Valerie Hannon: what is school for?

From Nine To Noon, 10:08 am on 16 April 2018

Our school system needs an urgent update – not only to help kids thrive in a transforming world but so our species can survive, says UK educator Valerie Hannon.

No caption

Valerie Hannon Photo: supplied

Hannon is the co-founder of Innovation Unit – a social enterprise working with schools to adopt broader goals than literacy and numeracy rankings that will help kids thrive in a transforming world.

Today's education system is still based on a 19th-century model of batching kids together and sorting them by age, says Hannon, who started out as a maths teacher in a “tough North London school”.

While “sifting and sorting” children so they can be slotted into the economy served the needs of the Industrial Revolution, a different approach is urgently needed now, she says.

“The landscape of jobs, economists tell us, is going to be massively impacted by automation and in particular by artificial intelligence. The landscape of work is going to look very different even amongst the professions – law, medicine and finance.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that what learning ought to be for is learning to thrive in a transforming world.

“We need to redefine what success really is for our young people.”

Rather than the narrow criterion of learning in order to get a job, she suggests goals such as that children gain a calm sense of self, a secure identity, the ability to form strong relationships and entrepreneurial skills.

Hannon says it's absolutely possible for these to go hand in hand with learning basic literacy and numeracy, but in an age of Google and free access to information channels, it's absurd to demand children learn great tracts of factual material.

Students at the California charter school High Tech High recently wrote a book about the ecology of San Diego Bay, which attracted a publisher, Hannon says it's a great example of project-based learning.

“[The project] encapsulated real scholarship around what is happening to the ecology of San Diego Bay. There is discipline, there is rigour, in this form of learning.

“But what it does is enable young people to bring their interests their passions to the fore and explore them.”

To benefit both young people and society, broader goals must be brought from the margins of the school curriculum to its core, Hannon says.

One of the goals she suggests encompasses flourishing at a global or planetary level. For this, emerging generations must learn to live sustainably.

 “That is a learned skill … there’s a knowledge base to that which covers many key disciplines.

“Unless we’ve got a thriving environment and a thriving planet we are literally lost as a species.”

It's also essential kids are taught to understand and work with people of other cultures and backgrounds, she says.

“In a globalised world that is absolutely critical.”

Dr Hannon was in New Zealand recently speaking with teachers, senior officials from the Ministry of Education, and representatives from regional development agencies.