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Monthly Archives: March 2012

In week 6, I controversially (for some) wrote “we don’t need anymore factory workers”, and was criticized for it, with people claiming that we would always need factory workers. I would like to use this weeks blog to justify my perspective.

In 2009, the manufacturing sector only employed 8% of the UK workforce. Between 1994 and 2009, eighteen out of the twenty-two industries within the manufacturing sector witnessed large declines. Only four industries witnessed growth: food and drink; medical and precision instruments; chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and bioscience; and aircraft, rail, marine, and motorcycles. It is a sector in decline. (These stats are from a 2010 Manufacturing sector review).

It is particularly interesting to note that the manufacture of office machinery and computers also saw declines in that period, despite the growing ubiquity of computers, mobile phones and tablets in our lives. This indicates to me that we are failing to capitalize on technological trends, because we aren’t producing graduates capable of making a difference.

Meanwhile, Manchester and London are the two creative industry centers in Europe, and the creative industry in the UK grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005, by which time it accounted for 7% of total UK GVA, while the manufacturing industry accounts for just over 11%. In short, the creative industry, in which the UK is a pioneer, is going to overtake the manufacturing industry.

There’s nothing wrong with not manufacturing. However, what it means is that we are going to have to become pioneers and world leaders in other fields – or risk having nothing to offer in exchange for the goods other countries manufacture (far more cheaply than we can afford to do so), in addition to dealing with high unemployment levels.

According to Fisch and McLeod (2010) the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are training leaners for jobs that don’t yet exist. We can hazard a guess at some of the technologies that are sure to grow in the coming decade: pharmaceuticals, renewable energy resources, biofuels. However, a blog by Thomas Frey, Google’s top rated futurist speaker paints a much clearer picture of just how many avenues of work lie just around the corner.

According to Frey, one area set to explode in the next decade is data analysis, with the amount of data businesses have access to set to grow to fifty times its current level over the next decade. This will require waste data managers, privacy managers, data retrieval specialists, and will create thousands of jobs for those with the necessary skills.

One things for sure, if we aren’t educating people to be passionate about learning and enthusiastic about embracing and developing new technologies, then they won’t be able to adapt to a job market that is changing rapidly to keep up with technology. However, as Einstein said, “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. Every child is born equipped with the passion to learn and experiment with the world around them, new technology included (just think back Jesse’s video of Cai playing with his iPad).

In my opinion, the way schools are run eliminates this innate and natural instinct, and forces children to conform to what policy makers think they should be learning. I would argue that children who end up working in creative industries do so in spite of traditional state funded education, not because of it. Unless we fundamentally change the classroom, and our perception of the purpose of education, we will continue running ourselves into economic stagnation.

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This blog was written after reading Abigail’s thought provoking blog on “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (TPS)

TPS is the behavioral tendency to knock down those who are ‘superior’ to you (Yang & Terjesen, 2007).  As Abigail notes, in a school environment this may result in intelligent/gifted/high achieving children being bullied.

The “cutting down of tall poppies”, and scrutinizing high achievers is synonymous with Australian (Peeters, 2004) and New Zealand culture (Kirkwood, 2007). It is also ubiquitous in Scandinavian cultures, where it is referred to as the “Law of Jante” (Danish and Norwegian: Janteloven; Swedish: Jantelagen; Finnish: Janten laki; Faroese: Jantulógin) 

The law consists of ten rules who’s broad message is: Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.”

Most people in our culture would intuitively see this as a very negative thing, small minded, envious, and petty. How can true individual freedom exist under such a law?

And yet, in a list of the happiest countries in the world compiled by Professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Sweden (7), Australia (6), Finland (5) and Denmark (1) all make the top 10.

So how can countries so scornful of individual success be so collectively happy and successful?

Inherent in the law of Jante is that the needs of the individual are less important than the needs of the collective whole. In all of the countries named above, most public services are high quality and state funded. These countries can afford to spend so heavily on public services because all four are so heavily taxed that they also made the top ten-list in 2011 for the most heavily taxed countries in the world.

All of this can be related back to bullying in schools. Studies highlight that a common cause of bullying is socioeconomic (SE) inequality and deprivation (Wong, Lok, Lo & Ma, 2007). Similarly, Mouly and Sankaran (2000) highlight that the envy and jealousy that accompanies the syndrome is often related as much to the societal status of the bully as it is to the status of the person they are cutting down.

Consequently, it doesn’t surprise me that bullying is so prevelant in U.S schools, as Abigail highlights. This graphic highlights that the U.S (along with many other countries) has high SE inequalities compared to other countries:

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Furthermore, compare the SE inequalities of New Zealand and Australia. TPS is culturally ingrained in both countries, yet New Zealand have higher SE disparity (Marie, Fergusson & Boden, 2010) and are reported to have the second worst bullying problems in the world.

The point I’m making is that TPS only seems to be a bad thing when societies are unequal, in which case it can result in bullying, and clearly a negative school environment. My worry is that the way this country is going, we are going to see a reduction in tax funded public services, increasing the socioeconomic gap between rich and poor, which will increase the problem of bullying in our schools. What good will all our innovations and efforts to change education be if schools are full of bullies?

In my opinion, only by providing the necessary state funded public services to reduce the inequalities suffered by socio-economically deprived populations will countries be able to stop the problem of bullying in schools.

I recently watched this fantastic video called “When Ideas Have Sex” by Matt Ridley. It made me question why we even consider IQ to matter in the first place.

He suggests that our entire progress as a species, as well as the astronomical increase in living standards we have seen over the last 200 years rests on our unique ability to exchange both material goods and ideas.

“I’m not interested in the debate about IQ, about whether some groups have higher IQ’s than other groups. It’s completely irrelevant. What’s relevant to a society is how well people are communicating their ideas, and how well they’re co-operating, not how clever the individuals are…it’s the interchange of ideas, the meeting and mating of ideas that is causing technological progress, incrementally, bit by bit, however bad things happen”

So does IQ even matter?

I’m sure that like me you some people who might score high on an IQ text – but they refuse to consider the point of view of other people and remain inflexible. By the same token, other people might score low on an IQ test but remain open to new ideas and can approach issues from different perspectives.

Although there are conflicting opinions in the scientific community about whether IQ tests predict creative achievement (CA), a 2008 meta-analysis found a significantly higher relationship between divergent thinking tests and CA than IQ tests and CA. More recently, researchers investigated children’s ability to create new raven’s progressive matrices (rather than simply measuring their ability to solve them), and found that problem solving ability is not a precondition for creative reasoning, and that these two skills require different abilities.

In light of this evidence, of what value is it to judge or even attempt to measure a child’s IQ? An over emphasis on IQ might even be detrimental to a child’s overall creative and divergent thinking abilities, something that I noticed that Adrian has touched upon this week.

The world we currently live in allows virtually everyone (not just the educated or the rich elite) to share their ideas with the world, collaborate with others, and contribute to this “bit by bit” progression of civilization.

An excellent example of this is our.windowfarms.org, an online community set up by people interested in growing vegetables in the windows of their small city apartments hydroponically (i.e. pumping nutrient solution to the roots of the plant rather than growing them in soil).

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Through the process of collaboration, sharing ideas, and a “research and do-it-yourself” ethos, this community progressed from generally inefficient and crude methods of hydroponic farming to developing continuously improving window farming methods.

As the internet changes the way we organize ourselves and interact, projects like our.windowfarms.org and www.ikeahackers.net will become more commonplace, and qualities such as openness, creative reasoning and experimentation will begin to supercede the narrow, convergent IQ centered type of intelligence that our current education system places such a high value on. Our education system needs to change accordingly.

I’ve read books voraciously all my life, and I love writing. The first time anyone commented on this in school was when I was 17, and my English teacher said to me, “I’m really surprised. I had no idea you were such a capable student”. Isn’t it strange that by the time my school recognized and allowed me to demonstrate one of my main passions it was nearly time for me to leave?

I would hazard a guess that like me, your real passions when you were growing up were unrelated to the majority of what you studied in class. Imagine how much better you would be at the things you really care about had you been able to pursue them all day, instead of having to sit through hours of classes that meant nothing to you.

Now imagine instead, a school where students are allowed to pursue whatever activity they want, at their own pace, without constant interruptions from the school bell and a myriad of subjects taught to a shallow superficial standard. Such schools already exist. At Sudbury Valley School, students are allowed to pursue their own interests throughout the course of the day. If they want help or guidance from a teacher, they need only ask for it.

The core philosophy behind this school is that the best learning is done when the student is self-directed and is given responsibility for their own learning.

I followed one student’s story throughout his Sudbury experience, and it seemed quite clear why it is such a successful school. In his own words:

“I spent four years at Sudbury Valley…in each one I had a completely different learning experience, and I had a higher order of thinking every successive year.”

During his time at the school, he went through different phases; first become intensely involved in video games, then playing music, progressing towards socializing, debating, writing essays, and eventually realizing that he had an intense passion for cognitive neuroscience, which came out of thinking about how we perceive music. He then realized he needed to work up to a traditional college education to be able to go into this field, and spent time putting together what he would have to do in order to get accepted by a university

Does it sound like he missed out by going to this school? Does he sound like a self-entitled person who believes that the world owes him a living? Or does he sound like a truly engaged, creative and motivated person?

Every week in these blogs it seems that someone addresses the issue of motivation in education. This generally involves some reference to intrinsic motivation, followed by some vague suggestion about how we could promote motivation in schools.

Here’s a theory of motivation for you: If you don’t want to do something, you won’t be very motivated to do it. Sure, there are ways of getting people to work harder even though they don’t want to do it. Competition can improve performance for example (Stanne, Johnson & Johnson, 1999). But it can also increase cheating (Schwieren & Weichselbaumer, 2011), and is only really effective until students realize that they don’t have to play by those rules anymore. Tragically, I’m sure many people continue to live by this ethos their entire lives, never realizing that co-operation enhances interpersonal attraction, social support, and self esteem (Stanne, Johnson & Johnson, 1999) – things that so many disconnected and isolated people seem to lack.

I hope by now we’re all on the same page. We don’t need anymore factory workers; we don’t need any more automatons. The industrial age is over. Stop treating children like they are products to be assembled on an academic conveyor belt. End depersonalized education, and start allowing children to use the information they have at their fingertips to construct their own unique learning experiences. This has been proven empirically to work. (Mitra & Dangwal, 2010)

Most importantly, lets help children learn the most important lesson of all – that they, and they alone are responsible for their own destiny. Better that they learn that in school than be spat out of university at 21 with a pile of debt, a meaningless degree, and the realization that the life and the dream they were told would be theirs at the end doesn’t exist after all.