Jiva Technology

The BIG ISSUE on education

I’m a regular reader of the Big Issue. There’s obviously the part about ‘a hand up, not a hand out’, but it’s also about the journalism. They naturally seem to have a different angle on a story; perhaps its down to journalistic freedom or maybe they just start from a different place. The late August issue was about education and there’s a fabulous section where famous people talk about what school meant to them and the impact it had on their lives. Most were moderate or even low achievers at school, but it didn’t stop them from going on to achieve great things in business, entertainment or culture. A feedback loop like this is strangely absent from school life.

Most of the time we hear about school life from one of three places: teachers, family or the star pupil who comes back to tell you how great they are. Pretty much everyone has a memory of a family member telling them what it was like ‘in their day’, usually at exactly the point when you least want the advice. Cue rolling of the eyes. Teachers don’t count because they’re, well teachers. And star former pupils should discount themselves immediately on the basis that they are the outliers. The ‘lessons you can learn from my personal brilliance’ speech doesn’t go down well whether you’re 16 or 60. Which is where the Big Issue comes in. Just hearing an actress you might have have heard of tell you that she had to be good at acting because she was so poor at everything else can be a boost. Desperation is an awfully strong motivator.

Perhaps the Big Issue should expand their story. A website of people telling their stories about school and what it meant to them is a nice idea. A place to look and compare and make you realise that if you’re a stunning success in year 12, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a star in life, or where everything looks bleak and surely my life is over. Maybe its something we should start doing here at Tutorhub. Now there’s a thought.

GCSEs: change is afoot

It seems that more changes are in store for the British Exam System. I’m guessing that most parents won’t be aware of what’s to come and most pupils will have no concept of why it matters. But from 2017, there will be a gradual shift in the way that GCSE exams are graded, from a letter based system (A*, A, B and so one) to a numerical system (1-9). Their are arguments both for and against this move, as there always is in education, but one of the most important aspects of the change seems to be attracting very little debate or attention. Once the changes have begun, it will be relatively difficult to compare the results of candidates under the two different systems. This is entirely deliberate.

Given the impact of changes to our education system in general and exams in particular (time to pay attention employers, parents and anyone who hasn’t woken up to the changes), I would have thought that it made sense to have a broader discussion before changes were put in place. It seems to almost guarantee anger and consternation in the wider community to simply sneak them in. It also smacks of a wider problem: the lack of discourse on one of the most important issues in our economy and our society: what does a fit for purpose education system look like as the world of work changes to accommodate increasing inequality and a step change in technology – forget Facebook … virtual reality and robots anyone?

Is education getting too complicated?

Watching the BBC’s latest costume drama, a very English adaption of Tolstoy’s War & Peace, has made me realise just how much stuff we now have to learn to be considered educated. Tolstoy’s story is set in a society where science was only just beginning to make inroads into the educated elite, where technology was pretty limited and where your ‘lot in life’ was largely determined at birth. A modern primary school education would have sufficed for most people.

Fast forward 200 and some years and a primary school education won’t get you anywhere. We’re fast approaching a point where a high school education won’t get you much either. In the education arms race, a degree is a minimum and post-graduate qualifications are becoming more like the norm. As our society becomes more and more complicated, will we see an end to this escalation in educational requirements? Are we in danger of some people just giving up and saying its too hard; I’m never going to get there? It seems that many people have disengaged from politics as our world appears to become impossibly complicated and leaders who promise to understand the issues and hold the solutions subsequently fail to deliver. Could fatalism become the fashion?

It seems to me that we can’t let our education system become an arms race. We cannot allow a situation where students without a degree are considered a failure. We cannot allow a situation where Oxford and Cambridge are seen to be the only tickets to a bright future. The fact is that none of us can predict what will happen in the future and which skills will really be most useful. Any modern economy needs people with a broad range of practical and academic skills.

We need to be harder on ourselves – getting an education should be about being good at something, whatever that something is. What we define as a good education seems to have narrowed to a really worrying extent. Society in general seems to have checked out of this debate – its someone else job to figure it out. Its all too hard. We simply cannot afford to do that. We all go through the education system and we all recognise that a modern working society needs a broad portfolio of skilled workers to make it tick. So where is the debate? Its not owned by the education sector or the teaching profession. Its owned by all of us.

Education, the iPad and Step-change Innovation

After some initial scepticism by the market watchers, it would seem that iPad fever is in full swing at the moment, with all the attendant noise, PR and a headlong rush by the Taiwanese to produce clones to join the party. For my own part, it was the latter that made me sit up and take notice. From what I’ve read, iPad style tablets based on Google Android operating system will be hitting the streets shortly in the $100-200 range, roughly translating to a £100-200 price tag, or something similar to the cost of an iPod Touch.

This made me think. Despite common perceptions, innovation never happens in smooth progressions, it happens in step changes, followed by periods of calm and I sense we’re about to see just such a shift in the way we educate our children. Here’s a few reasons why:

One: the emergence of clever, education focused applications. I’ve blogged before about the heaps of cool start-ups focusing on education and the US VC’s that have been backing them with money.

Two: the device. Up until now, the target platform has been the PC/Mac, but there’s a couple of reasons why a tablet is a much better idea in the classroom. It weighs less; with all the books and PE kit they have to carry, adding a laptop would be the straw that breaks your children’s back. Its more appealing. Its less unwieldly. Who’s got space on the average desk for text books (they won’t be going away soon), exercise books, pens and a laptop. It plays music.

Three: money. You wouldn’t risk your child taking a £600 iPad, Macbook or laptop to school in their rucksack, no matter how cool they thought it was. But plenty of kids take their iPod Touch. So why not a £120 Android based tablet?

Three: a generational change in attitudes. From the dawn of time to the days until my days at school, education hadn’t changed much. My children think that’s because I was educated at the dawn of time, but the reality is that a couple of millenia didn’t really change much. But as the Horizon Report shows, the current “Facebook Generation’ don’t really understand why they have to travel back in time whenever they enter the classroom. They’re hungry to use the cool stuff inside the classroom as well.

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