Reinventing Education: a 'Thought Experiment' by 21 Authors

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Reinventing Education: a 'Thought Experiment' by 21 Authors

Edited by Vincent Nolan and Gerard Darby

Synectics Education Initiative pound;19.50 (plus pound;2 pp). Order on, discounts for bulk orders

Reinventing Education is the latest in a long line of blue-sky-thinking publications about the future of our schools. Rather grandly subtitled, it builds on Albert Einstein's theory that "imagination is more important than knowledge".

The 21 contributors were asked: "If we were starting from scratch, how would we meet the educational needs of the next century?". Clearly another of Einstein's precepts, "If an idea at first does not appear ridiculous it doesn't deserve to survive", inspired many of the contributors. Try this:

"Pupils and students no longer go to school or college. They can learn in bed or while going for a jog... (nothing new there then, but read on) Biotronics... has used tiny learning cards pushed into an implant behind the pupil's ear. However, these are giving way to implants that have their own built-in molecular PCs with wireless megaband connected to the net."

It is inevitable that the book will be of variable quality since the editors have set limits only of length and general intelligibility. So some ground is covered more than once and there is an incoherence and lack of synthesis which the editors acknowledge, suggesting that the book is not to be read as a whole. Having done just that, I think they are right.

Between the more fanciful and far-fetched there are some thoughtful and persuasive contributions, including one from Cedric Cullingford, the leading expert on children's views, and another from the innovation consultant Vincent Nolan, one of the editors.

The most valuable chapter is by Valerie Bayliss, whose Opening Minds project is now operating successfully as an alternative curriculum for Years 7 and 8 in a range of urban and rural secondary schools, proving that curriculum change is both still possible and motivating for staff and pupils.

Bayliss examines five principles from which her proposals follow: educating for an uncertain future; understanding why the world is as it is; making real the notion that education is not confined to school or college, but pervades all that we do; establishing mutual respect between teachers and learners; and ensuring that the form of education should follow the function. It is in considering this last principle that Valerie Bayliss is most persuasive as she proposes changes in the form of schools that are gradual and believable.

Ten years ago a Victorian time-travelling educator would have felt at home in a typical British school classroom. Not so now. The emergence of learning and communication technologies and of one-to-one tutoring and mentoring are taking us on a journey to somewhere quite different. Valerie Bayliss, almost alone in this volume, helps us understand where we are going.

Tim Brighouse is chief adviser for London schools

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