During half term, I was fortunate enough to attend the IB World Conference held in The Hague where educationalists from across the globe articulated their vision of education and shared their latest research.
One such researcher was Tony Wagner. He reminded us that because knowledge is mostly disseminated by machines, with very little intervention by humans, it is no longer as highly valued as it once was. You can always look up knowledge and look it up quickly. Yet schools and universities still pride themselves on producing students rich in knowledge; deliver courses rich in content and in doing so produce students that lack the one skill that is increasingly feted by employers – innovation. The evidence for this is startling. In USA, 45% of graduates are doing jobs that do not need a Bachelor of Arts qualification or earning wages that do not befit Bachelor of Arts students who have trained at some top university. Their skill set is no longer demanded by top employers and they are languishing in menial jobs behind wine bars and coffee machines.
Google used to employ high scoring Ivy League students but they now find these qualified students are not qualified for the role they need them to do. Google now has summer long boot camps on problem solving from which they recruit; you do not have to be an Ivy League graduate to attend. Google is looking for creative problem solvers, innovators and universities are not supplying them.
Schools, unfortunately, have become slaves to universities, providing them with pupils who are rich with knowledge, rich with content, teaching them to pass exams by jumping through prescribed hoops to gain the high grades needed by these top universities. Preparing our students to be university ready is not making them employment ready.
Teaching in this traditional way, Tony Wagner argues, is draining the pool of creative thinking. This is because traditional schools focus on celebrating individual achievements yet innovation and creative thinking are team sports. Traditional education compartmentalises knowledge, yet no problem you can name or solve exists within a single academic subject; problem solving is interdisciplinary. Traditional schools do all they can to avoid the “F” word – failure, yet for innovation to occur you have to fail to succeed. Innovation is the process of iteration. Learning is best when we learn from our mistakes but traditionally we penalise pupils for making mistakes. Traditional schools are extrinsic motivators based on carrots and sticks. Pupils, however, do their best work when they are intrinsically motivated, doing work that they perceive as worthwhile and not just for a reward. Passion comes from a spark of curiosity.
Back at Google they have created Google Time – this where employees “play” on company time – a day a week of intrinsic motivation – time to work on projects of their own choice. At BGS we are grappling with this. We are judged on our academic excellence but at the same time conscious that we need to develop the work force of tomorrow. We despair with the GCSE courses that are content heavy, and try to introduce our own “Google Time” elements into our curriculum where we can; whether that is in the Junior School through the exploratory nature of Units of Enquiry; in the Year 9 curriculum where girls have scheduled time to work on any project of their own choice, or in the Sixth Form through the EPQ projects and the IB Group 4 science project. We see sparks of incredible curiosity that lead to full-blown research projects on areas that really interest them. The benefits to the girls are vast as creativity and independent learning come together.
Education should be more about enquiry learning than amassing facts. As a Head I am always reminded of the words of the educationalist John Dewey “if we teach today as we were taught yesterday we rob our students of tomorrow”. The IB conference reminds us of how we should be preparing today our girls for tomorrow and I am glad that at BGS we are taking positive steps in the right direction.