19 Feb, 2018

A design for life

Our next blog post comes from Dylan Adams,  Leader of Primary Education Studies at Cardiff Metropolitan University. 

In his book “Strange Tools”, Noe (2015) claims we humans are designers by nature. For me, this raises two interesting points. First, what is our true nature and second, if we are designers, what is it that we should design? These two questions are very much at the heart of current thought about primary education in Wales. In Wales at present we are designing a new curriculum.  The ‘Successful Futures’ report and recommendations compiled by Professor Graham Donaldson (2015) call on us in Wales to create a curriculum that is guided by what we think education is and ought to be about. Freire (1996) stated that education was nothing less than the quest for human completion. These are indeed exciting and important times to be working in education in Wales.

Of course, the idea that education is more important than anything else is not new to Wales. Wales has always proudly contributed more than its fair share of teachers to the UK and beyond. But there are other zeitgeist-like forces that mean that education is currently resonating even more loudly than usual. We are entering the fourth industrial revolution. Technology is developing at a seemingly exponential pace. Artificial Intelligence is nearly at a high point that will apparently transform society. It is argued that our children are less physically and mentally healthy than previous generations and suffer from nature deficit disorder (Louv, 2005). Creativity is universally valued yet its definition is not consistently agreed. The reification of standardised testing and the tower of PISA lean ominously over every classroom. Our planet is struggling to cater for our ever increasing demands. Some argue that our planet is sick because of our own dis-ease with ourselves. And let’s not even start on the internet.

Despite and because of all of these issues these are indeed exciting and important times to be involved in education in Wales. What may sometimes be seen as darkness is only a temporary departure from the light. For alongside these challenges come the torchbearers of different perspectives, our successful futures. ‘Health and Wellbeing’is now to be one of the key areas of learning. Outdoor learning pedagogies offer a wonderful counter-narrative to the commodification of education and the datification of children (Ball, 2010). Phenomenological theories of embodiment give an academic voice to teachers’ perennial use of multi-sensory experiences. The agenda is shifting; it now gives greater prominence to mindfulness, yoga and the therapeutic need for artistic expression. We are acknowledging that beyond cognitive reflection there are other ways of knowing.

Technology is allowing us to communicate and create in increasingly powerful ways. We now know there are no expert gatekeepers of technology. It moves too fast. It is everyone’s birthright, not just that of  the chosen few. We are neither able nor supposed to be dictatorial experts; we are expert learners. The need for hierarchies is dissolving as we realise that dialogue, community and empathy are the big drivers for success. Teacher and learner autonomy, diversity, inclusivity and spontaneity are now respected as serious concepts rather than frivolous excuses for having fun. Having fun itself is being given the serious status it has always deserved. As Dewey (1934) declared: “a truly educative experience sees no difference between utility and fun, the process and outcome.”  Similarly, Freire (1996) bemoaned those who viewed joy as somehow being the enemy of rigour.

The ‘Successful Futures’ endorsement means that teachers are allowed to be experts again. Educators are being encouraged to forge their own path inspired by relevant literature, to know what’s best for their children and students. They are being trusted. And herein lies the nub of the matter. We must trust ourselves and each other. Pioneers and research teams will be replaced by giving ownership over to all teachers. Give teachers support, but give them agency. We have an education community in Wales. We are all in this together. We have always understood that communities are important. I’d go so far as to say it’s part of being Welsh. Teachers know that education is about making the world a better place. That’s why we entered the profession. This quest to improve and help is indeed part of being human, as is designing things. Teachers are designers by nature and want what’s best for their children. Give them the trust and support they deserve. Let them design.

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