Education Fast Forward Debate 9 in First Person
This is the first time I’ve written anything at Connect Learning Today in first person. I think that there is absolutely no way around it though. My Central Hall London visit for the New Pedagogies discussion, and then the Education Fast Forward 9 Debate immediately afterward, were a very surreal dream come true—and all of it happened in the same week that brought more than 500 world education leaders to London for Education World Forum to talk education and make commitments to do more and better for students and teachers, as well as those without any education chance at all—right now. And that last bit needs to change, beginning now.
I am an adult who for some reason, somehow, learned despite poor and dreadful odds and circumstances. I naively thought everyone was in the same boat, until junior high happened. For someone who couldn’t read until year 5, and not very well until high school, I imagined, drew, and read myself out of a very stuck place—albeit slowly. I’d like to believe it was more than luck, but let’s call it that—luck. How lucky to imagine that there was something beyond that no one saw for me. There was also an unexpected spark that kindled much more. I’ll get to that spark before I’m done.
There I was in Central Hall, London, with the likes of Lord David Putnam, Andreas Schleicher, Michael Fullan, Ramji Raghavan, Vicky Colbert, Senator David Coltart, and other notables. All sharing the idea that students can control their learning if given the chance to do so. And that dducation is power, and those who have never read or written or attended a school, ever, had a right to it—no matter race or gender. Education can make a non-reader a reader, a non-writer a writer, and a non-participant an activist for good and better, and not just for him- or herself. What a crazy twist of fate that this poor kid was within the handshake distance of some of the greatest education minds, leaders, and activists for change. Instead of thinking that I shouldn’t be there, I began to think every good reason why I should. And then I thought—I get it. These Education Fast Forward Debates are for everyone—and everyone has a voice at the table, whether that table is a Cisco Telepresence, or a computer/tablet screen somewhere, or a mobile device tweeting out from a place bandwidth has reached. The sadness for me was that the majority of the world wasn’t able to get to the table at all, because they didn’t know, yet, it even existed.
The Education Fast Forward participants debated the question as to whether we should have school or not. I knew the answer, at least for me. Learning had never been about a place, although I attended—the food was good. Sorry for that, but I had more dreams about food than about books in those days, well until that spark I mentioned earlier, although food did play a part. Learning, for me, was something that happened because of what I discovered during lunchtime when a year-five language arts teacher read Homer’s Iliad to the class. I know that she really read to me, and showed the illustrations only to me. One teacher reading at lunchtime—makes a heck of a spark that lasts a lifetime.
And today, because I know technology can really make learning anywhere and everywhere, and speak directly to a student or group of students, it’s so much easier to follow up a teaching spark like that. At some point during the day, Andreas Schleicher said, “Great teachers leverage great technology.” Technology makes it so much easier, not that hitching a ride to the library, and then running home miles with all the books I could carry, and wondering why I hadn’t tried to balance just one more wasn’t fun. Again, I listened harder—because these debates get us closer to the how— for today.
At EFF8, Michael Fullan said something that spoke to me directly, while speaking to the audience seated, standing, as well as those yet oblivious that events like this actually happen. Fullan said, “The world needs to see what our children can do with what they know.” And I thought, beyond that—we need to make sure all children get to a place where they can learn, hear this, and add to the conversation, too—a place at the table. And I know that I was just much luckier than most, and nowhere near the 300 million who can’t read or write today. I was able to take advantage of a choice to learn to read, because there was one. And that made me listen harder to everything for those who couldn’t. What a wonderfully strange world that a kid with one tattered red sweater, and holes in everything else, could sit and track Twitter feeds and tweets at an event that without planning was made for kids like himself, and for others far worse off in the educational and economic scheme of things. I know there were others in the audience and watching the streamed event that felt the same.
Education for all is more than a statement to me. I remember Andreas Schleicher, OECD/PISA, saying, “There is a growing disconnect between education and better lives.” And I thought we have to do better than rely on blind luck like mine as to whether a child succeeds, or whether a child gets an education. For each child’s success, there’s an economic success, too, and no matter how small, all those successes added together can make or break a nation. That’s how powerful education is. As a parent, as a teacher, as an administrator, as a government leader, and even as a grandparent, get involved, join these Education Fast Forward debates, and make a difference—take action. All children, and for that matter, everyone should, and can, have access to learning. It’s internationally imperative that this should happen before what’s left of this grandfather’s lifetime is done. Find your spark at the next—EFF10 debate.