Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

Month: February 2017

G.E.R.M or S.T.E.M? The fight for hearts and minds

 

DIG ECO 1

The digital economy is about much more than automation, on-line gambling and computer gaming. The whole fabric of society is changing and its possibilities are endless. Imagine a transport system where everything from traffic lights, vehicle speed and parking is controlled in real time (Bristol, in the UK, is trialling this at present); or how about your vital statistics; your blood pressure, diet and fitness accessed by your GP again in real time? All this can be achieved via data assimilation and subsequent analysis. There will be readers old enough to recall punch card coding machines. The twenty first century equivalent is much faster and a heck of a lot more information is gathered.

 

It is anticipated that the digital economy could be bigger than that of finance. At present it represents around ten per cent of G.D.P in the UK so if it is to compete the necessary infrastructure will have to be put in place to allow it to blossom. One key component of that infrastructure is education and training.

It is widely recognised that there is a lack of teacher expertise when it comes to computer coding (teacher training uptake for computing is only 68%). Yet binary was part of the curriculum up until the nineteen seventies; advances in science and maths education under Nuffield and Salter’s, also in that decade, were followed by changes in ‘craft’ subjects to more technological subjects such as electronics and systems in the nineteen eighties and nineties via the Technological and Vocational Educational Initiative, in the UK. All this ‘expertise’ has been lost in the last two decades as the pursuit of examination prowess has taken hold.

A brief survey has shown that coding is now being taught in key stages, one, two and three (11-14 years of age). There are also courses in computing being taught at Further Education level.  But, apart from the private schools, the uptake in Key Stage four is patchy. The discrepancy is not just about resources but also about priorities.

Globally, the chase is on to be dominant in the digital market and this has initiated a worldwide battle within education. At stake are the hearts and minds of our children. A global education reform movement (G.E.R.M) has taken hold in countries such as the USA, Australia, the UK….. and Jersey. It is an educational orthodoxy that relies on standardisation of practice. It focuses only on core subjects with examination results as its single benchmark. This political ideology does not meet the demands of a digital economy. As a consequence, a new movement is gaining traction. It is called S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering and maths). It is the antithesis of G.E.R.M. Yes it is biased towards certain subjects but it is not so much the content that is the issue but rather how it is taught.

There is a place for instruction and a place for learning. By learning I mean pupils actively taking control of their work, through engagement, enterprise and understanding. The G.E.R.M approach utilises learning by rote. It stifles ‘thinking skills’ and is ultimately de-motivating. S.T.E.M is the polar opposite, it even blurs the boundaries between the subjects, working on common ‘problems’ or themes to effect learning.  G.E.R.M is de-skilling both the teaching profession and our future workforce and, as such, is not conducive to the construction of an infrastructure to support and develop the island’s digital economy. Computer coding cannot be taught by rote, pupils have to be given time and space in class to develop the necessary cognitive skills. This is why it is marginalised at key stage stage four where the over-riding priority is to get those five A* to C grades. Only the better resourced schools are able to facilitate both.

 

Billions of pounds a year has been put into  raising achievement at GCSE level which has only improved marginally. That money could be better invested training  teachers in computer coding. Which do you think gives better value for money? All governments need to look to their future and to have a workforce with the necessary skills to contribute to the economy, providing development for future generations.  G.E.R.M offers very little, S.T.E.M (and the pedagogy it utilises) does much, much more.  G.E.R.M warfare has begun and it is a battle we must win if we are to rescue the hearts and minds of our children and build a sustainable economy fit for the twenty first century.

 

Adapted from Colin Lever’s article in the Jersey Evening Post (31/01/2017)

 

Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

4TH IR

Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

There have been three industrial revolutions and we are in the early throes of the fourth. For the record the first three were; steam power to drive mechanisation, electrical power to facilitate mass production and electronics/computing to develop automation. The common feature of all of them is the replacement of labour intensive practices.

The fourth industrial revolution is no different and, arguably, will be even more brutal in respect of causing mass unemployment. The prediction is that up to fifty percent of the present workforce will become surplus to requirements within the next twenty years. This latest ‘revolution’ is a fusion of the digital and the biological, with data recording and analysis as the link! The difference between the fourth and the other three is that rate of change is predicted to be exponential, affecting not just low paid jobs but all aspects of work from agriculture to accounting and from shop assistants to administration. It is estimated that each ‘AI’ will take the place of around ten people.

We already have A.T.Ms and self-service checkouts. Planes mostly fly themselves these days and automation accounts for at least a third of investment banking practice. It is an interesting exercise to speculate which jobs cannot be automated. Stephen Hawking believes that the only jobs left unscathed will be those relating to care, creativity and supervisory (including maintenance). I also believe that specialist construction work will survive. There are already computer programs that negate the use of a teacher. Combine these with distance learning which has been around for more than half a century and you begin to get the picture.

Rather than becoming a thing of the past, zero hours contracts, or at least short term contracts, will be the order of the day. Jobs for life are becoming increasingly scarce, to be replaced by ‘freelance’ expertise that is bought in, much like plumbers and electricians. What is left of the workforce will have to compete for short-term posts.

How will the unemployed survive? There are moves afoot to create a universal basic income (U.B.I) a basic income paid to all families, upon which they will be able to live. This will allow people to choose whether to work or not and it will transform society. It is hard to comprehend for those of us who have been raised with the idea that you must work hard to earn a living and that nothing should come from free. But with mass unemployment looming what is the alternative, a return to Victorian poverty?

What has this to do with education? Everything! I recall when I first came to the island finding it hard to motivate pupils to focus on their exams, the reason being that there was zero unemployment and most could walk into a job in finance. Although the cause was different the effect will be the same.

At present, supposed academic subjects have been given priority, with ‘softer’ subjects such as the Arts and technology increasingly marginalised. Yet in the not too distant future the whole approach will have to be turned on its head as the skills inherent in these subjects become more valued. The emphasis will be on developing basic life skills and the pursuit of leisure as opposed to a career based approach. Traditional crafts like cooking and working with materials (woodwork, textiles etc) may make a return; possibly sports, culture and an increased emphasis on maintaining a clean environment. The teaching profession, assuming that we will still have one, will have to engage, enthuse and inspire if it is to stand any chance of maintaining pupil focus.

As with all the other industrial revolutions, job losses in traditional areas will be replaced by new ones, albeit far fewer. Already we are seeing that education is struggling to meet the growing demand for expertise in the emerging digital economy. Unfortunately, like those who ignore global warming until the waves are lapping at their door, policymakers remain blinkered in their insistence on sticking to old, ‘familiar’ habits. The speed at which education adapts to change is predictably glacial, and not just on Jersey. Rather than being ahead of the market it is forever playing catch up. To ignore the fast changing world that is happening outside education is to build up a whole stack of problems for future generations. From its present narrow focus, education will have to return being both broad and balanced if it is meet the needs of society and the economy of the future.

(adapted from my article in the Jersey Evening Post 03/01/2017)

Secret Teacher (Jersey)

secret techer Jersey

Secret Teacher (Not me b.t.w!)

The squeezed Middle

When I started teaching my ambition was to run a department. This was my chance to build an educational experience that would produce sheer pleasure for all involved. We would be creative, successful, inspiring and would take on the challenges that teachers face as a supportive team of talented practitioners. I knew I cared intensely about them. I knew I cared intensely about the students and what was best for them. I knew I could develop a group who would support each other and not be afraid to take risks to get the best outcomes. Most of all, I knew I loved being part of the education profession, where teachers would hold their heads high as valued members of society. We would help build the future of our young people. If we got this right, and taught our subjects with passion and quality, the exam results would come.

 

I also believed that my head teacher would support me because they would see all of my qualities and trust me. If it went wrong they would support me as I supported my staff. It was not about blame or power, but about teaching; the most important profession in the world. How could this not happen? It was exciting and I would be the proudest person in teaching.

 

It started to unravel with the introduction of the label “middle manager”; a bit like when homes became properties. I now have a defined role. That’s great I hear you cry. You know what to do! But that role has changed the nature of my experience and squeezed the passion out of me. This is the role of a squeezed middle leader:

  • Learning walks.
  • Data analysis of many kinds
  • Book scrutinises
  • Faculty improvement plans to write and continuously update
  • Continuous new initiatives to introduce, given to me by the growing senior management team.
  • Constant monitoring of teachers performance both formally and informally
  • Appraisals and follow up appraisals
  • Department reviews
  • Lesson observations for the aforementioned appraisals
  • Follow up learning walks
  • Constant evidence gathering to prove we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. That we are implementing the latest initiative
  • Curriculum development!
  • Manage the ever shrinking budget.

Oh, and I teach a full timetable. I keep my passion for this. I prioritise as much as I can. Of course I cut corners. Ironically, marking and lesson planning. I do not practise what I am meant to preach anymore. Instead, I talk a good game and do as much as I can to balance the demands from the ever growing senior leadership team with the realities of what my colleagues can actually achieve. Caring has become an exercise in protection.

 

Curriculum development is a treat. Unfortunately this cannot be given the time it needs. The knock on effect is constant catch up and a deskilling of me as a teacher. I do this under a mantra from senior managers that have phantom timetables created under the heading “work smarter”. To perform the task of a classroom teacher required by the layers of demand made, you have to work a minimum of 50 hours per week. To perform the role of a “middle manager” this has to be at least 60 hours. And you will not complete everything. You have to accept this from day one.

 

So, I am burnt out. And like a washing machine that has been spun too often; I need repair. In the modern market place of teaching, just like in our kitchen, it is easier to buy a new one. It probably has more modern features anyway; uses less energy and takes a larger load. It even has a faster spin speed and comes with a 3 year guarantee. And it’s cheaper, even if it needs replacing every 3 years.

 

I still care intensely about my profession. But it does not care about me. Instead, school leaders look outside of middle managers to find inspiration; to fads and fashions in teaching; to any one of a plethora of educational gurus who will come and ‘advise’, like modern day snake oil salespeople of education. So farewell to the dreams. Now it’s about survival. Tick all the boxes, keep senior management happy; enjoy what you can and try to make it to retirement with something left to retire with.

 

Good luck to those who take over. You have my support.

 

The Secret Teacher.

(First Published in the Jersey Evening Post, November 2016)

 

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