Educating for the Present and the Future

Several days ago now I was chatting with library staff at the school where I work.  Boxes of books were carefully assembled on a large table as we spoke.  This reminded me of the challenge I face with my own library.  Vast as my library was I have managed to pare it back over the past two years.  Still there’s a core occupying two substantial spaces, the themes very much related to interests, vocation and the writing I’ve been doing recently.

Now I live in quite a small space and the clutter seems increasingly irrelevant. I relate to much information through a digital medium.  Twitter has been a revolution for me.  Always apt to flick my gaze and my attention across the vast field of possible interest points, wherever I go, Twitter allows me to pick up examine, pursue or discard information as I might rocks on a river bank. In this context the very notion of books and their value to me has a transforming meaning.  Some are beautiful, others do have references and information that I know aren’t yet freely accessible on the Internet.  A large proportion of my library focuses on Australia, Indonesia and South East Asia with economic, historical, geographic and environmental themes.  These are important books but not all so.  My task is to sort the superfluous from the essential.  I’m moving up on it slowly.

I enquired about the boxes.  They were a charitable exercise, bound for schools in remote parts of New Guinea. They all seemed well used and quite out of date, by my standards. Reflecting, I thought, well at least some will be timeless, but even history is being constantly reviewed, revised and re written.  How could this possibly address the educational needs of children in remote parts of New Guinea? I keep wondering.

My own experience is that globalisation renders contemporary knowledge pervasive, if not in all it’s depth certainly in its commercial forms, particularly where there’s a dollar to be made.  One of my earliest memories as a traveller, back in the 1960s was the iconography and the promises of soap and detergent manufacturers beginning to ply their wares in remote parts of S E Asia.  Later satellite technology was a compelling and confrontating edge of globalisation.

Morning Coffee & 'LA Law' in Serdang, Karo Highlands, Sumatra

Around about the same time as this photo was taken in the early 1990s I started working with a precussor of the NSW DET’s Centre for Learning Innovation.  At this time is was a branch of the Correspondence School known as The Learning Materials Production Centre. Several incarnations later the newest initiative is CLI.  We worked on Macs, that suited me.  We researched and prepared materials that were contemporary, at least when they were written.  I wrote a Geography unit on the Pacific and one on Indonesia.  They had the latest statistics and contemporary developments I could find.

The pace of knowledge change has significantly quickened since then, so has a person’s capacity to reach out into a largely borderless information world. Of course there are still borders imposed for many reasons.  Even the most powerful merchants of information such as Rupert Murdoch are inclined to self censor.  Star TV in China being a fine example of this self regulation.

What of our schools, our curricula and our designers of courses that purport to address the essential learnings? What of the standards and skills our leaders claim to be able to measure and to compare in ‘League Tables’?

I don’t have answers to all of these questions but I was prompted to write this very hasty comment, that’s fast making me late for work, after watching this remarkable trailer of a newly released film on education. I picked up the lead from a Twitter contact, which in turn took me to Sir Ken Robinson’s presence on Twitter and a tinyurl leading to a YouTube Trailer.

The notes read:

We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For is a full-length feature film on education which was inspired and guided by Oscar-winning producer Lord Puttnam. The film is supported by various sponsors including independent education foundation, Edge. The film follows the experiences of five Swindon-based teenagers. What unfolds during the course of the film is a very inconvenient truth about education. It concludes that, while there are signs of spring, a transformation of the education system is vital if the UK is to continue to compete effectively in an era of globalization the world has changed enormously but our education system has not kept pace. We need to recognise that there are many paths to success for young people and provide the right support and opportunities for them to develop their individual talents.

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