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“Education should not only train people to solve problems and sharpen their intelligence but, more importantly, to be good human beings.” ~ Matthieu Ricard

#10

Chatting to a friend yesterday, I was surprised to hear from her an evaluation of her grandson’s education. “He is a brilliant student and recently qualified as an accountant,” she said. “But, when I spoke about #10, he did not know what I was talking about. And to make matters worse, “she added, “he has never even heard of Downing Street. I really do not understand what education today is all about!”  She reflected on her own background in the arts and her fund of general knowledge. I could not help thinking, “Is this really what is important in this day and age? Does a lack of a piece of factual knowledge give us the permission to condemn the contemporary system of education?”

I managed to refrain myself from vocalising my thoughts. I acted sympathetically. While not agreeing with her statement, I did manage to stop myself from disagreeing. However, more importantly, I started to ponder the primary requirements of contemporary education.

My Thoughts on Contemporary Education

Ken Robinson on TED

The first place to which my mind travelled was to the TED talk given by Ken Robinson which is one of the most popular of all time.   It has achieved  62 164 165 viewings. the main point of Robinson’s presentation was the enormous value of training in creativity, rather than the presence of a vast factual knowledge base.

Scenario Planners advocate Thinking Skills

In a recent blog, I have spoken about the work done by the scenario planners Chantelle Illusbury and Clem   They have put a great deal of work into developing a system which encourages the students to practice their logical thinking skills.

Understanding our own Biases

Another recent blog of mine talks about the work that Johnathan Haidt is doing on American campuses to enhance the students thinking of racial, class and gender issues. He focuses on giving the learner the skills to become aware of their own unconscious biases.

Evolution of Goals of Education

The next thought that came to my mind was, “Is it appropriate for us ladies, who were born more than 80 years ago, to use the educational models of our growing years as an example for the present generation?” Seventy years of history has been added to the available information since our school days. To say there has been an information explosion is an understatement. What percentage of the school curriculum should be devoted to technology? Our teachers did not have to worry about finding space in the curriculum for computer usage when I was a scholar.

Contemporary Goals in Education

At the stage, I decided it was time to do some research and bring ‘Mr Google’ into the act. My query in the search engine was, “What are the Education Goals of Today?  Here is what I found in the first article I accessed.  While this is an arbitrary choice, It is sufficiently broad in scope and progressive in orientation for me to use as a starting point.

The School Around Us suggests the following as education goals:

  • Learn how to learn, for life by being aware of multiple resources
  • Discover the whole self by reflection and introspection
  • Exploring and practising basic skills by understanding the interaction of all things
  • Practice responsible and knowledgeable citizenship

I rather like how The School Around Us reflects on the spiritual aspect of Holistic Education. “It is not a traditional school, in that the “basics” include matters of the spirit, the body, the heart, as well as the mind. Academics are certainly important, but they are only part of the “basics”.

Current Events Meeting promotes Further Ideas

At our U3A current events meeting this week in September 2019 the facilitator opened with a challenge. “Why do you think,” he enquired, “the British politicians are having such a hard time getting together making a decision.   The British Parliament has so many well educated and experienced politicians, yet they seem unable to form an agreement on this matter despite being led by three different Prime Ministers in the past three years?”

I did recognise our leader was being intentionally provocative. My thoughts were, “These experienced British Politicians may be well educated, but that does not mean they are necessarily rational in their behaviour. Each of us has our biases which may well not be founded on logical thought.”

Coda

While going to do my shopping this morning, I was stopped at a pedestrian crossing by a school teacher who was ushering her primary school class to cross the road. She failed to share my greeting, offered while I patiently waited for the last child to cross the street. As she moved on, I was anticipating a friendly wave or some acknowledgement for my wait. I was disappointed. She merely walked on with never a gesture of appreciation. I wonder what sort of education she experienced! And, I wonder if she knows where 10 Downing Street is situated!

 

Chantell Ilbury is considered to be one of Africa’s most creative strategic thinkers.    This modest and attractive young woman spoke at a meeting under the banner of the Cape Town University of the Third Age, at our local Baxter Theatre.

Scenario Planning

What a treat it was! Chantell is consulted by major companies all over the world, who seek her advice on the possible happenings in the realm of scenario planning. In this role, she makes predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour. She is consulted by major businesses all over the world to advise them on the way forward.

Chantell shared with us some of the ‘flags’, she and her partner Clem Sunter study in their role as scenario planners. They make predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour.

The Flags 

  1. The Religious Flag: The biggest danger to watch is Iran. If this country should follow through with any of its aggressive threats to attack Israel or the USA, then the price of oil will be heavily implicated.
  2. Trade War Flag: They need to watch what is going on between the USA and China, each of whom wishes to dominate in this arena.
  3. Environmental Flag: We are already seeing dramatic floods, heatwaves and droughts, yet the denialism of President Trump needs to be monitored. The role of young people is proving significant in this area.
  4. The Ageing Flag: This is described as a ‘clockwork’ feature – it moves steadily in one direction. The proportion of aged in the populations can be monitored and is becoming greater, and this creates a burden on the younger generations
  5. Anti-Establishment Flag: We are going through a stage of Populism, where the elite are being maligned. The role of President Trump in the USA  and Boris Johnson in Britain are taking the Western World into this somewhat regressive posture.
  6. The National Debt: Today this figure is increasing, and many of the world’s leading countries carry a foreign debt of over 60%

What about Africa

Chantell informed us of the aspirations of the African continent. I learned about the African Union Agenda for 2063, which envisions an integrated and prosperous merger of member states during the next couple of decades. This bold aspiration is planned to commence with an economic merger. It is hoped that the warring factions will be silenced and the 54 countries of Africa will have initiated a range of co-operative ventures across the board.

In fact the front page of today’s daily newspaper Cape Times carries news of the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) which opens for a three day conference in Cape Town today.   Over 1000 delegates, global leaders in government, business and civil society, have gathered to explore the creation of inclusive sustainable growth for the countries of Africa.

Education

Chantell Ilbury, together with Clem Sunter are in the process of visualising an educational strategy for high school students. They feel that too much attention is given to learning factual material, and not enough to encourage the thinking strategies of today’s young people.

Isiah Berlin was a prominent philosopher at Oxford University when Clem studied there in the 1960s. He wrote a book which he called The Hedgehog and the Fox. This title was based on a quotation of the Greek poet Archilocus nearly 2700 years ago who realised, “The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing”. Scenario planners fall into the category of foxes. They are able to adapt their preferences according to prevailing conditions. Surely this demands a fresh educational perspective! This is what this talented duo are fostering in this rapidly changing world.

Charles Darwin spoke about the “Survival of the Fittest” This does not refer to the strongest members of society, but to those individuals who are able to adapt to changing circumstances. The species who were able to make rapid changes in a competitive environment are those who will stay ahead of the game. Our world is changing faster and faster as each year passes. I remember being fascinated by a course I studied in the 1950s about Social Change. We were told even then that technology changes faster than our ability to absorb the changes. How much more significant is that concept today. Social media influences need to be monitored by citizens with flexible minds who can adapt to the ever-evolving technological innovations.

Karl Popper divided the world’s phenomena into ‘clocks’ which could be analysed according to the parts which move and are relatively predictable, and the ‘clouds’. The latter category tends to be random events which follow no rules. Children need to understand the relative effect of both these types of events

David Hume is remembered for his 18th century postulation, “Reason is the slave of passion”. The earlier that children understand the difference between our conscious and our unconscious motivation, the better their chances of thriving in today’s world.

The partners in scenario planning have already introduced this program called “Growing Foxes” in a private school in London.  They are now negotiating for their program to be introduced into South African Schools.

It was indeed encouraging to learn about this relevant and creative approach to emphasising contemporary, relevant criteria within the field of pedagogics. It promises to assist our youngest generation to make better decisions about their own lives. In addition, they are helped to make well reasoned decisions regarding the ecological impacts of today’s lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It was most reassuring to learn these two progressive thinkers are prioritising a sustainable educational policy for today’s youth. May there be more practical and academic participants performing this crucial role of educating the youth, and advising on future scenario planning.

I spontaneously made a statement during our recent monthly Conscious Ageing Meeting.   This impulsive articulation of an inspirational hunch has resulted in my delving into a profound journey of research and meditation.   My suggestion.   At our next monthly meeting, we will feature the concept of Multiculturalism as a focal point for discussion.

Multiculturalism Defined

Multiculturalism can be defined as the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably side by side in the same country

My motivation

My motivation for this topic was based on my semi-conscious feelings around the contemporary changing attitudes to the integration of different cultural and ethnic groups into mainstream society.   This hunch has verified by subsequent enquiry.    The concept seems to have become mainstream in the news of the past week.

Concerns world wide

Evidence from all over the world – be it the Americas, or Europe, or Africa or Australia; demonstrates controversy over the acculturation of immigrant groups. Should they be encouraged to foster their own unique identity, or should they be expected to integrate into the dominant culture of the country of their birth; the land of their adoption?

Israel

The first contribution to my thinking resulted from a report I received from a good friend in Israel, an experienced teacher of English as a foreign language in the south of the country.   It is in this region around the Negev Desert that the majority of Bedouin Arabs live.   I learned that during their primary and high school education, the Bedouins and Jewish populations in Israel go to schools devoted solely to their population group.   It is when they enter the stage of their tertiary education that Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs meet socially for the first time.  This new situation brings with it the challenges of adapting to people with a wide variety of social norms and cultural values.

South Africa

This knowledge led me to think about the educational system in South Africa. In the days of apartheid, there were schools for people of African Descent, of Mixed Race, and Asian parentage.   White children attended their schools devoted to their population group.   During the past 20 years, since the dismantling of the former political dispensation, schools in this country have become racially integrated.   While there have been some incidences of racism reported in schools during the transition; considering the rapidity of change, the new system is working amazingly well.

And, in my family

I am privileged to have an adopted Zulu grand-daughter who attends a multi-cultural Montessori school which enrols children from the total range of ethnic backgrounds resident in Cape Town.   This includes children of African parentage, Coloured children, Asian kids, young persons of mixed race and a sprinkling of Caucasians.   When I arrive to fetch my grand-daughter, I am greeted with the words, “Hallo Mishka’s granny.”   I find this salutation most appropriate!

Multicultural Song writer

Johnny Clegg died this week at the age of 66.   He was a great musician of Jewish descent who blended western music with that of the Zulus.   Johnny spent much of his childhood in the company of Zulu children and was enchanted by their music, dance and rhythm.

He was a dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, and activist.   Even these accolades fall short of describing the energetic, passionate man who had become one of South Africa’s greatest musical exports.   He acted as a cultural ambassador for South Africa by combining western and Zulu tradition in his well know band Jaluka.   Listen to his music here

End of Apartheid

The end of Apartheid in South Africa coincided with my entry into a franchise business which allowed me to engage in teaching computer skills to children.   It was a great source of satisfaction to me, and a novelty at the time, that I could market our educational opportunities to all population groups.   Some of our best customers were children who would have been prohibited from utilising our services a few years previously.

Putting it all together!

Whilst ideologically the concept of a multicultural society appeals to me, it seems that there are many problems when immigrants are allowed to maintain the customs of their motherland.  From the wearing of different apparel, the practice of different cultural norms and the adherence to different value systems; there may be many conflicts of interest.

A high-profile historian Geoffrey Blainey first achieved mainstream recognition for the anti-multiculturalist cause when he wrote that Multiculturalism threatened to transform Australia into a “cluster of tribes”.  He criticised Multiculturalism for tending to “emphasise the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians”.

Major News Story

At the present moment, we have President Trump continuously in the news regarding his policies on the Mexican border.   He has been suggesting the four Democratic women who are criticising his policies should, “Go back to your own country, and fix the crime infested places from which you came.”  This is even though three of them were born in America, and the fourth is a naturalised citizen.

These comments have led to a tremendous backlash with views on slavery, the holocaust and other historical forms of exclusion are emerging to the forefront of political discourse.

What do you think?

If you do not favour Multiculturalism, does that mean you are a racist?   It seems to me that some balance needs to be found between retaining one’s personal identity, and adopting the customs of the major cultural group in our country of residence.

Your thoughts would be welcome in the Comments section of this blog post.

 

 

This morning I experienced a multi-faceted insight into the role of an insightful, articulate and profound leader.   The newly appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, who in the days of Apartheid belonged to the previously disadvantage population in South Africa is now leading transformation at the University of Cape Town.    This institution is one of the leading universities on the African Continent and Mamokgethi Phakeng articulated her vision for retaining the excellence of the institution she is now leading.  The Professor addressed members of the University of the Third Age on her ongoing challenges in creating a multi-cultural hub for tertiary education.   This is despite the fact that a short twenty years ago this institution was reserved for White South Africans only.

The past three years there has been ongoing confrontation around student fees and what is considered to be a Colonial educational system.  The Vice-Chancellor has a critical role in helping this place of learning to become a truly multi-racial institution.  The present incumbent impressed me with her ability to do a great job in masterminding these critical changes in orientation.

She set a precedent by refusing to have the customary Inaugural Ceremony and asked that the money which would have been spent on ceremony, be contributed to pay the fees of students from impoverished backgrounds.   In addition she has donated 10% of her salary to a fund which assists post-graduate students in acquiring the means necessary for further study.

She emphasised the importance of the freedom of speech on a university campus.   Unlike in politics, in business, or even in a family situation, no reasoned discussion can be discounted because of its subject matter.   All points of view and all perspectives must be tolerated on the Campus and freedom of thought and expression could never be compromised.

Professor Phakeng articulated brilliantly the three cornerstones of her approach to leading this illustrious educational institution.   Excellence must never be compromised; transformation is a top priority whilst attention must be given to retaining the stability of the institution at all times.  The profundity of her wise outlook and her practical approach was beautifully articulated during her presentation.   However it was when question time arrived that her true brilliance was demonstrated.

The Professor was asked how she planned to create a sense of homogeneity in a campus where people hailed from such a diverse array of cultural backgrounds.   “On the contrary,” explained the guest speaker, “it is our aim and ambition to embrace diversity at UCT”   She went on to quote many education institutions around the world which were able to cope with students from different external cultures, as well as the diverse ethnic groups in their own homeland.   She continued to articulate a policy in which all values can be respected, debated and encouraged.   No attempt would be made to formulate a limited value system.

A doctor in the audience questioned the speaker about what she had learned when a talented member of staff at UCT had last year committed suicide because of the pressure of not being able to accommodate what he considered the rightful demands of students.   This man was universally considered not only a top scholar but a man of the greatest integrity who belonged to the Xhosa nation.

Without flinching came the response.   “What I have learned is that the mental health of staff and students must at all times be a priority.   Insufficient attention has been given in the past to the psychological challenges which are experienced by both staff and students during the present process of change.”   She went on to explain, “We have set up special mechanisms to encourage members of UCT staff to discuss their personal challenges.   There will be regular meetings at which they can receive proper support and counselling.”

I left the presentation feeling that my Alma Mata is in good hands.   The University of Cape Town would retain its reputation for excellence in both teaching and research under the direction of this hard working lady who understands the challenges of transformation and has both the commitment and the ability to bring her vision into reality.