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




Click to access WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf

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

Technology Anxiety!

With the growing use of technology and the rapid pace of change, a natural question arises for all parents, teachers and child carers:

How can I support my child/student? 

Parents and educational institutions should accept that it is pointless to block access to websites, apps etc. That would be a fruitless exercise and would not teach responsibility, independence nor would it be educating young minds.  Children will normally find a way to circumvent any software or device that restricts access and as often happens, are the ‘experts’ and parents tend to be the ‘digital immigrants’.

The key is to educate, communicate, have open discussions about everything, even the most awkward of topics (such as porn, drugs etc) and make children feel that they can approach us with difficult situations. Combined with some common sense ‘checks’, this seems to be the best way forward. With all this in mind, we need to have faith in children to make the right choices.

Some of the aforementioned common sense tips (and software) included:

  • Role model the type of behaviour we expect from our children with respect to the use of technology (e.g. no phones at the dinner table, restricted usage of phones when outside etc)
  • Educational institutions should minimise any firewalls and normally this would include blocking access to porn websites.  Instead rely on strong programmes that educate children with the use of technology and digital citizenship
  • Parents should share information with each other, constantly collaborating. Schools should be happy to receive information and distribute it to its community
  • Watch movies with children that relate to both the benefits and dangers of technology. Allow children to reflect, often with the right choice of movie, no discussion is even needed
  • Use of Apple Family Sharing to restrict what apps are downloaded (Snapchat and Ask are often raised as concerns due to the anonymous user settings), track childrens’ location and various other benefits.
  • Use of Windows 10 to monitor internet usage and create scheduled reports. Apple iOS has similar functionality built within it.

With education, mature conversations and the right amount of trust, responsibility, and discussion, we can all use technology to our advantage.  Do not let technology be the dividing factor between you and your child/student.

Yasir Patel

Music and Learning


“My child listens to music whilst working, surely they cannot learn like that?”

Music affects our feelings and energy levels.  Often unknowingly, we use music to create desired moods; to make us happy, to provoke thoughts, to dance, to feel more energetic, to bring back powerful memories, to help us relax and focus.  Music is a powerful tool for our personal expression and it helps “set the scene” for many important experiences.  Much research also supports the fact that music greatly affects and enhances our learning.

Some areas where music helps are:

  • Creating an Active Learning Experience:  Music activates students mentally, physically and emotionally.  It helps to create an environment of learning that enhances understanding.  
  • Focus and Attention:  Music can help concentration levels for certain learners.  Baroque music, such as those composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, where there are 50 to 80 beats per minute helps to maintain focus.
  • Memory and Retention:  Songs, chants, raps etc help students to memorise content.  This is done through rhyme, melody and rhythm.
  • Motivation:  Music in the background helps with motivating students to learn and continue learning.  
  • Creativity and Thinking:  Background music stimulates internal processing, that in turn facilitates creativity.  This encourages personal reflection.
  • Community:  Music provides a positive environment that encourages students to work together and in teams

Of course the type of music is important and vital.  Baroque music (Bach and Vivaldi) and Classical (Mozart and Beethoven) are recommended as is ‘soft’ music (soundtracks with no words).    Research from Stanford University has found that humans do better on learning and memory tests after listening to particular music by Mozart (called the Mozart Effect as coined by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in the 1990s).  Benjamin Gold, a researcher at McGill University looked at Reinforcement Learning (e.g. studying notes, revising for a test etc) and concluded that “most significantly, non-musicians tended to learn better when they enjoyed the background music, but those with more musical training learned better when the music was neutral.”  

More recent studies (by Dr. Emma Gray) have shown that for Sciences, Humanities and Languages, music by artists such as Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus (songs with 50-80 beats per minute) help process factual information and solve problems.  When studying Mathematics, classical music was found to be the best choice (60-70 beats per minute) and for students studying English, Drama or Art, it is recommended to listen to emotive rock and pop songs such as Firework by Katy Perry or I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) by The Rolling Stones.

As with many studies, a counter-argument does exist.  This has been presented by Nick Penham and Joanne Vizard, who conclude that, “listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition.”  

Yasir Patel


Moral Courage

Written on Friday 20th November, 2015:

As school ended last Friday, terrible news broke in France, but sadly, it was not dissimilar to incidents that are happening every day in other parts of the world.  The attacks, we know, were horrific and extremely saddening – all the more so because they seem closer to home. We all know Paris, or know of it through friends.  It was a reminder that we live at a time of discord and hatred, much of which seemed far away though now much closer.  A complex range of emotions were no doubt felt by the community as is normal following such devastating acts of violence.

What do we do as international schools?  How do we explain this to our children?  How do we react?

It is time for moral courage in our response.  All international schools must be aware of the social impact attacks like this can have and their effect on others.  This begins in our immediate surroundings and around our school.  It can, should and does go way beyond in creating a positive impact in our world.  How deep that impact is, depends on our intentions.   At times like these, we must go beyond academia, beyond bickering, beyond first world complaints, and seek to create a positive impact in our world as deeply and with the best intentions we can.

Many schools have a vision statement that talks about lifelong learning and participating in the global community.  It also talks about having an open mind and being willing to listen and change your opinion.

We should want students (and our community) leaving our schools as young adults to influence the world by making decisions with moral direction.  This is a necessary long-term strategy.  However, we must acknowledge the here and now too.  What are we doing to make the world a better place now?  We should consider everything at our disposal, from facilities to technology to purchasing power.  How can we use all these various aspects of our lives in order to enable a situation of reconstruction and reconciliation for “the other”?

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.  

Friday was and still is scary, discomforting and we enter an unknown, both physically and emotionally wary.  However, the unknown brings excitement, discovery and possible solutions to the discomfort both now and in the long term.  We need to be bold in our aim for equity, justice, peace and a better world for our children and their children.  

The International Baccalaureate’s Mission states that the organisation aims to create young people:

  • who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

The time is now.  Our impact needs to be felt now.  

I am sure you will join me in expressing our sorrow at the events in Paris last Friday, as well as similar suffering around the world.

Yasir Patel