A day in the life of…Yasir Patel

A recent article from TES, pasted in its entirety below.

https://www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/a-day-life-ofyasir-patel

Running a high-quality school while managing the huge uncertainty that exists in Venezuela is extremely challenging. I have taught at The British School in Caracas for five years, and things have sadly deteriorated – for pupils and staff – since I started.

Caracas is the murder capital of Venezuela, and the school has had to increase security significantly in recent years: we provide any international visitors and our expat staff with transportation to and from the airport, a night-driver service and regular security advice. The dangerous environment has seen swarms of local people leave the country for a better life: pupil numbers have decreased and budgets are being used to increase admissions.

Funding can be a problem, especially when the income is the local currency, which is losing its value. What was once was a US$2,000 (£1,530) salary is now US$50. This, of course, reduces spending power and saving potential, and the school has to be creative when it comes to helping our local staff.

We provide them with lunches, increased health insurance, and pay them in foreign currencies wherever possible. Venezuela has the highest inflation in the world (estimated at 28,000 per cent): imagine a bottle of milk going from £1 to £2 to £10 all within a week. That’s a common occurrence here – all products normally have a 12- to 24-hour quotation period.

Such a turbulent culture leads to a lot of anger. In 2017, we had more than 100 days of protesting from April to July. We have policies to deal with such events, but it’s particularly tough to deal with during exam season.

Our dedication to ensuring that both pupils and staff have a safe and consistent environment to come to every day is reflected in our staff turnover. In the past two years, we have had an all-time low of 20 per cent, which is amazing given the difficult and challenging political, economic and social times facing all residents of Venezuela.

It is not a great education that is rare here, but any education at all, so teachers are really respected.

Local schools may be suffering with lack of funding, poor teacher training and little resources (some schools don’t have enough desks, chairs or books for all of the children), but education is truly seen positively and isn’t taken for granted.

I arrive for school at 6am. The students arrive an hour later; school starts at 7.30am and ends at 2.45pm. Our primary students have 25-minute lessons and secondary students have 45-minute lessons. We follow the English national curriculum throughout school, mixing it with the international primary curriculum for the younger students. We offer IGCSE in Years 10 and 11 and the International Baccalaureate diploma programme in Years 12 and 13.

I wish that I could ease the worries that my students, staff and parents face. The events that happen outside of our schools’ walls range from disturbing to absolutely horrifying, and the anxiety that this brings affects the day-to-day activities in school. If peace was established, I could see Venezuela once more becoming a powerful and attractive country for all.

Yasir Patel is the head of school at the British School Caracas

 

Be Nice and Care

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

– IBO Mission Statement –

In an increasingly uncertain world, we should aim to connect, not divide.  We should be promoting love, not hate.  Different cultures and traditions should be celebrated, not criticised (also not simply tolerated).  Our differences and personal identities should unite us.  At the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, civil rights activist and the Representative of Georgia, John Lewis gave a speech where he emphasised that, ‘love is a better way, the way of peace is a better way.’  Recent events have seen people of different backgrounds, religions, races and nationalities uniting with each other against injustice, and maybe that shows that we should never lose faith, that there is always hope in humanity.

The president of Harvard University pointed out a few weeks ago that ‘internationalism is a paramount source of our university’s strength.’  Drew Faust also highlighted the fact that half of their deans are immigrants and thousands attend their university every year.  “In times of unsettling change, we look toward our deepest values and ideals,” Faust wrote. “Among them is the recognition that drawing people together from across the nation and around the world is a paramount source of our university’s strength.”

A recent article by Headteacher Neil Bunting emphasises the need to embrace global citizenship and internationalism, now, more than ever.  Despite much education, he points out it is unfathomable that in the 21st century we continue to see events that shock and distress us.  We teach our young people to be tolerant, forward-thinking and lifelong learners, yet it seems to contradict with the global trend.  Without meaning to go political, Neil writes clearly and concisely.  Many may disagree with aspects of his writing but the overall message is hard to argue against;  many barbaric and uneducated choices are being made by world leaders, both in the so-called developed world as well as developing world, that seem to be catering to xenophobia, prejudice, stupidity and cultural intolerance and in turn, also promoting them.

Education is key; both in and outside schools, to help people understand the benefits of internationalism, connecting with others from different faiths and religions, and in order to separate fact from fiction (fake news is something we should debate in all classrooms, not just theory of knowledge).  History has a tendency to repeat itself – the use of propaganda for ill-intentions, manipulation of information and selfishly looking after number one.  More integration, not less, is a major part of the solution.  We all have a responsibility to help in this.  Connecting all the various and different parts of societies is another major factor.  The infamous 1%-99% divide must be bridged, bringing people together and understanding each other’s situation.  We should intensify the teaching of global citizenship, of being responsible, balanced and wise decision-making.

Let us promote sympathy and empathy, and condemn hate and terror.  Students (in fact, everybody) should have the opportunity to practise activities that foster respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, trust, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, self-discipline and citizenship.  Students should also be given the chance to show kindness and develop their character, serving others whenever possible.  The importance of character, kindness and working as a team for an agreed shared goal, cannot be stated enough.  Schools should continue to work together with communities in order to enhance all childrens’ learning experience.

Nel Noddings, author of various books and articles that call for all schools to focus on ethic of care, argues that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making.  How does one become a caring person?   Noddings states that a caring person ‘is one who fairly regularly establishes caring relations and, when appropriate maintains them over time’.  Noddings identifies education (both in the traditional sense and the not so traditional, including at home) as central to a culture and creation of caring in society.  In fact, she views the home as the primary educator and argues for an adjustment of social policy to this end. This is not to sideline the role of schools but simply to recognise just what the home contributes to the development of children and young people.

We must encourage civil, harmonious and peaceful attitudes towards each other.  A critical mind is required in times like these; ask the Why? What? Maybe? questions, which may be tough and initially not seem harmonious and peaceful.  But honesty in asking them, with love for each other, seems a positive and genuine way forward.  We are fortunate that we now live in a world where many people have worked hard to allow people to travel freely, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.  Do we really want to go back to the narrow-minded mindsets where people are judges on their passport or worst still, on their religion?  Do we really want our young people to have obstacles when travelling as opposed to the freedom many of us have experienced, and the amazing benefits gained from sharing what we have seen and learned?

‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime’

– Mark Twain –

A final word of warning; it is worth bearing in mind that the distinction between “us” and “them” is often just a step or two away from bigotry and chavinism.  It may seem that we are going backwards and reverting to stereotypes and prejudices we thought were long left in the past.  Yes it is depressing, but the answer is not to bury our heads in the sand, to give up or become apathetic.  We need to champion the values of global citizenship, intercultural understanding, cultural intelligence and open mindedness.  At the end of the day, we are one being on one planet.  Let’s work together and put our faith in humanity.

Yasir Patel

“When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

Following a recent, valid article on TES Secret Teacher, pasting one I wrote about the same topic in 2011 for a school magazine below.

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“When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

230pm signals the end of another day, another teaching day dealing with THAT question, THAT annoying, frustrating yet oh so valid query, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

The honest answer probably is, “never”, nevertheless we persist in sharing our passion and enthusiasm for the subject. We continue in trying to share its importance with the world, and let’s face it; we think it is the MOST important of all. We still feel we are the cornerstone, heart and the core so to speak of the school curriculum. Rene Descartes is quoted as saying; “Mathematics is a more powerful instrument of knowledge than any other that has been bequeathed to us by human agency.” We still have a privileged position in all educational systems (mathematics is the only subject that all student must study for the IB Diploma) and people still look at mathematicians with a sense of awe. Even the great Isaac Newton once remarked, “Number rule the universe.”

Mathematics is hard, let us be honest, it is not a natural talent for everyone. “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater” said the great Albert Einstein. If difficulty equated to importance, then this article could end now, however it is not so simple.

“Mathematics is like love – a simple idea but it can get complicated” and complicated it does become. Using lego to add numbers quickly becomes mental addition, using a straight edge and compass to bisect lines and draw polygons soon becomes a list of properties and rules, calculating the rate of change ends up with the most amazing (or horrific depending on your outlook!) calculus questions. It is all very exciting and intriguing for us; us being mathematicians.

So what, if mathematics was the language of choice to communicate with possible extraterrestrials? So what, that coding theory was used at Bletchley Park during world war two to crack German war communications?

Buying items, calculating percentages, using recipes, saving funds, budgeting are all concrete examples when Mathematics is being used. However, why does an author need to learn trigonometry? Or a secretary logarithms? We cannot deny that these are valid questions, which lead us back to our favourite question, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

Yes mathematics is all around us and most people accept that. “Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics” – Dean Schlicter. Most people admit, maybe hesitantly, that mathematics is required and is within everything that we see around us. Unfortunately that still doesn’t address the valid question of those individuals who truly do not see a use of topics such as vectors, matrices and dare we mention it again, calculus, but are forced to learn them during those normally challenging teenage years.

Mathematics teaches students to think logically, systematically, rationally and critically. Students tend to become better decision makers due to the clear and clever reasoning skills they have developed during lessons. They are pragmatic, thinking and acting methodically most of the times. At other times they improvise, think outside the box and act on their feet. Many students become better organisers as a result of years of mathematics classes. They solve problems by making quick decisions yet staying balanced throughout. Judging at face value rarely occurs and plans are thorough, well thought out with all possibilities considered. Leadership qualities are commonly found amongst mathematicians.

Unfortunately for Mathematics teachers and mathematicians we cannot show or “prove” that mathematics is responsible for these vital characteristics!

I guess if all else fails, we can always tell students that mathematics can make them very rich and point to the top twenty jobs in the world in which at least 17 require a high level of mathematics (with the others being footballers, actors and directors). And if we really want to be arrogant, we can simply tell them that it will make them look good and feel important!

The highest form of pure thought is in mathematics

Plato

 

Sources:
  • http://shareranks.faqs.org/2772,20-Highest-Paying-Jobs-in-the-World
  • http://weusemath.org/
  • http://math.furman.edu/~mwoodard/mqs/data.html

 

 

Left Out of the System

Recently (at a wedding) during a conversation with another educator he mentioned that he worked for a government funded organisation in inner city London with children who have been excluded, expelled or temporarily suspended from school.  They offer leadership and teamwork activities after normal school hours.  It is not a replacement for school, but works on creating traits that could help these children succeed when they leave school.  When asked what normally happened to such students when expelled from schools, his reply was, “either they return after a few days or go to another school and will soon be expelled or suspended again.”  They worked with such students after school with pleasing results, however, they had limited time available.  It seemed strange that they were not THE place for such students.  This is when he mentioned that the current “education system is broken and caters for the masses, not the exceptions.”

About two weeks ago, during lunch at a local takeaway in Blackburn on a very grim and rainy day, a fairly young lady with a pram (stroller in American English!) walked by with one child in the pram, one walking alongside her hand-in-hand and two others walking alongside.  Although simply an assumption, it is probably fair to state that they were all her children.  The lunch conversation (with another teacher) turned to whether these children would or could be successful in our education system?  Or maybe the question should be, whether our education system would or could be successful for these children?  And what is being done to help both the parent, child and all families?

The new Prime Minister of Great Britain stated in her first speech in July 2016:

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.
– Theresa May, 13th July 2016

Is this just a case of more politically correct rhetoric, or is there a real strategy on how to achieve this?  The recent talk of more grammar schools does not bode well.

Claim:  Education is a broken system, it does not serve its purpose; serving every child.

Schooling used to serve a purpose, like the appendix inside the human body, but now it is only harmful to the  success of the child.  Education is important and will only get increasingly important, however, schooling (traditional schools) is not allowing education for all children to take place.  Many aspects of schooling are problematic. For example, the usefulness of the grading system is debatable.  It disincentivises creativity and ‘different’ performance (which are the hallmarks of success in the real world).

Let’s not forget, that education within schooling was a noble and visionary idea.  Education for all was indeed a revolutionary movement nearly 150 years ago (The Elementary Education Act 1880 insisted on compulsory attendance from 5 to 10 years in the UK) and it is pleasing to see this occur in the majority of countries, admittedly to different degrees of opportunity and results.  However, that was a long time ago and surely how little it has changed must be a concern for all?  Such exceptional (and by exceptional it is meant in both an ‘extreme to the norm’ and positive sense) children deserve an opportunity in a system that caters for them and their exceptional qualities. Differentiation and individualisation are rightly expected within school lessons, however, they need to go beyond the traditional classroom.  ‘No Child Left Behind’, ‘Every Child Counts’ are simply slogans with naive strategies that do not cater for all.  They mean nothing other than offering a ‘one size fits all’ model.  It has never worked, is not working and will not work in the future.

Universities also have a big responsibility to stop the top-down pressure it places on the education system to provide certain types of students (e.g. 3 As needed for a Mathematics degree, or 4As needed to enter a medicine degree).  The current approach is stifling both teachers and students’ creativity.  Especially in the latter years of compulsory schooling where teachers are forced to teach to the exam and students forced to memorise information that will serve them little good a few months later.  The Early Years and open-ended teaching methodology in the earlier primary years should be applicable in later educational life.  Like big government, the interest of university seems to be no longer primarily in serving the people, which is why it was created, but in serving itself, and making sure the machine “stays alive,” with its cogs turning.

Child of Rage:  An old and disturbing documentary about a child badly abused and scarred when a baby, making an amazing recovery due to the very specific attention paid to her early in her life.  She went on to be a successful adult due to this precise help provided to her.  This individual help can definitely be applied more widely.

Here’s a call for new, non-traditional educational systems operating in parallel to the day-to-day schooling and individualise attention for all children.  Let’s develop leadership institutions such as described above.  Why not allow parents who may have ‘failed’ in their own schooling to attend an organisation with their own children present?  Maybe link it up with parenting lessons?  How about vocational and academic organisations earlier?  How about work experience at an early age?  The option of travelling and learning?  The opportunity to learn in an outdoor environment?  Can children create their own framework of learning and take in the knowledge on their own terms, learning how they like and to their preferred learning style?

Please help schools and teachers who cannot help but expel children over and over.  Surely after children have shown that a school environment is not for them, we should try something new? All it takes are creative strategic thinkers and leaders who are willing to take a risk, not concern themselves with results and work very hard with a determination to make the system work for ALL children.  Involve educators – they truly care and can see the issues out there.  Idealistic or realistic?  A debate for another day!

Finally, for all the critics and cynics, yes it can work with one example shown by this recent article.

Yasir Patel

The Future

In many (maybe most) industries and countries, the most in-demand jobs or occupations did not even exist 10 years ago.  In fact, in some cases they did not exist just 5 years ago.  The pace of change is astonishing and one that will only continue to accelerate, and at a faster rate.  Looking ahead, predictions are that 65% of children entering Primary School today will eventually end up working in entirely new jobs – jobs that do not even exist currently.

So what can we do to counter such a fast and rapidly changing landscape?

Businesses and their current models are finding that they are faced with an immediate and simultaneous impact on employment and there exists a need for new skill sets to be created, developed and maintained.  These require an immediate and focussed effort in order to achieve the required change.

The ability to plan ahead, anticipate and prepare for future required skills, job content and the knock-on effect on employment, is required.  This is critical for governments, education, individuals and businesses.  Thus, predicting, anticipating and preparing for the new (and current) transition is vital.

Debate and discussions so far related to the transformation and transition is clearly polarised between those who foresee limitless new opportunities and those that foresee a massive dislocation of jobs.

Predicting the future

The growth in cheap computing power and ubiquity of mobile internet have already had widespread impact on existing business models and will continue to do so.  Computing and mathematically-intensive professions will experience a positive impact and result in very high growth.  Similarly, architecture and engineering will be affected positively.

However, there will be a declining demand for occupations related to manufacturing, production and construction.  The educational arena will need to adjust to the needs of the new-age student, who is reliant on technology.  The use of the internet, blended learning and mobile devices will need to be optimised.  The teacher will always be necessary but a newly trained, modern teacher will be required.

The World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report 2016 has concluded that “by 2020, critical thinking and complex problem solving will be the most vital set of skills in the global job market but the hardest to recruit for.”  Education should look at ‘investing in the mind‘.

Immediate focus needed and planning ahead:  Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

  • Change the 20th century viewpoint of Human Resources
  • Make heavy use of data and data analytics
  • Talent diversity:  Gone are the days when employees had the same job that required a limited skill pool
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Online talent platforms:  Educational organisations will need to look into how this can be utilised in their institutions with positively enhancing student learning
  • Rethink education systems:  Self explanatory.  Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to imagine what a true 21st century curriculum might look like
  • Incentivising lifelong learning:  A key skill and one worth pushing
  • Cross-industry and public-private collaboration

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://yasirpatel.com/2016/05/27/first-blog-post/

https://shifthappens.wikispaces.com/

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf

Character and Kindness

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

A historical and important voting process took place last week in Britain, with 52% of the voters opting to leave the European Union after 43 years of involvement.  Various outcomes have come about as a result with many discussions taking place as to what happens next.  Many have stated that whatever one’s view is of the result, it is now vitally important that people join forces and work together collaboratively in order to positively push Britain forward.

Human character can be defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” One’s character can be beneficial to oneself, to others, or a combination of both (although this is quite rare).  Our actions with those we interact with regularly (colleagues, family, friends and acquaintances) give an indication of how much our character leans towards serving oneself or others.  However, we should be conscious of how we treat each other and how our character plays out with the various groups of people we interact with.  Working together and serving others should be embraced, not forced.  

In and around North County San Diego, California, you will come across ‘kindness meters’.  The idea behind these is to provide the public with a fast and accessible opportunity to do something good for others, including complete strangers.  It only takes a few seconds to impact another person positively.  More recently, some schools in the area have focussed on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and integrated this within the curriculum.  This is nothing new but an explicit mention always helps.  In the English curriculum this is referred to as PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education).  The benefits of SEL and PSHE, both in the short and long term include academic success as well as emotional wellbeing.

Nel Noddings, author of various books and articles that call for all schools to focus on ethic of care.  She argues that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making.  How does one become a caring person?   Noddings states that a caring person ‘is one who fairly regularly establishes caring relations and, when appropriate maintains them over time’.  Noddings identifies education (both in the traditional sense and the not so traditional, including at home) as central to a culture and creation of caring in society.  In fact, she views the home as the primary educator and argues for an adjustment of social policy to this end. This is not to sideline the role of schools but simply to recognise just what the home contributes to the development of children and young people.

Students (in fact, everybody) should have the opportunity to practice activities that foster respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, trust, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, self-discipline and citizenship.  Students should also be given the chances to show kindness and develop their character, serving others whenever possible.  Would a kindness meter work in schools?  Maybe, maybe not, but the importance of character, kindness and working as a team for an agreed shared goal, cannot be stated enough.  Schools should continue to work together with communities in order to enhance all childrens’ learning experience.

Yasir Patel

Sources:

Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning and learning outside the classroom is intended to offer children experiences that are not easily achieved indoors, in the day-to-day environment.  It is intended to provide sensory stimuli, lead to greater levels of creativity and allow children to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding without the constraints of the traditional classroom.

There is convincing research that suggests good quality learning outside the classroom adds significant value to students’ learning. In 2004, Michael Reiss (a Science professor) and Martin Braund (an honorary fellow at the University of York and an adjunct professor in Cape Town, South Africa) published a book about the importance of out-of-school learning called Learning Outside the Classroom.  Research from the book was later published in the International Journal of Science in 2006, which highlights several arguments on why science classes should go on meaningful field trips. More information can be found on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website.

In a more recent study conducted by Play in Balance and commissioned by Persil, 45% of the 12000 parents polled stated that they wanted their child to have activities outside.  Furthermore, three-quarters of 6 to 11 years-olds spend less time outside (in non-school time) than the daily hour recommended for prison inmates by the UN.  In fact, yesterday (Friday 17th June) was Empty Classroom Day!  A 2005 study by the American Medical Association found that Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.” There is also some scientific evidence that the wilderness can reduce hyperactivity and has a soothing effect on children, especially those suffering from attention deficit disorder. 

Sir Ken Robinson, a leading educator, educational researcher and a big advocate of bringing creativity into the curriculum (see his famous TED talk ‘Schools Kill Creativity’), has pointed out how important it is for human beings to be outside, playing and engaging with nature.   TV presenter and author Ben Fogle has encouraged the British government to focus on student wellbeing and connecting children with the natural world, instead of pumping valuable time and money into exams.  Juliet Robertson, author of Dirty Teaching points out how activities away from the classroom gives pupils freedom to make decisions about their own learning and is incredibly empowering for them.

Some schools, such as Long Crendon School in England have gone further and created a curriculum that revolves around outdoor education.  The Headteacher Sue Stamp claims outdoor learning is “a way of life”.  The whole ethos of Long Crendon is to be outdoors as much as possible, despite the English weather!

The research (Trost 2009: Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance and Active Living Research in 2015) around the importance of physical education and sports cannot be understated. Some of the conclusions include:

● Physically active and fit children tend to have better academic achievement, better school attendance and fewer disciplinary problems.

● Allocating time for daily physical education does not hurt academic performance, and regular exercise may improve students’ concentration and cognitive functioning.

● Physical activity breaks can improve cognitive performance and classroom behaviour.

● In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardised test scores.

● Regular participation in physical activity has academic performance benefits.

● Single sessions of physical activity can enhance attention and memory.

● The effects of physical activity on brain health may explain improvements in academic performance.

Schools should look into ways of enriching the curriculum for students which involves taking learning outdoors, increasing physical education and sport.  This could be a simple lesson outside or a full week away in another country.  High Effort?  Yes, Effective? Yes, High Impact?  Yes, Memorable?  Definitely!

Yasir Patel