Learning: a precious resource.
For the past week or so, I have been reading Michael Palin’s “Pole to Pole”, in which he charts a journey from the North to the South Pole, passing along the line of longitude (30 degrees East) with the greatest land coverage. This takes him from Greenland, through Norway and the former Soviet Union, through Egypt and the Middle East, to East Africa and finally down into Antarctica. Originally broadcast in 1992 but filmed in 1991, it is an extraordinary documentary of some extraordinary times, featuring the fall of the Gorbachev presidency in Russia and the breakaway of the Baltic states, and the election of a new government in Zambia to replace the seemingly-irreplaceable Kenneth Kaunda. At a time when we cannot go anywhere, the opportunity through great writing to travel, at least in my mind’s eye, across the globe is a welcome one – and something that I’d recommend to you all.
One recurrent theme, from country to country and continent to continent, is the importance that is placed upon education and learning. In countries where state repression and censorship is routine, Palin sees citizens seeking truth and enlightenment via underground and foreign media, whilst yearning for a free press and the opportunity to expand their understanding of the world. In the most impoverished countries, he writes about young people tuning in to the BBC World Service to learn the English language – and to follow our football!
When resources are scarce, people are innovative and creative. Palin sees this in the households he visits, where resourceful families ‘bulk up’ small amounts of meat to feed many mouths through the addition of lentils, potatoes and other staples. He sees this on a grander scale with rusted iron ships and steam trains reused and recycled, given new life as bicycles and ploughs. Our powers of ingenuity seem boundless.
So this brings me to where we are. Not sub-Saharan Africa, but facing a time when, through necessity, we are working in a very different way – being similarly innovative and creative. Our schools thrive on routine and planning. Timetables, calendars, and playtime bells chart our day and rule the working lives of our children and adults. Much of this, but not all, has been stripped away right now.
Our staff, and our children and their households, are finding new ways daily to work around the current restrictions that we face. The “school resource” is currently very scarce, but our creativity and innovative spirit is not.
The typical curve of technological innovation comprises a small number of “early adopters” at the forefront and, the other side of the “herd” in the middle, are the “laggards” – a euphemism for the cynical, the unskilled, the generally baffled and the technologically-terrified. Recent weeks, and especially the last few days, has seen this curve squeezed. We’ve seen vlogs, blogs, tweets, YouTube videos, Vimeos, Skypes, Teams and every other conceivable way of engaging creatively in teaching, learning, collaborating, sharing and working. We seen this from our children and adults alike who, through their compulsion to keep learning moving, have ventured into territory they had previously feared or never felt the necessity to tread. Hats off to them all!
We can look forward – and we must. In the short term, I look forward to more broadcasts of assemblies and lessons in schools, photographs and files of work undertaken with vigour and enthusiasm by children, subsequently assessed with care and expertise by adults who care for them and their education deeply. In the long term, I look forward to many of our newly-acquired skills becoming regular features of learning once we’re back in school. This must be part of the legacy from all the difficulties and sadness we face now.
I’m going to sign off now, but I’ll look to blog again soon. I’ll close by thanking all those working to keep learning going – our children, staff, and parents. You are amazing.
Thanks for reading. Take care, and stay safe.