This curriculum was delivered to a group of primary heads in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulhman. The course was the result of a partnership between the Hammersmith and Fulhman LEA, the Initiative and the Esmee Fairbain Foundation.
New understandings about the brain; about how people learn; about the potential of information and communication technologies; about radical changes in patterns of work, as well as increasing economic inequality and social divisions within and between nations, necessitate a profound rethinking of the structures of education.
Firstly, the emerging multi-layered knowledge economy requires of all people far more than just basic skills. It requires creativity, flexibility, collaboration and the practical skills of the entrepreneur. These higher order skills are more effectively learned and developed in the rich, collaborative, problem-solving, but uncertain world of apprentice-type learning than ever they can be in the formal classroom with its inevitable emphasis on abstract tasks and predictable results. Learning has to be about more than schooling.
Secondly, in a world of change successful individuals will be those who can direct, manage and monitor their own learning in response to new opportunities. In a vibrant democratic society it is essential to give young people such a mastery of their own learning so, as they grow older, they are weaned of their earlier dependence on teachers and institutions and become evermore self-motivated and responsible for their own progression. The desire to be a life-long learner has its origins in the nursery school and it is critical that such skills are incrementally and progressively developed by the conclusion of secondary school. It should be students who are tired at the end of term, not the teachers!
Thirdly, not only do an ever greater proportion of people require such expanded learning opportunities, but for most countries all this must be achieved at a total level of expenditure no greater than at present. It is inconceivable that this could be achieved through further reform or simple expansion of current arrangements. A redesign is necessary.
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The first major report prepared by the Initiative was the December, 1996, Synthesis document. It was the result of the Initiative’s Wingspread Conferences, and it summarized the research shared at the conferences by 60 leading researchers, policy makers and educators from 14 different countries.
John Abbott and Terry Ryan incorporated the findings from the Synthesis into many articles for publication in the United States and the United Kingdom. The most recent of these was “Constructing Knowledge and Shaping Brains” which was published in November 1999 in the influential American educational journal Educational Leadership.
In early 1999 the Initiative produced its Policy Paper which built on the Synthesis document, and the work of the Initiative between 1995 and the end of 1998. The Policy Paper was written specifically for “those in positions of influence to initiate powerful changes to current educational arrangements.” It outlines in annotated detail why current systems of education are, based on the needs of post-industrial societies, largely “Upside Down and Inside Out.” The Paper is summarized in John Abbott’s speech to the North of England Education Conference “Battery Hens, or Free Range Chickens: What Kind of Education for What Kind of World?”
The Policy Paper itself is a recommended reading, and it argues for a more focused investment on early years learning that would be in-line with what is now known about predispositions. Following on from the benefits of the increased investment in early years learning would be an increasing emphasis on young people to take more responsibility for their own learning as they move into adolescence. The Initiative calls this process intellectual weaning, and it is at the heart of the argument that more effective models of learning can be developed by reapportioning funds rather than simply expanding the current system (and funding) on both ends – in the early years and at the tertiary level.
The final source dealing specifically with synthesis is John Abbott’s book; The Child is Father of the Man: How Humans Learn, and Why. The book, available to those who want to read it, outlines in detail the history of Education 2000’s 13-year effort to develop learning communities in the United Kingdom. It also provides the intellectual basis for the arguments incorporated in the previous documents.
A Curriculum Defining the Key Areas of Study that Inform Efforts to Transform Current Mass Education Systems into More Effective Models of Learning
This is a curriculum designed for a training program to deepen people’s understanding of the key issues that call into question the long-term viability of current models of education. By current models of education we mean those in all OECD countries that fit a pattern of least expenditure per pupil in the earliest years of schooling and most expenditure per pupil at the tertiary level of schooling.
The empirical evidence, taken “in toto,” in this curriculum provides the basis for more effective models of learning for those countries and communities willing to take these findings, meld them to their cultural and social needs, and open up space for radical innovation. The curriculum calls on findings from research in the brain sciences, the evolutionary sciences, the social sciences, the science of information communication technologies, and from best educational, business and community practice.
The syllabus is broken down into six sections. The first section, entitled the biological nature of learning, provides evidence from a convergence of findings in the evolutionary sciences and the brain sciences which show that many of our current arrangements for learning are based on misunderstandings about how the brain functions, how learning takes place and how young people naturally develop. Much of this evidence is new for, as the eminent neurologist Marian Diamond has observed, “in the 1990s, researchers made remarkable gains in understanding how a child’s brain develops, grows, and produces uniquely human capacities.”
The second section, entitled the science of learning, provides evidence from findings in cognitive science, anthropology and developmental psychology. The research shows that more effective models of learning would be based on our best understandings about the brain, learning and human development. The readings in this section deal with intelligence – it’s multiple forms and its non-static nature; emotions – drive the learning process as much as intellect; the importance of intrinsic motivation; learning happens through the construction of knowledge; and expertise goes beyond specialization.
The third section, entitled culture and nurture: how our ideas shape our thinking, is based on evidence comes from a convergence of findings in quantum physics, ecology, economics, the biological sciences, philosophy, political science and sociology. This section shows that within science there is a revolution underway in how science views the man, the planet and the universe. This revolution is leading to new models of the brain and mind, and economic and political models that are now beginning to impact on how work gets done and complex economic phenomena are understood.
The fourth section, entitled technologies of information and communication; impact on culture and learning, comes largely from research at computer technology centers, government agencies and businesses, and incorporates leading practice around the world to show that the tools now available to children in both the home and school offer powerful learning alternatives to a simple reliance on classroom based instruction.