Thursday, 14 July 2016

Healing division in schools: the lessons from Ireland

As racism rears its head after the EU referendum, a chain set up to counter sectarian education is offering solutions for the UK.

In a horseshoe, sitting around teacher Laura Clarke, year 1 pupils from Redfield Educate Together academy in Bristol discuss the EU referendum. “Do you remember what happened?” asks Clarke. “There was a vote and people were unkind to people from other countries,” pipes up Ben Wycherley, aged six.

“How do you feel about that?” Clarke asks her class. “Shocked,” says Tarren Dwyer-Reid, also six. “Sad,” says classmate Angelo Marmolejo, whose parents are Spanish.

“How do you think being unkind might make other people feel?” asks Clarke. “I’d feel lonely,” says Zoe Papp.

“Not very welcoming”, written up on the whiteboard, is the phrase that seems best to sum up the children’s view.

This new school – the first established in England by the Irish Educate Together multi-academy trust – serves a diverse catchment in central Bristol: 60% of children come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The city, like others, is feeling anxious after incidents of racial hatred and immigrants being told to “go home” following the referendum. One local primary school posted a notice on its Twitter feed offering to help families report racism and hate crime.

The headteacher here, Ros Farrell, is keenly aware that her school’s unique “ethical education curriculum” is needed as never before, as its children grow up in a multicultural city where a higher than expected 38% of voters opted to leave the EU.

The ethos of this chain of schools was developed in the Republic of Ireland – the first was founded in 1978 to offer an alternative to faith-based education, still the only option for 97% of pupils there. Educate Together’s “ethical education” approach, Farrell says, is intended to help children understand and value belief systems other than their own, and explore concepts of equality and justice.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Why our children are so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?

I am an occupational therapist with 10 years of experience working with children, parents, and teachers. I completely agree with this teacher’s message that our children getting worse and worse in many aspects. I hear the same consistent message from every teacher I meet. Clearly, throughout my ten years as an Occupational Therapist, I have seen and continue to see a decline in kids’ social, emotional, academic functioning, as well as a sharp increase in learning disabilities and other diagnoses. 

Today’s children come to school emotionally unavailable for learning and there are many factors in our modern lifestyle that contribute to this. As we know, the brain is malleable. Through environment we can make the brain “stronger” or make it “weaker”. I truly believe that with all our greatest intentions, we unfortunately remold our children’s brains in the wrong direction. Here is why…

1. Technology

“Free babysitting service… the payment is waiting for you just around the corner”. We pay with our kids’ nervous system, with their attention, and ability for delayed gratification. Compared to virtual reality, everyday life is boring. When kids come to the classroom, they are exposed to human voices and adequate visual stimulation as opposed to being bombarded with graphic explosions and special effects that they are used to seeing on the screens. After hours of virtual reality, processing information in a classroom becomes increasingly challenging for our kids because their brains are getting used to the high levels of stimulation that video games provide. The inability to process lower levels of stimulation leaves kids vulnerable to academic challenges. Technology also disconnects us emotionally from our children and our families. Parental emotional availability is the main nutrient for child’s brain. Unfortunately, we are gradually depriving our children from that nutrient.

2. Kids get everything they want the moment they want

“I am Hungry!!” “In a sec I will stop at drive thru” “I am Thirsty!” “Here is a vending machine”. “I am bored!” “Use my phone!” The ability to delay gratification is one of the key factors for future success. We have all the greatest intention in mind to make our children happy, but unfortunately, we make them happy at the moment but miserable in a long term. To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress. Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.

Friday, 8 July 2016

No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down

Pupils choose their own subjects and motivate themselves, an approach some say should be rolled out across Germany.

Anton Oberländer is a persuasive speaker. Last year, when he and a group of friends were short of cash for a camping trip to Cornwall, he managed to talk Germany’s national rail operator into handing them some free tickets. So impressed was the management with his chutzpah that they invited him back to give a motivational speech to 200 of their employees.

Anton, it should be pointed out, is 14 years old.

The Berlin teenager’s self-confidence is largely the product of a unique educational institution that has turned the conventions of traditional teaching radically upside down. At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

The school’s syllabus reads like any helicopter parent’s nightmare. Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”. For challenge, students aged 12 to 14 are given €150 (£115) and sent on an adventure that they have to plan entirely by themselves. Some go kayaking; others work on a farm. Anton went trekking along England’s south coast.

The philosophy behind these innovations is simple: as the requirements of the labour market are changing, and smartphones and the internet are transforming the ways in which young people process information, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves.

“Look at three or four year olds – they are all full of self-confidence,” Rasfeld says. “Often, children can’t wait to start school. But frustratingly, most schools then somehow manage to untrain that confidence.”

The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) is trying to do nothing less than “reinvent what a school is”, she says. “The mission of a progressive school should be to prepare young people to cope with change, or better still, to make them look forward to change. In the 21st century, schools should see it as their job to develop strong personalities.”