10 minutes on experience, and only at the last moment working with the idea on what it might teach a youngster. It was hard for teams not to slip into the habit of tying things to curriculum-filling exercises, but there were some genius kernels of ideas generated after teams concentrated on empathising with what it feels like to be a four/five year old wanting a great engaging experience, first and foremost.
Encourage people to design experiences, not lessons.
Encourage people to speak less. Poorly reviewed games on the app store invariably have too much speaking in them, too many instructions and hints. Poor classrooms feature too much teacher-talk.
Producers and educators could experiment with concentrating first and foremost on quality of engagement and experience, only second of all on what content is being sought to be learned.
Producers and educators should invest more their time empathising, observing and asking young people what makes them tick, what experiences engage them and then co-design learning solutions to that, rather than pulling young people in to 'test' games or experiences after they have been designed by the adults (or co-designing lesson plans rather than being subjected to the planned lesson after the fact).
There is a difference between instruction and structure. Kids do not need instructions - games like Sesame Street's A-to-Zoo have so much instruction it turns kids off sharp: try it for yourself, below:
What works better for young people and creative designers alike, is not instruction from on high (with a degree of tacit pre-task knowledge of the outcome already in the teacher's mind - and quite possibly the learners') but structures within which the learning journey, or game, can play itself out.
With these last two structures the name of the game is divergence of thought and investigation. It's only having explored a large amount of content that the learner creates their plan for what they will construct from it. This doesn't work if the teacher feels the need to organise it, to direct, to instruct. It only works if the youngster is free within the confines of a structure.
Is there a difference between instruction and structure? I think so, but am amazed that until now I hadn't discovered much appetite for exploring the difference between these terms, and these approaches, in the world of game design, media production and, vitally, teaching and learning/instruction/schooling/education.
These days technology is often the last thing I'd recommend schools bother with when trying to engage students. There's plenty else we can invest time in before technology will achieve even a fraction of what it can in an engaged school. And now a set of action research reports in the UK is showing the path many schools might wish to take.
I'm working with several primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools at the moment in England, Australia and the States. All of them face the same daily and long-term strategic challenge: students have never been so disengaged. Many have seen technology as a principal hook to reverse this disengagement, which is why they get in touch with us, but quickly on my initial visits to schools I'm keen to point out the other steps that we need to get through before technology will add what it could do. Otherwise, I'm just a tools salesman, selling tools that the owners don't know how to harness.
The journey is a complex one, and one that, in my opinion for what it's worth, most of the 'big' eduction commentators in North America still fail to recognise. I've complained numerous times before about the fetichisation of 'tools' and 'edtech' by those who work with and in schools where other elements of the teaching and learning process clearly deserve fetichisation first.
What are these elements?
A unique and undervalued research project based in the UK, with partners in the US (including High Tech High), is discovering, analysing and sharing those elements through its regular pamphlets, blog and, above all, grounded practice across nearly 50 schools.
It's our job to help scale this ambition to other schools around the world.
The irony, for commentators like Alfie Kohn, is that invariably, “when interest appears, achievement usually follows” (2000, p. 128). … It is almost as though we have accepted the inevitability of learning as a cold shower: you’re not expected to enjoy it, but it will do you good. ... We have recently seen a large number of students becoming disengaged achievers, performing well academically, keeping out of trouble, but rejecting further and higher education. … A second problem with the traditional model of engagement stems from its predominantly instrumental applications: engagement as a vehicle to improve student performance or discipline within school. Inevitably, such a mindset constrains success indicators within a compliance model. Students are deemed to be engaged, for example, when/if they: • attend regularly • conform to behavioural norms • complete work in the manner requested and on time • are ‘on-task’ • respond to questioning If we have greater aspirations for students—beyond compliance and toward a commitment to lifelong learning—then the conventional concept of engagement is inadequate. ... While project-based learning and activities that go beyond school can be liberating for staff and students, it is important that activities incorporate a sense of bounded freedom—that students are given a clear set of guidelines, procedures or protocols within which they can make choices. As one Year 9 student put it: “I’d like to have a little bit more of a say, but...I think you need the teacher there to sort of guide you.” … Students are absorbed in their activity: anyone witnessing a young person playing, say, on-line role playing games will know what this looks like. It is rare, however, to see such depth of absorption in school-based work. Munns and colleagues (2006) at the University of Western Sydney (2006) have quantified the difference as being in-task, not just on-task. Other indicators of high absorption would be students wishing to continue beyond the end of a lesson, or not even noticing the lesson had ended—what Csikszentmihalyi (1990) has described as being in ‘‘flow’’.
I'm hoping that apparenly embattled leadership colleagues in the US might sit up when they see the confidence of the youngsters I interviewed for the post, and feel that they can engage in a different way of doing things from the perceived norm.
I sit on the Board of Trustees for this framework that sets out competences, not school subjects, as the principal mechanism through which students learn the 'hows' and 'whats' of the world. It's not dissimilar in goal to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, with the RSA's Opening Minds accreditation scheme acting as a means to provide stellar professional development and coaching between schools who "are there" with those new to this way of thinking and working.
This is a summary of the talk I delivered at the Norfolk ICT 2011 Conference, expanding on my TES editorial back in January.
During the final half of 2010, I asked more than 1,500 teachers around the globe two questions: what are your happiest memories from learning at school, and what are your least happy experiences?
When I do the "reveal" of what I think their answers will be, every workshop has a "but how did he know?" reaction. It's more akin to an audience's response to illusionist Derren Brown than to the beginning of a day of professional development.
For teachers' answers are always the same. At the top is "making stuff", then school trips, "feeling I'm making a contribution" and "following my own ideas". Their least happy experiences are "a frustration at not understanding things", "not having any help on hand" and "being bored", mostly by "dull presentations". "Not seeing why we had to do certain tasks" appeared in every continent. Most of these educators agreed that the positive experiences they loved about school were too few, and were outnumbered by the "important but dull" parts of today's schooling: delivering content, preparing for and doing exams.
But while a third of teachers generally remember "making stuff" as their most memorable and happy experience at school, we see few curricula where "making stuff" and letting students "follow their own ideas" makes up at least a third of the planned activity.
Design Thinking: the creative industries' framework for relentless creativity
Coined by design superstars IDEO, "Design Thinking" in a simple form is a four-part process of thinking and acting that I see replicated in every successful creative company in film, television, web startups or marketing with whom I work. I see it in some of our most creative classrooms, too.
What is the carbon footprint of the nation's shopping basket?
Who is the biggest polluter in our region?
How can we make the journey to school safer?
How can we better use the school budget we have?
We then follow these four stages of problem-solving:
Immersion is not just unleashing youngsters with a sketchbook, or sending them off to Google to find out everything they can on a topic. It's about students working hard to gain empathy with those affected by the problem they've encountered. It's about putting oneself in the shoes of another and capturing all the emotions, feelings, facts, viewpoints possible. This can be done in a huge number of ways, but capturing these insights we must: on digital photographs, cell phone audio recordings or videos, post-it notes, documents...
Every idea that has been captured needs to be brought together, preferably in a project space, a project corner, so that teams of students can work to find
information that needs further splitting down
outlier ideas that, at first, don't seem to belong elsewhere
Look at the IDEO team in action, one week over two minutes, in this clip, and you'll see how a ton of messy, asbtract information comes together into organised thoughts ready for turning into ideas:
The teacher's role in this stage, as in immersion, is critical, but not as deliverer of knowledge. The teacher's role is that of key questioner. Good questioning technique is the most important skill to master to pull this creative process off, and there are some structures you can use to help. The G.R.O.W model and similar coaching models are such frameworks to help frame questions at each level of the project's thinking (short, medium and long-term):
Mhairi Stratton, formerly at Humbie Primary School in East Lothian, Scotland, introduced me to this way of thinking, and she has seen other benefits coming from this way of 'coaching' students to success:
'The whole school is benefitting because the pupils are involving the other class and sharing their learning with them.
‘Pupils are now identifying what resources they need, and why, and then working out how to source these.
‘This is also having a very positive effect on parental involvement as the pupils are also discussing their learning more at home and often asking them to provide the resources!’
Actually coming up with solutions to a problem comes quite late on in the process. In schools, most of the time, though, the problem has been defined by a teacher or a textbook and most learners are thrust into the creative process at this point, at the point when the process is nearly over!
Ideation can be simple brainstorming, or it can rely on a greater box of mental tools to stimulate better, more unexpected, more sustainable ideas. For example:
everyone's a consultant, where each individual adds to everyone else's idea with a...
"yes, and..." statement - ban "no but"; it's anti-creative, and what didn't work last year might work now. Things change.
100 ideas now - set your students a challenge to take the available synthesised information and come up with 100 ideas in just one session.
FedEx days, where you invite learners (and colleagues) to deliver an idea within 24 hours.
This kind of pupil-led learning creates entrepreneurial, confident individuals. Professor Sugata Mitra's work shows that children in Indian slums are able to teach themselves and each other when provided with a computer kiosk on a street corner and access to the internet.
Within six weeks of starting my teaching career in the UK in 2002, I was fortunate to take up a spot on a small delegation to New Brunswick, Canada. There, since the 1970s, pupils have been achieving stellar results through experiential, project-based learning in which they have the lion's share of control over what is learnt, with whom and using what resources. And they have done it in a language that is not their mother tongue.
Yet the thought of allowing 30 assorted children at a time - or 90 at a time in the supersize classes I saw in New Brunswick - "free rein" upsets even the most innovative of educators. Far better to set a project theme for them; at least we know we will cover what we need to cover.
On the other side of the world in New Zealand, at Auckland's Albany Senior High School, deputy head Mark Osborne gives his pupils free rein every Wednesday through impact projects. "It can take weeks of discussion, reading and searching, but once you have struck their passion, their eyes light up and you can't stop them," he says.
Pupils have built a VW "Herbie" car, a rocket and a content delivery platform for the school's plasma screen system, inadvertently undercutting the commercial outfit pitching to the local university by NZ$280,000 (£137,682).
As US academic Professor Roger Schank puts it: "There is really only one way to learn how to do something, and that is to do it."
Over in California stands High Tech High, set up in San Diego in 2000 as a charter school. It was created with support from local businesses as an environment that would help fill the skills and attitudes gaps faced by the area's technology industries. Principal Larry Rosenstock believes that until teachers identify their own passions they cannot hope to facilitate the experience for pupils.
Further up the coast in San Francisco, Gever Tulley is developing his Tinkering School, an educational experiment with big ambitions currently acting as a one-week summer school.
Pupils learn by building bridges from dumped plastic bags, roller coasters from old crates or villages on stilts designed to provide secret niches for reading. The ideas come wholly from the seven-year-old collaborators and staff work tirelessly to spot and reinforce the learning opportunities inherent in the build. Elements of physics, mathematics, design, art, music and language are all wrapped in the vital skills of the 21st century for which there is, thankfully, no subject: ingenuity, collaboration, experimentation, failure and storytelling.
Don't think. Try.
Harnessing entirely pupil-led, project-based learning in this way isn't easy. But all of this frames learning in more meaningful contexts than the pseudocontexts of your average school textbook or contrived lesson plan, which might cover an area of the curriculum but leave the pupil none the wiser as to how it applies in the real world.
There is a line that haunted me last year: while pupil-led, project-based learning is noble and clearly more engaging than what we do now, there is no time for it in the current system. The implication is that it leads to poorer attainment than the status quo. But attainment at High Tech High, in terms of college admissions, is the same as or better than private schools in the same area.
The assumption that pupil-led, project-based learning offers less success in exams is a false but persistent one. John Hunter was the anatomist who defined modern medicine because, frankly, no one else had. He had a saying that has since become the mantra of the modern surgeon: "Don't think. Try the experiment."
Innovations in education that engage young people and have the most profound impact will not occur because someone told teachers what to do and how they should do it. They won't come by tinkering with the curriculum or seeking the perfect balance of assessment. The most important changes in learning this decade will come around because someone, a teacher, maybe you, thought that things weren't what they could be and that something new was worth a try. They will get together with colleagues and make time to talk through the possible and seemingly impossible. And then they will go and try it out.
When you listen to four politicians responsible for education and lifelong learning in their parties, it's remarkably easy to spot those with some savvy and those who choose to waffle on the clichés they think we want to hear.
At the Scotland on Sunday Education hustings this week the current Education Minister, Mike Russell, was at home sick, so the SNP's Lifelong Learning and Skills Minister Angela Constance took up the reins for the debate. She was joined by Des McNulty (Labour), Elizabeth Smith (Conservatives) and Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrats).
For all that she was a lastminute panel replacement, Constance was the only one speaking in terms of action, policy with the facts to back it up, with experience rooted in what she has seen herself in Scottish schools, on teacher unions' understandings of the current state of play and on the latest research, some of it commissioned by her Government over the past four years.
The others delivered platitudes, meaningless statements ("less indiscipline", "more testing", "more rigour") without any indication of what role a Government would play in achieving them.
Are we not all literacy and numeracy teachers? Des McNulty from Labour believes that Scottish education is 'in a mess' because of decisions from the current Government and from Local Authorities themselves. He wants add 1000 extra teachers to lead on literacy and numeracy, despite the fact that when I was a teacher under his Government I distinctly remember them spearheading the approach of "every teacher is a teacher of literacy and numeracy".
The best practice from around the world shows that integrating higher aspirations for all children's literacy and numeracy throughout their curriculum leads to greater achievement in these areas, something that works the other way, too: skills learnt in one subject area are useful elsewhere.
That's why Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence is so vital: it's less something to be "implemented" from on high (with screeds of policy documents and advice sheets) and instead embraced from the teaching community, who, rightly, can expect more videoed examples from inside classrooms where the planning, the tactics and the teaching style can be observed in virtual-first-hand terms. A visit to the Journey to Excellence or Learning and Teaching Scotland websites shows that the current SNP Government have done just that, and the process of changing the habits of 150 years is well on its way - although it was always going to take longer than 4 years to see a wholesale 180 degree change in practice.
We're talking about upending existing notions of how we timetable, moving towards longer periods of learning, less movement around secondary schools, more practice emulating that of the primary school environment. This is what's increasing attainment in reading, writing and 'rithmetic in schools like the Stovner School in Norway, and countless other schools in the small-country systems we like to fetichise.
The opposite is what we see in England under Gove, whereby the Education Bill makes reference to "The Importance of Teaching" without looking carefully at what makes the best conditions for learning. Not only that, it does away with the key institutions for developing the quality of teachers in our classrooms.
Labour & Tory: Drive standards, test more McNulty's other key platitude was that he wants to "drive standards with teachers". But what does that mean? Does he, along with his Conservative companion Elizabeth Smith, want to introduce "more rigourous testing, earlier, before students move on to secondary", testing the growth of our youngsters by pulling up their roots every six weeks? Do he and Smith want to increase the importance of "passing the test" later in school, and emulate the disastrous attempts to introduce "rigour" in the United States, which has left the arts, creativity and any teaching and learning outside the test out in the cold?
Greater rigour, and a return to 'traditional methods' as Smith put it, will meet only with disdain from our students, disengaging more of them at every turn. Look at what happened in Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 "Dream School" when Professor David Starkey, no doubt one of the greatest historians of his era with unbeatable knowledge, was unable to demonstrate, let alone inspire in his students, the kinds of soft skills so often berated by those who talk of "rigour": he exhibitted everything that's wrong with "rigour" in the classroom. Soft skills, which Starkey himself sees as less important than acquiring discreet areas of knowledge, would have saved him and his students much pain and embarrassment.
"I want to do something about indiscipline… [cue: tumbleweed]" Finally, McNulty got tough: "I want to do something about indiscipline." Great. How? I do believe teachers have been trying for some time, and some of us have started to work out what it comes down to. It's about engaging students in the first place (see above, "Rigour"), involving parents more (they need to want to be involved, though - dragging kicking and screaming, parent or child, tends toward the ineffective), getting better in-class training on handling different types of students and support from better school leaders. Tell us, please, what your potential Government's role is in helping what we're trying to do already go faster, deeper, quicker.
Teaching the Teachers While only the Tories are still daft enough now to think that Scottish students want to pay for their higher education, with Labour having changed their old position recently to align to that of the SNP, it was only the SNP who seem to have made the connection between Higher Education in general and those vital programmes that teach the teachers.
The Donaldson Report, commissioned by the SNP Government shows in no uncertain terms that higher investment in (free) teacher training is the only way to achieve long-term success in our classrooms. Not more testing. Not more textbooks. Not, as the SNP have nonetheless delivered, the smallest class sizes in Scotland's history (smaller class sizes inevitably make the teacher's job in developing youngsters easier). McKinsey's most recent research, as well as their 2007 report, repeatedly points out that teacher quality remains the sole factor in differentiating the average from the not-so-average education systems. Initial teacher education, yes, but above all continuing professional development.
This is one area, everywhere in the world, where Governments, teacher unions and teachers themselves can only ever work harder. It's mostly down to money and attitudes in the workforce - teachers need to know they can take up courses, take protected time out to reflect and do so without being told at the last minute they need to take the RE teacher's class again.
It is the SNP that has led the debate on Higher Education with the belief that higher education benefits society, not just the individual, says Angela Constance. She's right.
Invest in education and, generally, you always get more out the other side, and at least make some savings on the other budgets. Underspend or spend in the wrong places in education, and you might just break even, but the costs will re-emerge in health, justice and employment later on.
Education is the only Government spending area that really represents an investment. Everything else is spend. If we invest in education, in helping teachers improve day-by-day, the rest begins to fall into place.
[disclaimer: My company is currently working with the SNP on their election campaign's digital strategy. The views on this post are my own]
In a four-part video series for GETideas I travelled the world in 24 hours and asked four educators I admire what their "two stars and a wish" for learning would be for 2011. I'll blog the films here over the next week.
"Children coming in and following what they're interested in has resulted in some of the most powerful learning experiences in my classroom. When a child chooses to understand more about the rocks they've brought in, the learning is deep. It takes time, we need to set that time aside. I've also enjoyed spending longer on some texts, and haven't been afraid to revisit the same texts further down the line. What kids produce after a second chance at a topic, later on in the school year, is so much better than what is learnt and produced in the timetabled time.
"And that is my wish - I wish we could find more flexible, alternative timetabling methods that allow students to do these kinds of things. We need longer periods of time, the ability to not finish a topic, but to revisit it months later."
One of the biggest issues in discussing the purpose of education in this borderless forum is revealed in our original challenge: we're preparing a discussion for "the election" (in Westminster, England) in three years' time when, for the five million of us who share the same island, the elections that really matter for education happen in 90 days. If you're in the US, you've barely got two years. In Canada… In Egypt… In India… In China…
In Scotland, education is managed by our own Parliament, not by those sitting 400 miles away in Westminster. And over the past year, after taking some of the ingredients suggested by this blogger, the SNP’s Government created Engage for Ed, a now burgeoning series of blog posts, provocations and discussions between ministers, parents, interest groups, teachers, students from our youth parliament and others from that amorphous glob we call The General Public. Has it had a tumultuous effect on policy? It's hard to say. University remains free to attend for Scottish students. The nearly new Curriculum for Excellence has had some more time, effort and money spent on it to heighten its potential impact in creating a 3-18 curriculum of student-led, passion-based learning. As all the parties sharpen the instruments in their manifesto toolbox we'll see how much the opinions and ideas of those online contribute to their vision for the purpose of education.
Government policy-making, cash injections and tinkering with frameworks of schooling can only have a limited impact on how teachers, parents and pupils perceive "what education is for". Ultimately, these three vital groups make up their minds based on what they see in the classroom and what they see in the connection (or lack of it) between what goes In School and what happens everywhere else in the community: the way students interact with their community on the walk home; the way they dive into working on personal projects that actually matter to them or argue with their parents over homework whose value no-one in this triangle of learning is particularly sure.
The desire to learn is woven into the concept of contentment and that, for me at least, is the basic purpose of any education system. Contentment can flourish into happiness, riches, recognition or any other myriad of emotional and material gain. But without a content society, with an ambition to continually discover and question the world around them throughout life, we end up with society's biggest enemies: complacency, stagnancy, apathy and ambivalence.
We have an ongoing contentment problem, and the answer to it lies in helping young people discover what their passions are, giving up the artificial reins we as teachers, parents and governments use to strangle those passions and the creativity that lends itself to their growth.
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.