Archive for February, 2009

Boys and girls alone

There’s a programme on channel 4 at 9.00pm tonight called ‘Boys and girls alone’. It’s about ten boys and ten girls aged between eight and eleven who live on their own in two houses (one for boys and one for girls) for two weeks without adults.

I haven’t seen the programme yet (it’s a four part series) but I heard an interview with the commissioning editor, Dominique Walker and some of the parents and children who participated:

The programme is intended as an exploration of the issue that many parents face of achieving an appropriate balance between doing for your child, and letting them do for themselves. Do we tend to wrap up our children in cotton wool, do everything for them and then wonder why they struggle when released into the world in their own right?

As the Dominique Walker rightly pointed out children these days get very little time when their lives are not being dominated by adults. There is far less unsupervised, unstructured time than ten or twenty years ago when children played more on the streets and were free to wander farther away.

The result of this is that children take far less decisions for themselves than they used to even though they are capable of more than we allow.

By all accounts the experiences of the children in the programme were varied and at times harrowing. What was interesting to me, though, was comment of the mother of a boy of eight called Jason who took part.

Jason, it seems, did have something of a hard time during the two weeks but was also of the view that the whole experience had been worthwhile. The mother said that the lesson she had learned from the experience was that we don’t allow our children enough control, and we tend not to allow them to take responsibility for things.

As a result, since the experience, Jason has been allowed greater control and greater responsibility in many things. The result, she says, is that he takes a pride in discharging these responsibilities and feels a real sense of achievement as a result.

What this says to me is that, ironically, our attempts to protect our children actually dispossesses them and leaves them less prepared for the world.

And this extends to the world of education where our young people are given no real responsibility for their learning, this being undertaken by their elders.

February 3, 2009 at 1:30 pm 1 comment

Forget research, let’s look at the evidence

This post is an addendum to my previous tiny post about new research showing that smaller class sizes would help to improve learning’.

I read about that just after having read several articles in Vision, Futurlab’s magazine, littered with all kinds of research projects and findings about how we learn, games in education, informal learning etc. – the list goes on.

All interesting reading, much of it gathering evidence for significant changes in our education system. But one does wonder how many research reports are needed before real fundamental change becomes possible.

In October at the Handheld Learning Conference in London Stephen Heppell said :

“It’s time to be cracking on. Its time for us to say we have done enough confirming what we knew already. It’s time for us to act on what we knew.”

He was talking about implementing radical changes in our education system, many made possible through digital technology, to allow young people greater involvement in their own learning.

The problem is that such change must involve teachers, parents and pupils many of whom are not yet ready for change for a variety of reasons. So, actually to convince more people of the necessity and value of change evidence is still needed.

But I don’t think it is academic research as such that we need. I think we can find all the evidence we need through simple observation of how young people behave in different circumstances, what switches them on, what turns them off, what they are really capable off, what they want to do, trusting them with their own futures.

This week Teachers TV have a focus on education of the future and every morning have a presentation by a different education guru. One of these is by author and educational consultant Tony Buzan, great proponent of mind mapping techniques (

He argues that we should not be teaching young people ‘what’ to learn, but should be teaching them ‘how’ to learn.

I think young people already know ‘how’ to learn, evidenced by all the things they learn before they even get to school. Fundamentals like walking and talking, colours, numbers, different animals etc. Some of these they take on for themselves, some we, the parents and carers,  teach. But nowhere on that journey does anyone teach ‘how’ to learn.

I also think kids want to learn, and will learn best if allowed to do so, if trusted to do so without too much interference.

February 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm 1 comment

Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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