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Educating the future-makers.

In this month’s Wired magazine, Bas Verhart asks whether education is failing the future-makers.

He says: “Some of the world’s greatest creative leaders dropped out, found a way to create the type of education they needed, and changed our world”, citing the examples of Edwin Land (co-founder of Polaroid), Buckminster Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome) and, of course, the late Steve Jobs.

In exploring why today’s future makers are dropping out he gives some interesting examples (see the full list in his article):

  • Society is changing so fast that science-based education can barely keep up, meaning students often know more about subjects than their professors.
  • Instead of looking at absolute truths based on the past (which gives a false sense of certainty), futuremakers imagine scenarios that don’t yet exist.
  • Because futuremakers get a rush out of the next big thing, they are constantly following their instinct for change.
  • They typically have an explorative and analytical mindset, and are divergent and convergent thinkers.

“…maybe the concept of an ‘institution’ is all wrong”, Bas continues, “…maybe these thinkers had to drop out in order to find the various pieces of education, inspiration and experimentation they needed to achieve vision. Today’s schools seem to be missing out on teaching ‘discovery skills’, described in The Innovator’s DNA (Clayton M Christensen et al) as associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking.”

I wonder what this might look like in our education systems, where we are concerned both about the knowledge that is shared, but also the environment in which learning takes place, allowing real educational experiences of discovery. Where we give educators the freedom to create students with inquisitive minds, applying their knowledge and experience to the world around them. Where our indicators and metrics of success are radically different, and measured for the long-term.

My work with IFES gives me opportunity to interact with students around the world. We are driven by a passion to see the students of today formed into the leaders of tomorrow; students trained and transformed to shape their societies. We are in the business of equipping future-makers.

Education is changing, and must change. The rate of change in education has to increase to keep pace with the rest of society.

“Does the world need more dropouts? Probably not. But we do need more future-makers. Imagine what these edgy, creative, crazy minds could achieve if they stayed in school — the right kind of school, that is.”

What is your vision for the future of education? How can we best serve the future-makers?

Would you donate your data?

This afternoon, I will allow a stranger to stick a needle in me and extract blood from my body. This is something I do on a regular basis.

Even though I understand how valuable my blood might be to someone who desparately needs it, it still took me a while to become a blood donor.

The reasons to give blood are clearly so well understood that there is nowhere on the website to explain why it is important. Their biggest challange (judging by their home page) is to get people to make that appointment to actually part with a pint of the red stuff. There are few cultural barriers to deter people, and we all kind of know that one day it might be us in need of a life-saving blood transfusion.

It was timely, then, that I came across a few blog posts – via Jeff Jarvis: very public health – that look at other ways we might contribute to the health service (local/global?) by donating our data – by being willing to talk about our health issues.

  • Jeff Jarvis looks at some the reasons we prefer to not talk about our health issues, and suggests that sharing our health data could help with medical research. He’s clear that this has to be an opt-in issue – people shouldn’t be forced to share this kind of information – but, he suggests, we are less likely to do so today because of culture, and fear of stigma.
  • Xeni Jardin blogs (and tweets) about her first mammogram and discovering she has breast cancer. By sharing in this way, she hopes to take some of the fear-of-the-unknown out of the process, and encourage other women to book a screening.
  • Michael Driscoll compares data donation with organ donation, with the distinction that unlike your organs, you can donate your data away and yet still keep it.

I’d be interested to hear from others about the kind of information they feel happy / not happy to share online.

There are many cultural factors – from where we live, to when we were born - that affect how we feel about what we share publicly. People in Germany probably feel differently about this issue to people in Guyana, or Gambia, or Georgia. But I also wonder how the internet – which seldom respects national borders – might be shaping cultural attitudes to what we share online (thanks, Mark).

On my reading list – Public Parts: how sharing in the digital age improves the way we work and live. (Jeff Jarvis)

Behavioural economics.

On trying to understand why we are so difficult to understand.

I’ve been enjoying reading and interacting with some of Dan Ariely‘s work. Ariely is a professor at Duke University, and author of Predictably Irrational.

Traditional economics looks to identify trends from which (rational) consumer behaviour can be predicted. Behavioural economics, which includes the science of cognitive psychology, seeks to identify trends based on our often irrational behaviour when it comes to making value judgments and decisions. Perhaps behavioural economics is more realistic in the way it deals with imperfect and illogical human beings. Hence the thought-provoking title of the book.

I suspect that behavioural economics is especially important at times like ours, where new technology disrupts and even shakes the foundations of traditional economics, as markets, business models, distribution channels, ideas of production and consumption, and consumer behaviour, all change and morph as we progress through the information revolution.

As I think about the people I meet, work and interact with on a regular basis, their experience of and engagement with new technology sits somewhere on an incredibly broad spectrum. Surely this has to make traditional models of economics difficult to work with, when society finds itself so fragmented in its experience of the technology that is shaping it beyond what would have been recognisable only 10-20 years ago.

And so I think behavioural economics has a lot to offer in helping us understand human behaviour; when all around us traditional models are challenged, what can we understand about underlying motivations to help us shape the environment is such a way as to meet the various needs of those around us, and develop technology appropriately, as a means to serve.

All the more reason to continue dipping my toe into issues of sociology and cognitive psychology, and bringing the bible to bear on what is revealed to be eternally true about human nature.

Side thought: does traditional science look for order and logic, where psychology looks to understand disorder and imperfection (realism)?

Changing education paradigms.

As I continue to ponder how the university environment is likely to change in the next 5-10 years, in response to the wider changes in technology and culture, I found this video on changing education paradigms incredibly helpful. It takes a look at how we arrived at the education system we have in place today, and asks some interesting questions as it considers some of the flaws of this model. And as a learning tool, I also appreciate the visual interest and creativity given in the way the talk has been animated. Much food for thought.

The West and the Rest.

An interesting post from LICC today, looking at the relationship between the ‘West’ and the ‘Rest’.

In a new book, Civilisation: the West and the Rest (Allen Lane), the historian Niall Ferguson takes a historical look at the relationship. What was it about Western civilisation, he asks, that allowed it, in the past 500 years, to trump all other political systems and cultures? His answer is that the West developed six ‘killer apps’ that the rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. Many of these, he acknowledges, find their roots in Christianity, specifically in Protestantism – although, of course, they have evolved far from those roots.

Ferguson is currently presenting a series on Sunday evenings on Channel Four, which he has called Civilisation: Is the West History? Each programme examines the influence, for good and ill, of one of the killer apps – apps that are, of course, being embraced, developed and exploited by countries all over the world. Can these, however, deliver peace, justice and prosperity, unless reconnected with the faith from which they grew?

What do you think? Does Ferguson take an overly optimistic stance towards competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic? There are surely lots of problems that stem from our reliance on these things, too, and lots for us to learn from the ‘Rest’. What’s your take on this issue?

I’m certainly going to be watching the series on TV, anyway.

Brain thinking.

“The brain stops at the skull, but the mind doesn’t. Scientists are appreciating that the brain is a hub in a bigger system of information exchange, with loops extending spatially beyond the body, and temporally into the past and future. Neuroscience is not enough: we need a better understanding of the person.”

Nicholas Humphrey
Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics

A modern dream.

Came across a brilliant post by The Simple Pastor this morning, looking back at the power of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, and the hunger for a similar “visionary dreamer” for today.

It was Martin Luther King’s description of the black community being ‘an island of poverty in an ocean of material prosperity’ that gets the pastor thinking; both that today’s prosperity is still not shared equally, but also of the truth that ‘many are drowning in the ocean of material prosperity’.

They’ve swum in it and the tide has carried them out into the ocean and there isn’t the strength to reach a safe shore. When so many are drowning in debt, drowning in self-indulgence, drowning in depression and anxiety, drowning in our own fat, drowning in greed there are too few voices that can be heard that say, ‘I have a dream.’

This year in the UK we will have an election, we will hear from those who aspire to govern us, but what I want to hear and what I fear I will not hear, is a dream. A dream of a society that turns its back on the god of the individual and seeks the solace of community, a society that ends its fruitless pursuit of self-interest and seeks the harvests of partnership, that rejects the sour dreams of happiness through acquisition and discovers the sweetness of generosity and sharing. A society more interested in the quality of life than the quantity of wealth.

I will add my ‘amen’ to that!

You can read the full post here.

Voting for real change?

Daniel got me thinking with his last post, and here are my thoughts…

“Thank you for being open with your position, and giving some explanation for it. As someone who is easily confused by these things, it helps solidify some of my own thinking too.

I think I would stand with you on some-most of these issues, particularly on small, local government. However, I still have questions about how this applies in a fast-changing world where national boundaries are increasingly blurred, and where it becomes increasingly difficult to control a global economy to ensure the welfare of all, not just the wealthy or powerful.

For example, I would like to buy from local producers as much as possible, and yet I often have to make decisions that have a global impact. Where consumer is less directly-linked to producer, do we need some form of government that helps protect the powerful from perpetuating the slavery of the vulnerable? And if so, what does that / should that look like, from a Biblical perspective?

I don’t say that because I believe in the EU, but because I struggle with, well, actually even being conscious of the wider impact of many of my decisions, to be frank. Living in light of the gospel should shape all of my decisions, and yet I rarely take time to think beyond ‘convenience’.

Having been out and voted today, one thing I was quite startled by was the number of ‘nationalistic’ parties represented on the ballot paper for the European Parliament. Is the only non-EU option to be inward looking, bigoted and self-serving, which would seem to be the manifesto of the BNP, UKIP and ‘Britain First’? How should we vote to reflect the gospel call to love our neighbour as ourself, even when this is costly? Do we want fewer immigrants in the UK because caring for the needy would have an impact on our comfortable lifestyle?

These questions are as much to myself as anything else, and are not intended to be pointed comments in response to what you have written – rather they have been provoked by what you have written, and come for a deeply unsettled view that the gospel needs to have a much greater impact in our nation and in our world – what are we doing about it?”

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
The law will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.”
- Isaiah 51:4