Where are we at with schooling?

By education thought leader, Sir John Jones

We live in a rapidly changing world. A world in which, statisticians claim, 80 per cent of the jobs our children will do have not yet been invented. In order to thrive and succeed in such times, Thomas Friedman, in his visionary book, ‘The World is Flat’, warns that we are all going to need four key qualities: creativity, ingenuity, portability and flexibility.

This has huge implications for schools in general, and teachers, in particular.

I believe there is no profession that can transform lives as effectively as good teaching, or, as I prefer to call it, ‘magic-weaving’. I also believe that no education system can exceed the quality of its teachers.

Research by McKinsey examined the top 10 performing global education systems and identified three things each system does well:

  • They get the right people to become teachers.
  • They develop these people into effective instructors.
  • They put systems in place to ensure every child can benefit from this instruction.

There are three clear imperatives for any nation that wishes to adapt – political will, the embracing of change, and the development of growth mindsets.

First, politicians must support and promote the growth of an educational system that will find the right people and enable them to do the right things, in the right way, for the right reason.

Next, they must set the right priorities by:

  • Paying teachers well.
  • Avoiding the use of education as a political football.
  • Championing teaching as a great career path. (In Finland, one of the consistently highest-performing education systems, teaching outstrips medicine and law as the most popular career choice, although not the highest paid).
  • Relieving teachers of unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • Granting extensive statutory time for professional development and lesson preparation. (In Singapore, another high-performing education system, teachers teach far less than in the UK and are given generous preparation time.)

Finally, we must focus on the way society views attainment. As Dr Carol Dweck’s research has confirmed, fixed mindset thinking has held back so many. We must readjust our thinking on high performance and the myth of talent.

As a young teacher and parent, I thought that being clever was more important than working hard … that ability was fixed … that being correct was good and failure was bad and … that you are who you are and changing is difficult. I was comfortable with words like gifted, talented, natural and prodigy.

How wrong I was.

In my sixth decade, I have come to realise that effort and hard work should be praised more than being smart … that learning how to handle failure is a key life skill … that all of us possess that inner spark and finding your genius is more important than being a genius … that in the right political system, in great schools, working in new ways with brilliant teachers and supportive parents, anything is possible – for all.

It’s called ‘learning without limits’.

Sir John Jones

Sir John Jones, who has a global following in the education community, was in New Zealand recently for the Leading Remarkable Learning conference, organised by Westmount School.
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