The ’3 R’s’ alone are no longer enough.

I published on my blog earlier today a very good video (What most Schools Don’t Teach…) that highlights one of the plights of modern education today – that is, what, exactly should global economies be including in their education provision and curriculums to help prepare youngsters for the world of work tomorrow and beyond?

The video highlights what I consider to be a black hole that exists throughout education around the globe. The basic fundamentals of the technologies that help shape our world are simply not being addressed within curriculums worldwide despite being ‘mainstream’ for some 30 years.  This is not simply about ‘code’, but the use and teaching of information and communication technology in general.

We all use computers in one form or another (from the digital watch on our wrists through using our Macs, PC’s, tablets, mobiles, vehicles we drive and the countless technologies that control our homes and lives in many other ways) but the massive deficit of skilled workforce to feed our demands in this area, it would seem, is significant.

Schools need to embed coding (no pun intended) and other basic Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into regular, routine educational provision from an early age. And I don’t mean simply providing ‘a lesson a week’ to the cause. All subject teachers need to include this in their work irrespective of subject discipline.

There’s no blame culture here, just a realisation that Schools, Governments, Teacher Training Agencies and Curriculum Providers must work together to help in preparing our youngsters accordingly.  

I was lucky enough to be part of a team of pioneering teachers that kick-started a brand new International School in Toulouse, France back in 1998. Every child aged 4-18 had a laptop. There were no dedicated ‘ICT’ rooms or labs. All classrooms were equipped to handle class sets of laptops with appropriate printing and projection capability and, more importantly, all teachers (irrespective of subject) were trained on how to use the technology everyday.  More importantly, teachers and pupils were given insight into how basic code could be used in their work for customisation.  The move towards a ‘hypertext’ curriculum was the ideal. Within a couple of years many KS3 (pupils aged 12/13) had websites that were virtual portfolios of their work that were constantly evolving and organic. And they updated them as part of their curriculum.

Three things helped us make this work:

  • Firstly, all teachers and support staff were involved, and trained, to deliver computer-based education. This was not the domain of a single ‘ICT’ guy or girl. Everyone contributed to the cause and this was seen as an integral part of their skill set delivery regardless of subject discipline.
  • Secondly, all supported the philosophy from the Head and senior management, governors, sponsors, teachers and parents through to the pupils. There was a common desire to succeed. This was important.
  • Thirdly, you had to be open-minded and divergent in your approach as a school; as a teacher. There are risks (there always are) but the benefits far outweighed them. Safety was key (providing initial training to parents and pupils prior to having the laptops so they were aware of the possible pitfalls associated with technology use – security protection, ergonomic issues, the laws relating to ICT use and so forth).

It is interesting to note that in the UK, the so-called ‘3 ‘R’s’ phrase (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) was coined in around 1825 by Sir William Curtis MP in a toast given during Parliament. It referred to the foundations of a basic skills centred education within schools.

It is clear to see that in 2013, almost two hundred years later, that these ’3 R’s’ alone are, quite simply, no longer enough.

What most schools don’t teach….sadly.

Although American based, this video highlights a real black hole that exists throughout education around the globe. The basic fundamentals of communication technologies that have been with us for 30 years are not being addressed within curriculums worldwide. We all use computers. But the massive deficit of skilled workforce to feed our demands is simply mind blowing. Governments, schools and Curriculum Providers…WAKE UP! Schools need to embed coding and other basic ICT skills into regular routine educational provision from an early age. See my blog for more on this.

Design Thinking…

Design Thinking in Schools: Anthropology is more important than Technology


I often see an over emphasis on the use of Technology in Design teaching in schools. What should be happening is a greater focus on Anthropology – human kind.

Design is an Intellectually Challenging and Creative Activity.

I do get really flustered when I field questions from parents about whether or not Design can be studied as a post 16 level subject (A-Level or IB).  The truth is, A-Level Design & Technology has been in existence longer than A-Level economics…

In fact, the subject of Design has existed in many forms as a mainstream subject since the curriculum began. When the term the ‘3R’s’ was coined in Parliament in 1840, Hansard recorded that it stood for Reading, Wroughting and Arithmetic. Wroughting as in ‘I have wrought a wonderful design’.

It has been said that, “all that is not nature is art.” Well, Richard Seymour (from Seymourpowell) went on to elucidate that you can go one step further suggesting that, “all that is not nature, is, in fact, design.” I totally agree.

If a product is not from nature itself (grown out of the ground, dropped from a tree or indeed popped out of an egg or womb) then someone has had to sit down and sketch/pen a solution for it – an answer to the problem – a creative and practical solution.

A well designed product radiates an almost physical sense of purpose. It’s the battle of the first 35 nanoseconds – between reflex and intellectual determinism lies the battleground – that’s the domain that we must capture as designers.” Dick Powell (SeymourPowell)

Designing and manufacture is a truly creative and intellectually challenging activity. It is entirely compatible with high levels of numeracy and literacy – the design process itself draws on areas such as History, Languages, Math’s, Science, Technology, Communication and Art; developing divergent and creative abilities is a basic function of education.

One of our main aims as teachers and educators must be to inspire and empower our future designers and engineers and to excite passion in our teaching so that they can develop products they love with sensitivity to an ever-changing world market and clientele.

So let’s not stifle it. Please.

Creative Thinkers in School – Play and Experimentation over Rigour and Focus

For many of us, as we mature in years our ways of thinking freeze a little, and we start making decisions based on what we know works.  However, if we are to stay at the top of our game and provide real momentum and development to the work we are doing we need to think creatively. It has been said many times before: don’t ask ‘why’? Ask ‘why not’?

John Maeda (President, Rhode Island School of Design) highlighted in a talk some years ago that Creative folk are the great exception to this ‘brain freeze’; they have:

“…the unique ability to live with ambiguity and to live with mistakes. Without a certain comfort level with ambiguity – an uncertain outcome – we would never experiment. If we never experimented, we would never make mistakes. And if we never made mistakes, we would never learn anything”.

The creative process of inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson is a wonderful example. Although Dyson is now one of the wealthiest men in Britain, it took him 15 long years and thousands upon thousands of failed prototypes to arrive at his first success.  In an interview with ‘Fast Company’, Dyson explains:

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”

As Dyson acutely observes, from an early age much of our school training encourages us to be ‘risk-averse’ by rewarding those who deliver exactly what’s expected – rather than those who try something new and dare to look foolish (take the risk). We are taught to uphold rigour and focus over play and experimentation.

However, it is these same qualities, playfulness, wonder, an element of risk and a lack of inhibition, that have fostered the greatest creative breakthroughs.

Teachers and educational leaders take note.

Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Paradigms

My favourite video currently – a summary of the TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson regarding creativity and education ‘shifting paradigms’

Timeline of Honda Engineering Excellence and Innovation

A wonderful timeline journey of Honda – through all it’s design and engineering excellence over the years.

All this talk of (Royal) baby names…its not easy choosing.

I don’t think there is a worse profession to be in than teaching when it comes to naming a new born child.

I remember the trials and tribulations that we experienced with the birth of our first child (unknown as to whether it was a boy or girl then – our choice). At the time we were both teaching. My wife is French which adds a certain puissant to proceedings too. Trying to find a name that a) sounds good in both English and French b) Pleases both sets of grand parents c) does not remind you of some little snot nosed toe rag that you remember teaching many moons ago…is not easy. The list was endless plus you must not forget the constant stream of advice from friends, colleagues and family. A veritable nightmare!

In the end, our gorgeous (first) daughter popped out and we named her based on the names my wife and I had shortlisted based simply on the fact that we liked them. No family ties, no deep rooted heritage dragged into the equation…just nice sounding (to us at least) names that we felt suited our darling little girl. I should add that we also chose names that we felt could be ‘shortened’ later in life without losing anything (or getting stupid school-based nicknames entering the mix).  So, Alexia Jayne was born (later to become AJ or ‘Lexi’ to her mates – something we had not considered despite our best attempts to think through every possible outcome).

So, to dear Wills and Kate. If at the time of this blog entry a name has not been decided upon for your little chap, may I suggest the following? A name of strength, value, integrity, charm and devilish good looks. You will not be disappointed.