Archive for July, 2009

Adding layers of discontent

disaffected youth small

So all unemployed young people are going to be offered training, a work placement, or a job. If they refuse they will have their benefit cut.

Great stuff eh! This will help with the rising problems of youth unemployment – a growing number of disaffected youth forced into doing jobs, training or work placements they don’t want to do.

30 years ago I ran a similar government scheme (shows my age), intended to deal with the problems of rising youth unemployment, called the ‘Youth Opportunities Scheme’ or YOP.

The scheme I ran was in the Black Country and with 2 other colleagues we ran three coordinated schemes in creative writing, photography and magazine design and production. Each scheme fed the others and resulted in the publication of a monthly young people’s topical magazine called ‘The first real headache’.

The content of the magazine included topical articles, interviews with famous people and others in the community, cartoons, photographs, competitions, reviews etc. and was produced wholly by the young people themselves with guidance from us.

These were 16 year olds and in order to gather the materials for the magazine they had to go out into community to conduct interviews, get photographs etc. for the publication. We trusted them to do this responsibly and allowed them to undertake these activities without supervision. Without exception they returned our trust and did a fantastic job. It was a really good magazine.

Then the day arrived when the men in suits arrived to make a spot inspection. It happened that a number of the young people were out in the community undertaking various tasks for the magazine. The suits were appalled that we allowed them to go out there without close and constant supervision.

They were not in the least bit interested in the quality of the magazine the young people were producing, or that they had always shown themselves to be wholly responsible. All they were interested in was that the kids should be ‘contained’.

(In 1983 the Youth Opportunities Schemes were renamed Youth Training Schemes presumably in recognition of the fact that they offered no opportunities at all).

And it’s happening again. This is a containment policy, a pretence that something real is being done for young people. Actually the opposite is happening. By requiring young people to do things that they may not want to at all they are they are ensuring that these kids move further away from their own natural inclinations and aspirations the development of which the education system is supposed to deliver.

Michelangelo said that his statue of David was not created by him, but already existed in the stone. His task was merely to remove those parts of the stone that were not David. This awful containment policy being introduced will simply have the effect of adding more layers of discontent leaving young people further from their essence than ever. It’s a disgrace.

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July 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm 1 comment

Let’s not wait until the iceberg melts

Icebergs small

Last night my 11 year old son told me that he had gone from hating history at school to loving it. When I asked him why, he said that he now had a good teacher. I haven’t yet quizzed him, as I will, on his perceptions of what was bad about the previous teaching and what is now good, but it is interesting that he makes that distinction. In my view teaching in a way that is interesting and motivating is not just desirable, but should be required of every teacher. I admire and respect teachers for undertaking a difficult job and when it is right in enhancing a child’s life. But I abhor bad teaching because of the serious harm it can do.

If we want to know what is good teaching or bad teaching we just have to talk to the young people who are being taught. They know what they like and don’t like, they know what switches them on and what turns them off. And we should listen to what they have to tell us about this and do something about it, even when we hear stuff outside our comfort zones.

As parents we celebrate each child’s individuality even if it’s only to extent of ‘he’s got his fathers eyes, but his mother’s nose’. Yet we force them to endure an education that expects uniformity, that expects an 11 year old to achieve the same standards in the same subjects as their 12 year old mates, or a class of 30 to express equal interest in all things.

We do this not because of any considered philosophy of education, but purely through means of practicality. How else can we ‘control’ a class of 30, a year of 120, but by imposing strict criteria on required outcomes.

My son also recently had a science test coming up and was told by his teacher to revise for it. That’s all. Not any guidance of how to revise, what to revise, even where to look for advice. Just ‘go away and revise’. Oh yes. There was some advice to try BBC bitesize, but not to do everything there because it was not all relevant.

That evening I caught him in our front room aimlessly flicking through the various folders of the work he had undertaken during the year not really knowing where to start, which things to concentrate on.

And then he asked me if I would test him so he could get an idea of what he knew best and importantly what he knew least. This is ‘assessment for learning’, a concept that he arrived at of his own volition, understanding that finding out the gaps in his own understanding could give him a structure for revision.

Unfortunately his teacher had not had the foresight to arm his pupils with some past tests in order that they could test their understanding in this way, but we were able to find some appropriate stuff online. In fact BBC bitesize was not the most helpful or structured. Many more structured resources were to be found on other sites simply by Googling ‘Year 7 science tests’.

Why do I say all this? Two reasons. Firstly on the question of practicality we do have the opportunity to really, seriously deliver (or I prefer to say ‘allow’) ‘personalised learning’ by appropriate use of digital technology. Going online to find appropriate revision materials is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Secondly, young people are wholly capable of being properly engaged in the debate about their own learning. So let’s ask them, listen to them, trust them, believe them, and act on what we hear.

And instead of just fiddling around the edges let’s do it now before they lose interest and before the global warmed digital iceberg disappears.

July 1, 2009 at 11:32 am 4 comments


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

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