The useful article “Revolution in the classroom” (The Straits Times 11 Aug 2016) is one of a number of initiatives that will change education fundamentally. Need for this new approach is the availability of virtually all existing information on the internet. Never before have we had access to so much stuff – and I use the word advisedly. There is a lot of junk along with what is useful and our first responsibility to the young is to teach them to appraise, evaluate and sort it. Misleading facts are a serious worry; undesirable values, much more so.
For some years now we have been advocating turning education on its head. Instead of teaching the young we should have the young teach us. This is important if they are to learn the new skills that that the internet data mine requires. First of these is quality. You do not dig for gold until you have been taught how to recognise it but part of the process of learning that is digging, inspecting and making mistakes. The environment in which a child grows, both at home and at school, should impart fundamental values but the world beyond (and even, sometimes, within) is fraught with scoundrels and others selling false promises.
Values adopted by the time a child is seven are relatively easy to maintain. After seven what is learnt can so easily be unlearnt. Unless the foundation is good the building risks toppling. Vital kindergarten years have become more critical even than they were previously. Next to quality of data is relevance. Here we are up against perhaps the biggest obstacle of all. A seldom mentioned consequence of the internet is that everyone has become a salesperson.
As an old advertising man I lived through the ‘50s and ‘60s – the period of what I call “Tests prove” advertising. I remember a creative director using the phrase when we were stuck for a convincing argument for some remedy or aphrodisiac. The industry is now regulated to avoid such abuse – but the individual isn’t. Added to which the spread of jargon and newly-invented phrases designed to impress makes big demands on sorting the relevant from the hyperbolic and confusing. Lesson two is clearly “What does it mean?”
Data is fine but what matters is what you do with it. Interpretation is therefore key to our new-found knowledge. At this stage we have to turn the hard facts into what has, rather stupidly in my opinion, become known as the soft skills. Ask any Terrific Mentors client if their role-play sessions to acquire these skills were “soft” and they will laugh at you. The hard work in data handling is using it, not getting it. The earlier we learn that the better.
We still have to sell the outcome, to present it in a way that will be understood, accepted and acted upon. These skills are often left until later which is a big mistake. Upside-down learning ensures that children, from a very early age, learn how to present their conclusions convincingly. Of all the things I have learnt in my long life this is the one I would most liked to have learnt better when young.
“Tough love” is a well-known expression. Very few people have any idea of what it involves. It seems mostly to be used to excuse brutality. But when information, conclusion and plea are presented as tough love it proves a powerful tool for improving the world.
And letting it know that you really care.