22 Dec 2010

The Times They Are A-Changing.

As I've confessed in a previous article, in another part of my life I'm a teacher. I'm also a huge fan (and advocate) of student diversity, since long before 'diversity' turned into the stale, nausea-inducing term it is now. But somehow, being a fan of 'multifariousness' or 'heterogeneity' doesn't sound much better, so I'll stick with diversity for now.

Fact is, we are all individuals. Some of us even more than others (hah!). We're part of a diverse and specialised but social species. We're born and bred to cooperate.

For that reason, I'm a firm believer that education should focus a lot more on:
  1. helping pupils / students to understand their individual talents
  2. showing them in which ways others are different
  3. providing them with plenty of opportunities to combine their efforts and work towards better results.
I am convinced that this approach is much more effective in order to teach them to deal with the challenges real life is throwing / will throw at them.

It's a simple truth that most of our students / pupils / ... are going to end up in different jobs, different personal lives, different careers, different locations, situations and quite possibly different countries and cultures. How could we prepare them for that any better than by helping them develop a healthy and realistic confidence in their own talents? In their personal, individual ability to contribute to the world?

To avoid misunderstandings: I'm NOT pleading for educational pampering. To the contrary!
We all learn by being challenged. We feel better after we've tackled something that was really difficult. What is important is that we were able to tackle it.
The challenges we present to our kids / pupils / students / trainees should be tailored to their level and their needs. Not to a standardised programme or idea of what a person should be able to do at a particular age.

This is something that game designers have understood a long time ago. They throw challenges at players that educators can only dream about. And players overcome them. Game designers create difficult circumstances based on clever insights like risk versus reward, or team effort.
Their customers choose the roles they naturally prefer: some of them play healers, others pose as fierce warriors and still others manage and organise their fellow players. These game events, like life, wouldn't succeed without either kind of participant.

We simply can't expect everybody to be good at everything. It's unrealistic and above all unneccessary.
Instead, we should offer our kids, pupils and students opportunities to shine at what they're good at, and show them ways to use those talents for the greater good of society, (wo)mankind, industry, ...

After all, isn't that what so many adults these days are desperately trying to find out about themselves? Wouldn't it be more efficient if we'd start working on that before frustration and disappointment have already clobbered people down?

I wanted to share a great (animated) speech from author and educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson. It deals with a lot of these aspects. It's only 11 minutes long and even if you don't care about the message, the animations are fun to watch.

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