My earliest memories revolve around rows over money, and the fact that for long periods the only meals we had were free school meals. That the school uniform vouchers were issued late one year so my sister and I were told off in front of our entire classrooms for wearing the wrong clothes. That I was shouted out in front of an entire school assembly for being late to school when my mother couldn’t afford the bus fare, as Social Security had yet again suspended payments due to “administrative errors”. That most of my childhood was miserable due to abject poverty, and that my mother couldn’t find work because she’d been unemployed for years, had no qualifications, and a minimum wage job would mean she had even less chance of making ends meet.
I despise the fact that people are angry that benefits can be spent on things that can cause any enjoyment in people: Satellite TV is a big bugbear. Do we really believe that if people can’t contribute to a society financially they don’t have a right to any entertainment as a human being? I find the lack of comprehension of how demeaning, depressing and dehumanising unemployment can be astounding.
I agree with Dawn’s core message about the reality of poverty and life on benefits, but I was particularly interested in her memories of school.
Her account of the fundamental lack of compassion and simple human understanding that she experienced too often in school is one I recognise from my own time as a teacher and, of course, as a pupil. Like every institution that has ever existed, the institution of the school sometimes forgets that its core purpose is a human one and not an institutional one. Of course, the 5 words ‘the institution of the school’ are actually weasel words that should be interpreted as certain teachers, headteachers and education managers that I have come across in my time.
Every additional institutional target imposed on our schools by the tiny-brained bean-counters (those who delude themselves that they can improve formal education by such reductive and worthless methods) means one more turn of the heartless screw that dehumanizes school bit by bit. There will always, unfortunately, be teachers in the system who simply do not like children, but even fundamentally humane and thoughtful teachers can sometimes find their basic compassion compromised and corrupted by the cold logic of target-based attempts to improve education, or by the imposition of ludicrous rules that have not the slightest thing to do with learning.
Peter Wilby, in this week’s New Statesman, on the new A-Level A* grade:
You can see why fee-charging schools wanted the new grade — if they can’t demonstrate an edge over the state sector, they’ll be out of business. Universities should know better. A-levels reward exam technique, not original and creative minds. Emphasis should be on applicants’ potential, not grades achieved in a system rigged against comprehensives. The new grade will legitimise, and probably increase, the admissions bias, which gives more than 40 per cent of Oxbridge places to the 7 per cent who attend fee-charging schools. Why Labour allowed it to go ahead is a mystery.
No one should be surprised, of course, that a Tory government — even one with the Liberal Democrats in tow — should be promoting even greater inequality than is already apparent in the English education system. However, Peter Wilby is correct that the blame for the current state of affairs must be placed firmly at the feet of a Labour Government that seemed perfectly happy over its thirteen years to try to complete a journey started by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Or did it all start with Callaghan’s Great Debate in 1976, and Blair, Brown and company were merely completing the circle?
One other thought: I wonder what the implications of this are for Scottish applicants to English universities: how will the requirement by some universities for at least one A* grade be applied to Higher and Advanced Higher students?
Call me a grumpy old man, but I want my students to engage with ‘old’ technology — books, journals, articles, conference proceedings. face-to-face discussions in real time, learning to think on their feet…too often ‘new’ technologies get reduced to gimmicks and Wikipedia — I want students who can operate the tool between their ears (another piece of pretty old technology)…
“.…academics too often fail to keep up with the latest technological developments.”
It would take too much space and effort to deconstruct all of the nonsense here but a couple of questions might do for starters:
why does it need to be a binary decision, old technology or new technology — why does one have to replace the other?
cannot books, journals, articles and conference proceedings be accessed online, and can both face-to-face, real-time discussions and learning to think on one’s feet not also be achieved at least as effectively online as offline (and sometimes more effectively)?
Apple reportedly plans to launch its second-generation iPad, using 5.6″ and 7″ OLED panels, as soon as in the fourth quarter of 2010.…the new 5.6″ and 7″ iPads will mainly target the e-book reader market, separating them from the 9.7-inch model, which mainly targets multimedia entertainment.…
So reports the Digitimes site. Fourth quarter of 2010, if the reports are correct, means that the new iPads will be out in time for the Christmas market.
I have written before about TESSA (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa) — this is a multi-language collection of free teacher-education resources intended for African teacher-educators, teachers and trainee-teachers. Despite its geographical focus, however, this is great resource for teachers and teacher-educators in many parts of the world. The languages covered include Kiswahili, isi-Xhosa, Arabic, French and English.
Now TESSA is offering four fellowships to scholars and other educators based in those countries in which TESSA operates, namely Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia. Those seeking to apply should be:
.…affiliated to an academic institution and have an interest in researching Open Educational Resources and their use to support teacher education.
With the guidance and involvement of the Open University and a large number of African educational institutions and other organizations, this is a great opportunity for anyone in these African countries who is interested in pushing the OER boundaries for teacher-education. There can be few more valuable activities in African education at the moment than the critical push to increase the numbers of trained teachers across the continent.
On a recent trip to the Middle East, I came across a very interesting example of how people are using social technologies to undermine the stifling conventions of conservative cultural norms. I will not name the country as I have to work there occasionally and I hope to continue to be allowed past their passport control on entry. However, anyone with an intimate, or even a working, knowledge of that part of the world should be able to narrow its identity down to a small set of possibilities without too much difficulty from my description below.
I stayed for a few days with some colleagues in a large hotel in the centre of the capital city. This country is one of those in the region that permit the sale of alcohol, and in purely social terms at least, it is one of the more liberal regimes that do not insist either on the strict segregation of the sexes or the covering up of women. Politically, however, it is far from liberal.
Hordes of men and women, mainly in their twenties and thirties, would descend on the hotel’s large main bar each evening to smoke shisha and to have a drink. However, for the most part, they tended to sit in small, single-sex groups. Only those who I presumed to be married sat together. Despite the country’s relatively ‘liberal’ regime in social terms, it is still conservative enough to maintain high barriers against overt and public consorting between single men and women.
After watching this for a couple of evenings, my Arabic-speaking colleague asked a local what was going on in the hotel bar: why did these young men and women come here every night for fun and yet sit apart in seeming indifference to each other’s presence?
His answer was both surprising and obvious: Bluetooth!
To say we had a ‘duh!’ moment would be an understatement.
We realised that a sizeable majority of those in the bar had mobile phones in their hands and seemed to be texting more or less constantly (not something we take much notice of these days, of course). Beneath the calm and ordered facade of a group of well-behaved young people enjoying a happy but respectful and decorous night out there was in fact a ferment of conversations bubbling away beneath the hookah smoke, using a variety of Bluetooth chat tools on their phones. A quick glance at my own phone confirmed a large number of Bluetooth-enabled devices in the room, with a few intriguing and amusing names designed to catch attention sprinkled amongst them.
We were also told that, because there was a constant stream of monied tourists in the hotel from some of the more conservative Middle Eastern countries, a number of prostitutes were also plying their trade in the bar by the same means.
Just a few minutes of discreet observation armed with our new-found intelligence confirmed the truth of what we had heard. We now noticed the cautious glances from beneath lowered eyelids, the shy (or in some cases, overtly solicitous) smiles, the guarded laugh at something being read on the phone. All the clues were there: we just hadn’t been clued in enough to spot them before.
This phenomenon is interesting enough in purely social-anthropological terms, but it only takes a few moments of logical thought to realize there are potentially deeper and wider cultural and political implications of the use of simple social technologies in conservative cultures.
The idea is hardly an original one, of course, but seeing it happening in front of me focused my mind on what those implications might be. Just as the Victorian patriarch in Britain 170 years ago saw the dire consequences of the Penny Post — ladies could, for the first time, correspond directly, and privately, with a beau, cheaply and with minimum or no subterfuge — so the social technology sub-culture must already be causing ripples of anxiety in many authoritarian regimes and conservative cultures across the world, and by no means only in the Middle East.
We could speculate on the short term consequences, but I am more interested in the long term political and social effects of a young generation in these countries who are fast discovering a freedom of movement that their parents’ and grandparents’ generations never had. As they grow older, and as they begin to take the reins of social and commercial leadership over the next decade or two (the political reins are likely to be denied them for some time to come), will these young people gradually revert to a way of thinking that will lead them, once again, to seek to restrict the freedoms of their own children, the freedom to communicate and socialize relatively openly, the freedom to make unrestricted personal and social connections? Or, will they grasp the potentials of these social technologies in the 21st century and allow their children to enjoy and extend the freedoms they themselves are experiencing right now? And, most interestingly for me, will they start to push their new-found freedoms outwards into the political domain and the cultural domain, demanding the political rights that so many of them are currently denied, questioning, perhaps, the religious expectations of behaviour they have grown up with? Is there a chance that the simple personal connections being made by people now in these countries can lead to broader social, cultural and political change in the years ahead?
Much, of course, will depend on the extent to which such countries try to suppress the use of social technologies in the future: the recent moves by some countries to ban the use of the Blackberry because its SMS traffic cannot be monitored is an indication of what can happen.
And of course, this general phenomenon is by no means restricted to the more obviously conservative regimes of the Middle East and elsewhere. Cultural and religious conservative sub-groups in the West must surely already be facing the same processes, the same forces working themselves out within their traditional comfort zones. Today’s youth and young adults across the world are tasting forbidden fruit, and the knowledge they pluck is unlikely to have them yearning in the years ahead for a return to the smothering inhibitions and taboos of their antecedents.
I have used the work of Dr Stuart Brown in a number of talks and presentations over the past couple of years. The short video above is a very nice illustration of the key issues that his work brings to the fore — the criticality of play, not just for the rounded development of the child, but for the continuing mental and emotional well-being of the adult throughout life.
I found the quote above in a very good article by Alison Kadlec’s in which she interviews Stuart Brown on the subject of play: Play and Public Life (downloadable PDF). Kadlec widens the thrust of Brown’s work from the psychological to the social, by relating his thinking to what she calls ‘civic health’. Someone should send a copy to Gove.
Thanks to Pat Kane for the link to the Kadlec piece.
My good friend, Sean McDougall, crusader-extraordinaire for the effective use of design in all aspects of life, wrote a weighty comment to my recent post on the Teachers’ Manifesto. I think it deserves promotion to a post all of its own:
I enjoyed your piece about the teacher’s manifesto. I was recently asked to facilitate a workshop at which 40 students from all over Ireland came together to write their own version of a manifesto. The findings are to be shared with the Irish Dept PM next month. The whole report is available as a downloadable PDF at ScienceGallery.com.
A CHARTERFOR 21stCENTURYLEARNING – A MANIFESTOFORCHANGE
Cultivate Creativity — Place more emphasis on the skills that will help young people to progress and prosper in the twenty-first century such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaborative learning, adaptability, initiative, ability to access and analyse information, curiosity and imagination.
Encourage Flexible Learning — Organise learning around projects and short-term studies. Engage in work that is project based, research driven, relevant, rigorous and real world.
Trust the Learners — Encourage group-based learning and allow students to teach each other. Offer more choice in terms of how to display knowledge and competence – test ability and skills as well as memory, and include credits gained through extra-curricular activity
End the all-at-once assessment cycle – introduce a system of continuous and flexible assessment that allows work to be assessed as it is completed.
Encourage self, peer-to-peer evaluation and portfolio based assessment.
Embrace Diversity – We live in a diverse and multicultural society; our schools should reflect this in a curriculum that recognises diverse backgrounds, opinions and skills.
Foster Mutual Respect — Develop a culture of mutual respect and learning between teacher and student – It’s not a one against thirty situation any more
Invest and build on physical learning spaces — Embrace the full potential of social media, gaming technologies, virtual learning environments and other alternative platforms for learning
Rethink the role of teachers — Let teachers act as guides rather than judges of outcomes by making it easier for teachers to vary their approach according to the circumstances, the subject and the preferences of the learners.
Future Proof – Technology and culture are changing at a rapid pace. We need to develop a responsive curriculum that allow teachers and schools to rapidly respond to new knowledge, living culture and emerging technologies.
Global Classroom – We live in a globalised society. Our learning environment should reflect this. To navigate in a 21st Century world we need to be literate in a multicultural, media-saturated, high tech society. We can do this through meaningful collaborative projects with students across the world.
You’ll see that one of the big issues for them is the assessment process, which requires them to perform in a way that never occurs outside the world of education. Lack of insight/ determination to invent a way of assessing students who are working collaboratively increasingly seems to me to be the major brake on innovation.
The report also contains really interesting explanations for each point raised.
I think the ten points offered here are entirely complementary to the thirteen points raised by our Italian friends.