I am a complete stranger to the world of blogging but from what I have heard it could benefit my thinking as Director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative, by sharing my thoughts on an almost daily basis with colleagues around the world might lead to some useful dialogue.
Much of the time my thoughts will only be half formed as they will be a reaction to what I see and hear immediately around me. Over time some of these will grow into fully-fledged ideas – they might result in a Paper or shape a lecture – while on other occasions there might well be somebody else who picks up the idea and runs with it. I am writing from the security of my office in Bath, England where this morning the peace of this glorious old Georgian city is being disturbed by a massive flood, caused by snowmelt and exaggerated by some very heavy rain. Floods are endemic to Bath as the Romans complained about 1,700 years ago. They are simply trivial in comparison to an email that has just arrived on my desk from Helen Drennen, the Principal of Wesley College in Melbourne, describing the enormity of the bushfire tragedy and “the unfolding magnitude of the crisis which is going to take many years to overcome. The enormity of the disaster is unparalleled in the Australian experience…” It is both a small world, and a too large world; there is too much water in one place, and not enough somewhere else.
Like many others, my mind collects all these pieces and then tries to sort them out together – it is simply how we humans are. We look for patterns and connections, always believing that he or she who can see the Big Picture most clearly will be better able to direct their lives accordingly.
Last evening I was busy extracting useful pieces of news from the last couple of weeks of The Guardian newspaper, and from the journal The Week. All of these go into my very old-fashioned press cuttings file in the office. Walking into that office this morning I tried, as is my wont, to see how I could turn some of these items into a single story;
- The report of how a North Tyneside school had developed a technique for covering an entire GCSE module (to the point where 80% of pupils got at least a grade ‘D’) in just 90 minutes – and a third of that was spent in playing baseball.
- A report from the Bill Gates Foundation in the States that teachers drawn from the top quartile of the ability range can improve the performance of a class by 10% in a year so concluding with the startling recommendation that “if the whole U.S. had top quartile teachers for 2 years we would illuminate the gap with Asia”.
- The proposal from the Liberal Democrats to reduce class size for 5-6 year olds to a maximum of 15.
- The report of the Children’s Society (U.K.) that only 9% of parents think their children are as happy as they had been as kids themselves.
- A study from the London Institute of Education that “Nursery care beats grandparents preparing children for attending school” (emphasis presumably on the word school).
- The National Accounts of Well Being Report which showed that English children have less trust in other people than children in any other country in Europe apart from Slovakia.
- The suggestion from Ed Balls, the Minister of Education that, “If the Ministry of Defence can take on apprentices, why can’t we have young people become apprentice teachers’ assistants?”
- And, coming on top of the economic chaos which the country is experiencing the news a month or so ago that one-third of all graduates over the last 9 years were not earning enough (little above the minimum national wage) to start paying back their student grants (averaging £20,000), and the announcement some weeks after that that half of this year’s graduates are unlikely to find a job – at least initially.
Out of this jumble of ideas, some apparently logical and others not so, can any connections be made between them and can I, or anyone else, suggest how to combine the best of these together? If we believe that “life goes on”, and if we believe (for whatever philosophical or other reasons) that it is our duty to make enough sense of what is happening around us so that we can consciously, and responsibly, shape the future, then we have to find these connections and then “think big and act small”.
I guess (and this is dangerous in such an open space as a blog) that we have to search everything that is going on around us to look, as it were, for the ingredients that now need to be combined within a new recipe. In other words we have to become professional “cooks” and provide youngsters in the future with a more appropriate up-bringing than that which is currently on offer.
Who out there is going to help me read the signs better? As I begin to unpack this I look forward to reacting to the ideas of many other people.