I posted last night, on the way home from Tedx London – if you have time you can read it here. I got an immediate reaction mostly in agreement, some saying I was being too negative. This troubled me overnight, as I don’t like to think of myself as a negative person, so I thought I’d follow up the post with a little more by way of positive suggestions.
As I said in the post, I’ve got huge respect for Ted.com, and for what you’ve done personally. So, although it might have appeared that I was arguing for Ted not to become involved in an ‘Education Revolution’, I hope you’ll see that quite the reverse is the case. My main concern yesterday was that the format of Tedx events – to my eyes, attempts to be mini-me versions of the main Ted events – is unsuited to turning ideas into action. Let me give you a couple of examples by way of illustration.
I’ve known and worked with Sir Ken Robinson for over 15 years, and I have enormous respect for his views, and analyses of what needs fixing in our schools. I know that he recognises how difficult it is to transform the system, because we’re dealing with highly complex political, cultural and personal issues here. I believe he goes to the heart of the matter when he says that the way to revolution lies in the classroom – what goes on between the teacher and student – and nowhere else. Not, as Ken Spours pointed out yesterday, in structures, not in curriculum (although that is important), and not even in technology.
The political interference, which bedevils education and educators in the the US and UK, not only condemms us to perpetual pendulum swings, as successive minsters promote progressive, then ‘back to basics’, approaches according to their respective ideologies (I blogged about the harm this does to the slow march of progress in education elsewhere), it also means that pedagogy (the route to transformation) is never discussed rationally, ojectively, and in terms of ‘what works’. Few ministers have ever spent any time in schools (let alone worked in them) so they don’t understand what great teaching, or engagement, looks like, and therefore turn their attentions elsewhere.
What we saw yesterday was a range of inspiring young people, teachers and apps. As heart-warming as their presentations were, I’m afraid it doesn’t lead us any closer to the learning revolution. Why? Because, since the Ancient Greeks, we’ve always had inspirational teachers, students and technological advances – the holy grail for policy-makers is how to make innovative practices scaleable. Yesterday, we were all urged to pledge to do something in our work to improve education, and clearly that’s an admirable aspiration but it won’t bring the revolution any closer, and let me say why not.
I’ve worked in education for the past 25 years, and I’ve achieved some success in radically changing pedagogy, so I feel I know a little about the challenges we face, and how we might arrive at solutions. The Musical Futures project in now in its 8th year and has changed the way music teachers teach, and is approaching a tipping point, with almost half of all high schools in England adopting these new teaching approaches. Kids are much more engaged and exam results are up. We’ve achieved this by:
- creating tools for teachers, since we couldn’t expect them to change without giving them support;
- building a national network for teachers and students, so that peer learning can take place, and a host of video/audio resources, created by teachers and students for each other;
- connecting teachers through global forums (the initiative has now spread to 6 other countries), social media and professional development programmes.
This has been slow, unglamorous work, since the only way is to change one school at a time. But, that’s in a single subject. How much harder it is to change a whole school, or collection of schools.The other programme I lead, Learning Futures, is seeking to change the learning culture within schools, and that’s a much more difficult task. From our experience, if Ted is hoping to revolutionise learning, then just some of the problems you face are:
- risk-averseness from school leaders, especially if they’re under pressure to improve exam results (and, let’s face it, they nearly all are);
- fear from teachers that putting students in charge of their own learning might lead to some loss of ‘control’ in the classroom – and, since the riots in the UK, teachers are under even more pressure to ensure their students are compliant, and well-behaved;
- a reluctance of schools to collaborate, and share their learning experiences – good and bad – because government sees competition, not collaboration, as the key to reform.
I was hoping some of these challenges (and potential solutions) to scaling up innovation, would be acknowledged yesterday but, sadly, none were.
There was an 70s folk song popular among the liberal left in England. It was called ‘As Soon As This Pub Closes (The Revolution Starts)’ and I was reminded of it yesterday. Of course, it’s important to be amazed, entertained, and celebrate – but, after that, the hard work starts, and individuals working alone to fulfill their pledges may struggle to remember the buzz they felt at Tedx London, when things get tough, hectic,or just, well, exhausting.
So, the question is: how can Ted best support a transformation in learning?
Well, allow me to make a couple of suggestions. First, I don’t think that Ted is set up to change the world one school at a time. But it is a wonderfully effective thought-leader, with considerable influence.
So, why not establish a campaign (or campaigns) to create a global debate on the purpose of education – a debate which is focussed on values, and not politics, on personal growth not (just) exam performance? In fact, why not campaign for the ‘de-politicisation’ of education? Why not try to engage the one group that all governments have to defer to: parents? Wht not have a Ted event which shines a light on models of great learning around the world, which are great, not simply because they ‘turnaround’ exam results, but because they engage and excite learners, and turn schools into learning commons, serving their communities, not just their paymasters?
If you were to raise the banner in this way, there would be many progressive collectives who would gather around it, welcoming the profile, and amplification, that their message would receive (for they are the ones who can then do the daily follow-up on the ground). In England alone we have Whole Education, Pupos/ed, the Curriculum Foundation, the RSA and a host of others.
My personal pledge in this would be to work, without financial reward, to support such follow-up, knowing that I was part of something bigger, with the potential to turn government from transmit mode, to recieve.
I’m excited at the potential for Ted to really step into the global concern about the future of education and, particularly, our schools, and I hope that we can build on yesterday, with a strategic, realistic, realiseable purpose.
Very best wishes,
David Price OBE