Another guest blogpost from #SELM4S2013 from Colin Webster of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Colin Webster, Education Programme Manager for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shares his thoughts on our annual conference here – thank you for doing this Colin. Much of the work of the EM foundation promotes the development of the “Circular Economy” find out more about it in this short clip.

My first SELMAS conference was a very useful experience, not least because of being able to listen to Matthew Syed speak. Two things struck a chord: first, Matthew’s advocacy of an education which focussed on effort rather than talent, warning of the fragility of praising for talent rather than supporting people to become everything they could be. Effort develops resilience, he explained. Secondly, in his discussion of golf swings and tennis serves, it was clear that Matthew was advocating the importance of thinking in systems, highlighting the importance of learning from feedback. As he explained, hitting golf balls into the dark is meaningless because we can’t learn from the result (which makes you wonder…what feedback do students receive from exams?).
As I said, he struck a chord with me because at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we too stress these values: the importance of replacing our current fragile, linear development model, which broadly ignores feedback (economic, social and environmental degradation), to build a resilient, circular system built on quality and regeneration. In describing a tennis serve, Matthew also talked about the futility of looking at one process in isolation, which is a key outcome of learning about thinking in systems.
Tommy’s comments about the need to adapt to changing circumstances can also be seen from a systems’ perspective: time waits for no-one, and a lot of the old rules no longer apply. However, breaking into schools and the curriculum to share new ideas and thinking isn’t always easy, I have found. Does our education system take enough of an outward looking approach?
I’ve seen Ollie Bray speak a few times now but he’s also worth listening to, for both the quality and volume of the examples he gives and for his easy style of presentation. The skill – and power – of the presenter was most evident when he instructed the audience to ‘write this one down’: I had noticed many in the audience do precisely as told! He asked when we would have ‘smart schools’. Well, I’ve been a conference or two about ‘smart cities’ and, while some of the technology is interesting, there’s nothing too smart about spending serious money stuff that depreciates in value and eventually becomes obsolete. I hoped I gave some sort of answer to that question when I highlighted the Dutch school that leases everything on a performance basis: why buy 800 iPads/Chromebooks (or whatever) when they will simply break or become unsupported (or worse: become uncool!) in five years’ time? Of course, a school needs a business willing to lease to them on a performance basis; not many companies do that just yet. See http://www.turntoo.com/en for one that does.
Finally, the presentation by the Ross High students was excellent, and reminded me of a message from John Dewey. He emphasised the social, interactive nature of learning, pointing out that students should be active participants in the curriculum, as opposed to passive recipients. So what cheered me most about that presentation were the teachers at the school: they are clearly willing to embrace the Dewey philosophy, adapt to changing circumstances and learn a thing or two from the students.
Colin Webster, Education Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Colin.webster@ellenmacarthurfoundation.org

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