Saturday, January 16, 2021 | Posted in Joint Projects
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Greetings, GC Community
Malcolm McKenzie, Head of School of Keystone Academy, China, shares with us a couple of articles that he wrote for “In The Loop”, the Keystone Academy Newsletter.
We hope you all enjoy them.
Last week I prepared a recorded speech for a conference called “The 21st China International Education Conference”, the theme of which was “China’s Education Quality Improvement and Innovative Talent Cultivation”. The gathering was hosted by China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE), organized by KingLead Education, and supported by the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund. Owing to ongoing public health precautions, the forum was held online, last Saturday. I was given this topic: Cultivation of Innovative Talents in the Post-epidemic Era. It was a pleasure to prepare and record some thoughts to share with the participants, and to have my colleague and Associate Head Jia Lili assisting with the Chinese. In this article, I wish to share with you a summary of this address.
At the start, I outlined 4 areas of focus for my speech:
Our world in general;
Cultivation of innovative talents at Keystone Academy: pre-pandemic;
Cultivation of innovative talents more generally: post-pandemic;
A postscript: educational futures post-pandemic.
Our world in general
In the past decade or so, maybe more, long before the current pandemic, we have heard more and more talk, some of it justified, about radical shifts in teaching and learning. Just a few of these are the following: from content to concepts, from memorization to skills, from mindless repetition to mindful innovation, from the classroom space to the flipped space, and the like. Many times, these binaries are presented as opposites, or excluding choices. And all this was before the pandemic.
Now, with the pandemic, our world has shifted massively, for many. We are all wondering how and when we will regain what we knew, some are wondering whether we should even want that, and others are carefully selecting lessons from the past 8 months to take with them to act as signposts for the road ahead, wherever that takes us.
In times like this, it can be useful to gaze into the past. This is not the first time that an external event has caused a seismic shift, like an earthquake, in how we see and do things. Many of us feel now that nothing will ever be the same again, in the world at large, and in the world of schools.
But, then, there is the old French saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – The more things change, the more they stay the same. So, we start with a question: What has changed, and what remains the same? We do not know, yet, with any certainty. But, we’ll come back to this question. Maybe the most accurate prediction we can make is that we should be prepared to continue expecting the unexpected.
Cultivation of innovative talents at Keystone Academy: pre-pandemic
In the context of China, where innovation and creativity are so important, we set out 8 years ago to start a school characterized by novelty and invention and innovation. To capture this, we called Keystone a New World School. We are not national, nor international, but of the world. The essential meaning of this is that our learning is rooted in China, but we make substantial links in all that we do to the world outside our country. (We then spoke in some detail about aspects of Keystone familiar to all of you, which do not need repeating here: our mission; our three traditions; learning from the world, with curricular examples; and learning for the world, with attitudinal examples. The point was to claim that innovative talents will continue to flourish post-pandemic in this Keystone environment, whose novelty in these areas will outlast the current crisis.)
Our conclusion to this section was this: We feel that the combination of these foundational ingredients of our school makes up a very unusual recipe for the growth of innovative talent in our students, and teachers.
Cultivation of innovative talents more generally: post-pandemic
One very important lesson from the pandemic is this: INNOVATION AND INVENTION ARE NOT ENOUGH: WE NEED TO MOVE BEYOND THESE TO FLEXIBLE IMPROVISATION.
So, again, we ask: What has changed, and what remains the same? Quite a lot remains the same, but we need to think of new, new ways, in addition to old, new ways. When it comes to innovation after the pandemic, here are some new thoughts. Our framework for this is the comment made earlier this year by the famous novelist Arundhati Roy where she described the pandemic as a “portal”, in other words a door or gateway, to new possibilities. She wrote: “nothing could be worse than a return to normality”.
Here, at Keystone Academy, we have researched and collected the views of our teachers and students about new thoughts and actions that they hope will lead to permanent practice. In summary, these all focus on the following 4 areas:
Wellness, through developing new forms of resilience;
Improving the respectful, empathetic, and patient aspects of our relationships and communications;
Understanding even more deeply the really varied ways in which our students learn – some who thrive face-to-face do not do so in the virtual domain, and the reverse can be true also – increased differentiation is therefore very important and productive;
With technology, continuing to leverage the wonderfully flexible ways that technology can be a really significant tool, while also realizing what it cannot do – the importance of the teacher, face-to-face with students, has grown, and grown….
Here are a few specific quotes from this research that we think will improve the cultivation of innovative talents. We start with this one:
Flexibility: Uncertainty has been a great teacher. Sometimes living in uncomfortable times can allow us to change in ways we never thought possible. We cannot expect students, teachers, or parents to react in the same way as they did in the past.
And then, some others:
Give new ideas an opportunity to develop and grow, without giving up on them;
Empowerment – give others opportunities, especially in a new situation where creativity and initiative are needed;
Remember how capable our students can be if we let them;
Slow down and reflect about what we are doing as educators, and why, and how;
Deepen your connections with students. Teaching from the heart will indeed reap the rewards for a student and their learning;
Flexible thinking is a skill that can be developed.
Our list begins and ends with flexibility. So, how about a course in flexible thinking, how to improvise when our expectation for the unexpected is fulfilled, as seems likely again and again in the coming decades?
A postscript: educational futures post-pandemic
PROSPECTS is UNESCO’s Comparative Journal of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment. Its October 2020 issue is subtitled: A global reset: COVID-19 and the future of education and learning. Sir Ken Robinson, famous for his TedTalks on creativity and innovation, wrote a short essay for this volume sadly, as it turned out, just before his untimely death in August. In this piece, he outlines two main general concerns of education in the immediate future, post-pandemic:
Climate and our planet – highlighted by the pandemic
Our relationships, which are characterized by “normalizing stress, anxiety, and toxic patterns of behavior”
Bringing these two together, we now envisage schools focused on the cultivation of innovative talents which combine
Empathy and Wellness with
Ecological Education and Environmental Practice of real substance.
President Xi in his address to the UN recently said that China would be carbon neutral by 2060. What a gift to our country and to the world this will be. In our opinion, schools should lead the way. And they should do so within the framework of the improvisational use of digital technologies, inventing new strategies for teaching and learning in blended ways, with schedules that encourage home learning as well as school learning, new expectations of flexible attendance, new uses of vacation times, and more open-ended teaching styles which uncover the syllabus instead of obsessively trying to cover every single detail in a course.