Their headphones don’t even have wires

Last week my pupils returned school from a worldwide pandemic that saw the entire teacher fraternity shift their pedagogy towards a completely digital solution. My pupils were preparing for an upcoming exam, and as I supervised their revision session I thought back to when I was revising for my GCSE’s. The shelf above the desk held battered files containing hand written notes on file paper held together with tape and hole reinforcers. Textbooks with the previous 5 owners’ names on the front and ink stained pages. A battered beatbox with our favourite mixtapes playing in the background. Any issues were shelved until the next lesson when you could speak to your teacher… if you actually remembered.

My pupils were sitting in-front of a machine with their Office 365 accounts open, accessing their digitised notes via OneNote. Every Lesson’s content was at their fingertips. They can utilise the search facility to find any topic they required further clarity on. Each topic has linked video content that they can stream from a playlist to their personal device to headphones that don’t even have wires… and if they don’t understand anything, well, they send me a message over Teams at any time….and they do!

The world has changed, technology has redefined how we access information and knowledge. It’s on tap, and yet the exam papers they will be sitting still look very similar to the ones I was faced with back when headphones had wires

Sugata Mitra clearly expresses this issue in his TED Talk:

“The Victorians were great engineers. They engineered a [schooling] system that was so robust that it’s still with us today, continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists.”

The world is changing, and it is doing so at an ever increasingly fast pace. Today’s young people will face more problems and have to develop more innovative solutions more regularly. Just ask Greta Thunberg…she knows. Training pupils to give standardised answers to standardised tests will give nice looking numbers in league tables, but probably won’t contribute to solving the worlds problems.

I regularly hear the phrase “We are preparing these young people for roles in a world that we don’t know exists yet”. Let’s all give that a slow clap, because guess what…we’re not. We can’t prepare for a new world using the old methodologies..

5 of the top 10 largest companies by world capitalization are technology firms. As the digital sector continues to grow year on year, many businesses struggle to find talent to fill their job vacancies because the applicant’s don’t have the skills required to successfully problem solve in the industry. They could probably pass a test about it given the time to revise, and some practice questions, with a mark scheme of how they should answer the interview questions, but the skills required are creative problem solving and iteration.

These skills rarely exist in people who are taught to sit standardised tests. Why? Because their fear of failure is so huge. Taking risks isn’t conducive to high test scores. It does create beautiful and artistic solutions, and when you combine this with the collaborative aspect that digitisation brings…just think of what we can do.

I have a range of quotes on my classroom walls. They were put there to capture pupils’ attention when they aren’t looking at me, but one has become my go to quote with my pupils. I etched it using a computer numerically controlled laser, after designing it using Adobe Illustrator and using an online tool to generate a stippled graphic..anyway it’s this:

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing you are not innovating.”

It’s by Elon Musk, you know…the guy from PayPal..or maybe you didn’t know that…I am a teacher after all 😉

We need to use technology to help our young people overcome their fear of failure, to collaborate and to creatively solve problems. The only way to prepare our pupils for the new world is to teach them in new ways, using new technology and offering new learning experiences. We can’t rely on the current system, it’s not what it was originally designed for.

Their headphones don’t have ties holding them in place, maybe we should look to make the education system match.


Chris Wilde is a Lego Master Educator and Head of Digital Technology and Computing at The Royal Grammar School. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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