Thursday, 28 July 2016

The importance of re-imagining our world

In 1964 the folk rock duo Simon and Garfunkel released their song 'The sound of silence'. The album on which they released that song was dubbed a 'flop', apparently selling only 2000 copies. The song however went on to become a 'classic'.

In May 2016 'Disturbed' re-imagined and released the song.

Opinions will vary but, while the rest of the 'Disturbed' repertoire isn't to my personal taste, for me this is one of the most profound 're-imaginings' of a song that I have heard. This singer has taken an older song and created something the completely recognisable, yet profoundly different. This takes creativity, it takes imagination.

In the same way this

is a re-imagining of this

And this (a driverless truck)

is a re-imagining of this

which was a re-imagining of this

Or this

is a re-imaging of this

We live in times of rapid technological change, and this is having a profound impact on employment opportunities. Many of the jobs that we currently know may well not exist in 10-20 years time, and similarly there may well be jobs that exist in 20 years time that we can't possibly imagine today.

All of this is the result of that technological change, but it is also a result of human endeavour. At this stage it does seem likely that much of the creative process however may not be replaced by technology (although even that isn't certain). The re-imagining that I am talking about seems more likely to be around in the future than the job of a truck driver, or a builder, or a tax accountant.

The challenge for schools is to place much more emphasis on critical, creative and collaborative thinking. A lot of the development we are witnessing isn't the creation of entirely new ideas, products and processes, but the re-imagining of current ideas. There are always those radical, revolutionary ideas that come to the fore.  This re-imagining is a critical part of creativity.

We need  more 'Disturbed's to re-imagine for us, more critical thinkers who dare to suggest that horse drawn motive power isn't the future, more collaborators who aren't afraid to work with others re-imagine anything and everything in our world.

Inspired by last week's address by Yong Zhao, we need to stop stifling diversity and creativity, and embrace it, encourage it, celebrate it.

A colleague today made one of those comments that has left an indelible mark on my consciousness: 'We are asking kids to run the marae on their own'. We have to foster collaborative work. I recall listening to Eric Mazur, Harvard physics professor, when he told a conference that in his career he had been involved in writing (I think) 80+ academic papers.Yet not one of those had he authored entirely on his own. If collaboration and re-imagining are good enough for a Harvard physics professor, then they should be good enough for our secondary students.

Let's get re-imaging.

R Sutton

Monday, 25 July 2016

The future of our education

There is a lot of talk about the future of work, and therefore of how appropriate our current education model is as our mechanism for preparing young people for that future. I recently had the privilege of attending an address by Young Zhao, a Chinese American education 'futurist'.

His comments were thought provoking and affirming.

Let's start by thinking about the future of work. Many jobs as we know them are fast disappearing, often replaced by technological solutions that were the stuff of science fiction writers 100 years ago.
Jobs that we assumed were traditionally available are less so. These trucks pictured working in the mining industry in western Australia are driverless.

Driverless trucks
This block layer can build a house in two days. It is a robot.

Production and productivity increase while employment declines, all the impact of technology. Look at these figures for the USA (Courtesy Young Zhao).

Yong Zhao's argument is that we have traditionally operated an education system that has been designed to remove difference, to stifle creativity in order to create homogeneous workers for an economy of massed production and industrialisation. Technological change, and it's impact on that demand for industrial workers, now means that we in fact need to enhance diversity, to create more lateral thinkers. We need more divergence in talent and people, we need to foster and nurture creativity and talent. More than this we need to nurture entrepreneurship, we ned enterprising people who are capable of looking at the world's problems in new ways in order to come up wiht new solutions.

Zhao has written a comprehensive blog post titled "A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners[1]". His recommendations are worth quoting in full:

In light of the urgent need for improvement, both immediate and long term, I propose a set of recommendations that policy makers and educators can begin to act on now, that can be implemented over the next several years, and that promise educational excellence for the new age.
  • Stop prescribing and imposing on children a narrow set of content through common curriculum standards and testing.
  • Start personalizing education to support the development of unique, creative, and entrepreneurial talents.
  • Stop fixing solely the teaching force by selecting, training, and retaining better teacher candidates. It takes too long and we cannot wait.
  • Start empowering the children by liberating their potentials, capitalizing on their passion, and supporting their pursuits. Start giving the ownership of learning to the children.
  • Stop constraining children to learning opportunities present in their immediate physical environments by assigning them to classes and teachers.
  • Start engaging them in learning opportunities that exist in the global community, beyond their class and school walls.
  • Stop forcing children to learn what adults think they may need and testing them to what degree they have mastered the required content.
  • Start allowing children the opportunity to engage in creating authentic products and learn what they are interested in, just in time, not just in case.
  • Stop benchmarking to measures of excellence in the past, such as international test scores.
  • Start inventing the excellence of the future. You cannot fix the horse wagon to get the moon. We have to work on rocket science."

Hornby High School is re-creating itself as we re-imagine our own future, a future that promotes and develops the diversity and talent that our community and students all possess. Much of Zhao's commentary and recommendations ring true for us, as it should.

My thanks to Garth Wynn, Executive Principal of Christ;'s College who was instrumental in getting Yong Zhao to talk in Christchurch, and for making the address open to the wider educational community.