Injecting drive in our educational system

Previous posts focused on what is wrong with our current educational system. I am not breaking any new ground here, please read anything that the late Ken Robinson published in the past 20 years and you will find a much more detailed and developed set of ideas for the future of education.

We are not moving towards a solution right now. Which means that we are losing ground, because we keep pushing kids through an educational system that is not preparing them for their futures, which in part consist supporting our future.

I recently blogged about the need for our young people to find drive, intrinsic motivation, to connect with their core capabilities and to then explore and exploit them to the fullest. But how do we do that? Part of the answer can be found in three sequential activities which will more often lead to a quicker identification what young people are good at and what they like to do.

The first step is “tool acquisition.” It is a necessary requirement for anyone to become initially autonomous, one of Daniel Pink’s identified factors of drive. Tool acquisition is learning to read, to write and to perform basic mathematics. Any young person needs to be able to bootstrap themselves into the next stages, and in order to do that, you need to be able to understand what is being shared, even at a basic level, and to be able to share what you understood.

Once a child has learned to read, write and count, the following step is “playful exploration” … which brings young people in contact with as many ideas, responsibilities, possible future jobs or activities as possible. The whole idea here is not to push them in a certain direction, but to let them have a taste of what exists in the world. Because how do we know someone has an interest for or a certain predisposition to certain areas outside of her or his day-to-day scope? We do not, and I am sure we are missing a lot of opportunities. Had someone told me that marine biologist was a real job or had shown me what that entailed, my choices might have been different. I could have been blogging about dolphins instead. Currently, and we need to be clear, career choices as made by our young people are haphazard and accidental, not for lack of focus but for lack of information. We need to bring young people more in contact with what they could do, rather than what their direct surroundings dictate they do or limit them to.

After the playful exploration, we will likely have more kids with at least an idea what is of interest to them and what they are potentially good at. The next step is to make them good at what they could excel at. This is where “deep coaching” comes into the picture. The post-modern world has tools that allow almost anyone to come into direct contact with world class performers. And these performers are honoured to be contacted by young people with an interest in their field of expertise. But these people at the top of their craft have other responsibilities, among which making sure they remain on top of their game. We therefore need to both ensure that contacts can occur between young people and people they admire, but also between those young people and people a bit better than they are right now, who will teach them what they know. This concept of tribes or chapters is a concept which works well in agile software development environments, and the agile way of working is slowly being adopted outside the IT development sphere and into business and … why not, education. Deep coaching in an educational setting needs to be coordinated by what used to be a teacher and could become a coach, someone with an established expertise in an area who guides the young people towards gradually learning more and more about their chosen subject matter. And why not ask older people about to exist the workplace to coach and transfer their experience and knowledge to a younger generation?

To bring it all together, what I suggest is that we need to enhance drive in our young people by giving them the tools to bootstrap their ability to explore and do partially self-directed learning, we need to bring them in contact with as many experiences as possible to allow them to identify their strengths and we need to then connect them with coaches and allow them to enter a tribe which will support them in their learning and provide a sense of positive feedback in the form of competition at the same time.

Isn’t this a high degree of commitment towards a certain development track at an early age? I don’t think it is, because the playful exploration phase allows broad discovery, but consider this … we currently ask our children to commit to something that does not make any sense to them, with the promise it will all make sense later. Once tool acquisition has occurred, the child has the capability for discovery. The exploration phase is there to connect young people to what resonates with them. And the coaching phase sets them up for lifelong learning and development.

We know that people are happiest if they work at the crossroad of what they like to do and what they are good at. The proposed approach aims to connect with that. And the Goldilocks zone is finding the overlap between that meeting ground and what other people are willing to pay for, which then allows these new professionals to support the older population in a collective support model which is the norm in Europe.

These models may be the solution to the disconnection we see now with respect to education. And judging by the most recent TIMSS results, Belgian education, once touted as one of the best in the world, needs to reconnect with its students. I hope the responsible regional governments understand that more of the same we do now is not going to get us there.