Education and a blank sheet of paper

26 Jun

Education used to be a simpler business. It was really a case of do not go near that or it will eat you. Do not eat that or it will kill you. This is how you hunt so you can feed yourself. This is how you light a fire so you’ll be warm. And this is how you use a big stick/spear/sword/axe to protect yourself against enemies/Romans/Vikings/Fifers/bandits/bigger boys and bad boys. Joking apart it was life and death information that you had to have.

When we managed to achieve a degree of progress lessons on sowing seeds, harvesting, ploughing and animal husbandry were more likely to come in handy. Then manufacturing came along and education became a lot more complicated, although the lessons on dealing with bigger boys and bad boys have never really gone out of fashion. Unfortunately.

Now it’s really complicated and we all have opinions on education including what should be taught, for how long and by whom. The curriculum is chockablock and that’s a big problem really. We all have opinions on what should be included and what, in our opinion, is not really necessary. It’s not like it is life or death stuff anymore, although of course we need to eat, have a roof over our heads and be able to stay warm. So we need to have skills, which are employable and provide a salary for the things we need to live our modern lives. We also have ambitions, wants and needs which the curriculum can never address. So the curriculum as it stands cannot ever meet all needs. Perhaps in the future it might be able to?

There are core skills we all need like reading and writing and you could probably argue for computing skills.  Thereafter we’re onto subjects, which provide a basic understanding of things we might face in life or which will form a starting point for serious studying later in our education. The fact that we are living longer also complicates things and means we need to constantly refresh our knowledge and re-invent our employability and ourselves.

Wealth creation is, of course, the main requirement of our economy. If wealth is not created there will be no money, so no taxes and no government spending. Wealth creation relies on a steady flow of new businesses, innovators and existing businesses, which can successfully manage and adapt to change. In Scotland we can do this but we need to be better at doing this. There are some fantastic businesses out there that are Scottish and do fabulous things. But we need more, more diversity and more businesses, which grow substantially and stay Scottish

Education is key to this. We need people and graduates with the right knowledge to be of value to Scottish businesses, which need to grow and compete with China, India, Italy, England, Germany, France, USA etc. etc. etc. But we also need young people who understand how business works and recognise the importance of wealth creation requirements. The curriculum doesn’t provide many opportunities for this to take place.

As I’ve mentioned before I have been involved with schools in the past from a business perspective. I invested a huge amount of my time for free to help senior pupils set up and run a business for a year within the Young Enterprise Scotland structure. It was a great experience for the students and I like to think it helped many of them better understand the workings of a business and of the economy. The school I worked with had a great link teacher. She made the school system work for YES activities and I provided the business input and the pupils participated enthusiastically, once they experienced the benefits. We were very successful. The partnership between the school, the pupils and myself, resulted in a lot of prizes in various business based competitions being won. In fact we started to dominate the schools prize giving which didn’t go down too well.

There were issues however. The senior pupils had classes, homework and exams to manage and the YES stuff would get in the way, even although it was an after school activity. Some departments wouldn’t take part. Business Studies did not, computing was almost hostile to it and in general there was a view that it was not a worthy activity. No matter, we managed. The students involved really enjoyed it although there were lessons to be learnt along the way. The prizes however, allowed them to discover what it was like to be a winner. Now that was a really valuable lesson for many of them. The growing success was also recognised by the younger pupils who then wanted to be involved when they were old enough.

I developed some materials for them of which one was a test to find out who knew about business and who did not. Basically they were provided with a blank sheet of A4 paper and given ten minutes to “add value” or describe how they might “add value” to it. Not many of them managed this first step. Those that did would come up with writing on it, drawing on it, or making a paper airplane. I’d usually demonstrate a few more examples at this point, showing them a ten pound note, a page from the bible and photograph of one of my children After that they were off. We developed it for half an hour and we returned to it along the life of the business they created and operated.

In order to generate enough wealth on Scotland the new we need to consider how we get the running of a business into the curriculum in a meaningful and beneficial way. We need all our young people to understand at least basic economics and be better at managing their own finances. We also need them to be better consumers who make the most of their own wealth.

The blank sheet of A4 paper was a powerful and frightening tool and I don’t mean that you can give yourself a nasty paper cut which will require the attentions of Matron. Oh no. It’s a much bigger fear.

As a pupil/student/learner you are told when to be at school/college/university. You are told when and where to go, what you need to learn, what the right answers are, how to sit an exam, and you are actually told what subjects you take up to a far greater point that is admitted or should be the case.

Then, out of the blue, you are sat down with a blank sheet of paper in front of you and told to do something with it, which would be of interest to someone other than your friends and family. After all those years of being told minutely what to do are we surprised when the majority of pupils find that difficult?

Yet the blank sheet of paper is our greatest opportunity to do something meaningful. Original thought, innovation, creativity achieving the further development of something existing in a meaningful way? The creation of art literature or a business plan for a new venture?

Scotland used to be brilliant at this and there are still examples of this brilliance. The list of Scottish inventions and inventors is incredible. But we need more, a lot more.

We need our new government to refer to us (Referism), include the people of Scotland and value our input. We ALL need to be positive (Positivism) and speak in positive terms and make being positive a habit. We need to recognise the realities of our situation (Realism) but not allow them to stop us delivering as much of our original plan as possible. We also need to be optimistic (Optimism) and believe that our greatest moment is still in future.

History proves that we have done this in the past, can we do it again and again and again?

WE HAVE TO. The “isms” may well help.

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in Education


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