BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
The PISA rankings for countries and city states like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai are always a big deal. The aforementioned places always do well, as a result many politicians and educationalists are despatched to see why. I have been lucky enough to listen to the people responsible for their progress talk about how and why they have done so well. A word of warning! Education is very context dependent and what works in one place may not transfer easily to another. However, having said that I have explained in a previous blog entry how Shanghai did it. They moved from rote learning to constructivist, they insisted on huge professional development for their teachers, they modernised the physical plant and improved technology provision in all these schools amongst other things.
I attended a talk by Ms Indranee Rajah, senior minister of state for education for Singapore. Many of her points tied in very well with the Shanghai experience. Singapore is going through a huge revision of educational provision. They are asking the question, ‘What is education?’ They are consciously moving away from grades and high stakes testing to high value demonstrations of learning. They were finding that many of the products of the system were excellent at taking examinations and not much else. They also found that employers looked beyond grades to the people themselves. They have initiated a radical and ambitious education reform programme summed up as ‘Beyond learning for grades to learning for skills,’ and ‘Beyond learning for work to learning for life.’
The really interesting thing for me is why do they want to implement change when things are going well? Charles Handy postulated the theory of the sigmoid curve. The key point of the sigmoid curve model is that leaders have the responsibility for transformative change while things are apparently going well. To many this may seem counter-intuitive but history is littered with companies, businesses, empires that failed to reform at key moments. The message is simple: Sic transit gloria mundi! Better to try and prevent collapse than try to recover. Finland, so long at the forefront of education is currently undergoing huge transformative change to keep itself at the top, the concept of continuous school and system improvement.
The OECD, who are responsible for the PISA rankings, make some very interesting points about what makes an excellent school. Social and emotional skills help individuals to have fulfilling lives. Excellent schools make sure that students strengthen key skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Great schools also develop character aspects such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage, resilience and leadership. Many employers, Google, Ernst and Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, are scrapping degree scores, GPA scores etc when they come to recruiting. Ernst and Young declare that there is no evidence success at university correlates with achievement later in life. Technology is a big game changer, Dr Anthony Seldon ex-head master of Wellington College, now vice chancellor of Buckingham University said that employers ‘need soft skills ie those that cannot be replicated by computers which are fast taking over not just manual but professional jobs also.’
So we as educators have a massive job of equipping students with all the skills required for the coming decades. However when I look at our FIS personal profile I am heartened by the fact that we stress that we want to develop our students to be inquirers, principled, risk-takers, open-minded, mindful, innovative, smart and empathetic which according to all those that know (Shanghai, Singapore, OECD and Dr Seldon) would confer on our students a massive advantage for the future.
Recently I was at the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) conference in Bangkok. It is one of the key conferences in the world attracting speakers from every corner of the globe. I attended one by Dr Catherine Steiner-Adair who is a clinical instructor at the Harvard Medical School. The talk was entitled, ‘Lost in connection: how the tech effect puts children’s development at risk.’ It proved to be very interesting.
She started by outlining some of the issues that had emerged from her research. The youngsters of today are the first generation ever who prefer to text (Whatsapp etc) than talk. Why is this? There are several reasons. The smart phone activates reward centres in the brain which the brain craves. The use of texting disinhibits the sender so things that would never be said face to face become easy to text. They feel safer on technology, more emboldened. Children send bad news to their parents via text as they don’t see the shock or disappointment on the faces of their parents. The texting can be asynchronous, answers don’t have to be followed up for a long period of time. It can be left. Face to face conversations are more difficult to avoid. Finally, everyone is doing it, the peer pressure to conform is overwhelming.
So what are the consequences of all this? There are many. When texting we lose track of who we are, where we are, who we are with. Our heads go down and we descend into that world. Research shows that we lose empathy, we lose our filter. Children and adults are losing the ability to detect tone, read body language and they are increasingly avoiding eye contact. We might use devices to calm children, from a baby to a teenager. It is creating a generation of children who have less capacity for self-regulation, for reflection, a generation who can’t sit still and who find alone time or down time boring and/or anxious and impossible to fill unless they are stimulated by devices.
You may have noticed that in the previous paragraph I used ‘we.’ This is where the talk got really interesting. Her research had focused on how parents use their devices and it had thrown up some fascinating findings. Before I reveal them, hands up who has reached for a phone that wasn’t yours when you heard the ping?! Anyone checked their phones because they were sure they felt it vibrate? Who takes their phone into the bathroom? You may be close to psychological dependency! Children reported that they felt alienated by their parents when their parents used their devices. They are told by parents, ‘wait a minute I’m just checking!’ Parents use the language of drug dependency, they talk of their addiction, getting their fix, and suffering withdrawal symptoms without access to their devices. Parents are using devices all the time and sending bad messages (and not just the text variety!.) They drive and text (shown to be worse than driving drunk!) they take calls and answer texts at important times. The terrifying thing was that children who were interviewed between the ages of 3-18 about their parents’ use of devices commonly reported these key feelings, they felt angry, sad, mad, lonely, and frustrated-not a good list! So what solutions did she posit for adults? Firstly, don’t reach for your phone when it vibrates or pings when you are with your children. Nothing is more important than them. Give them your undivided attention. Secondly, don’t drive and text, you cannot multi-task I have told you before! Thirdly, don’t allow devices at the dinner table. Be careful teenagers can text with their device in their pocket while looking you full in the eye! Fourthly don’t let the device become the de facto go to electronic babysitter. Children need to learn how to be bored and deal with that boredom. Most importantly make sure you model the behaviour you want from your children. Electronic devices are here to stay. But children need to have the space to thrive and have their childhood protected. At its best modern technology is truly revolutionary. It has been a key factor for social change, it has democratised knowledge in ways we could have never dreamt of just 10 years ago. It has been a powerful tool for social justice. Please be careful that you are not ‘just checking’, don’t let these amazing devices capture your attention when your children need it most.
I have added a link here which I think is good. It came in for some criticism, but I think the point is well made.