A Different Type of School

I stand here today… to apologize.

Our education system is failing your children – which means that as a teacher, I am failing your children. I am failing to prepare them to be creative thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs – due to an educational system steeped in tradition, nostalgia and old ideas.

Well, its time for a new tradition. Its time to rewrite the rules of education – to imagine a school with no timetables, with industry partners and one where technology is not only necessary but ubiquitous. A school where lifelong learning is modeled every single day, where children follow individual interests and passions and where they are invited to see the world in a playful way.

Its time our education system adapted to todays student, rather than having students adapt to it.

It’s time to lead a major paradigm shift that changes the face of education forever.

It’s our time – together, lets build a different kind of school and show the world what’s possible.

This was my one minute talk at Creative Innovation 2011. I think it missed the mark.

I received plenty of interest about what I am currently doing and ways business and industry can support Quantum Victoria, but the ‘big picture’ idea that I was trying to pitch, I think was lost on the audience. A majority of it is most certainly my own fault for not appreciating the backgrounds of those in the audience, but perhaps it is also a case of people not thinking big enough. There has been much talk about education at this conference, especially from those not involved in education, with most over-simplifying the concept of reform – aside from Stephen Heppell, everyone outside of the field has an ‘easy’ solution – and this is the problem. Everyone has a vested interest in education, and becasue they have spent varying amounts of time in places of education, everyone claims a level of expertise. There was not enough talk about the purpose of education and indeed the relevance, especially at the tertiary level, in a world with ubiquitous access to information and people – the dialogue, for the most part, still centred around ‘the old way’ of doing things.

And this is the conundrum. At the Creative Innovation conference, where you find some of the most successful and creative people in business,  industry and entrepreneurship – how do we elevate the dialogue around schools, and shift old mindsets? Because if it can’t be done here, I’m thinking we are going to struggle.

Many people and education departments site instances of ‘innovative’ practice in some schools, but they have missed the fundamental premise of education reform – radically different, better kinds of schools.

The Techno-Human Condition

Technologies inhabit two rather independent realities. First there is the reality of the immediate effectiveness of the technology itself as it is used by those trying to accomplish something. This is a level 1 technology (ie. a jet airplane). The other reality is that of systemic complexity – level 2 technology includes subsystems that when acting together create emergent behaviour that is often unpredictable and infinitely more complicated. (ie. the air transportation system)

From The Techno-Human Condition:

At level 2 one gets phenomena such as “lock-in” which occurs when economic, cultural, and coupled technology systems coalesce around a particular way of doing something – as we see in the automobile industry, where hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology is feasible today, but the energy-supply infrastructure necessary to support it is not. The gasoline internal-combustion engine is thus “locked-in” by the economic interests of the suppliers of petroleum fuels, the physical infrastructure of the pipelines and gas stations, the interdependency of gasoline internal-combustion engines and gasoline, and the cultural role of fossil-fuel consuming automobiles.

“Lock-in” of course, does not imply that technological change is impossible – merely that it strongly tends to follow the paths that reflect past system states. This concept of “Lock-in” relates directly to the current state of education reform. 

Education reform is a hot topic precisely because everyone has a vested interest in education and claim varying levels of experience and expertise in either attending or working in the system. What is apparent however is that no other industry ignores it’s research more than education. Building upon the works of progressive educators such as Dewey, Piaget, Papert and Heppell, we know what education should look like – and it looks very different from the rigid, timetabled, standardized approach advocated in most areas today. Whilst there is pockets of reform and innovation happening in education sectors around the world, the education system, as a level 2 technology, is “locked in” by the economic and emotional interests of policy makers and commercial stakeholders. The inertia inherent with system-wide reform efforts and policy changes makes me think that we may be wasting time with the continual dialogue about the “schools we need.” Instead of waiting for policy-makers to make decisions, those involved in education at a local level just need to follow the Channel 4 slogan, “Do it first, make trouble, inspire change.”

The Techno-Human Condition is a challenging look at the implications of the exponential growth and developments in technology and the implications that this has for society. The book explores the possibility of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies such as neuropharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, genetic modifications, prenatal dietary interventions and computer-brain interfaces, to eliminate ageing and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical and psychological capacities.                                        

Highly recommended.