Two recent television series from the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver have sparked interest in the UK and USA about what young people eat. There are more problems with obesity and the resulting health problems than we have seen in history.
How can this be one of the major challenges we face as a modern society when we have more information available to us than ever before? From my own childhood I recall collecting raspberries in the countryside, eating freshly made food in school and learning to cook. So when we know that a balanced diet and exercise is important to the lives of children why are we seeing problems with obesity in the USA and the UK? I wonder if the pace of development of supermarkets and fast food chains was just too quick for us to stop and really question what was happening and whether it was good or not. I wonder whether supermarkets and fast food chains have shaped how we eat because they are convenient. It is only now that our thinking has caught up and in the USA and the UK we are seeing significant push to reeducate people and unravel the eating habits that have been engrained in much of modern society.
I am also wondering whether this is a good analogy with what we are seeing with technology. Most, if not all of us enjoy the benefits of technology. Through technology our students can access a wealth of information and increase online collaborations. I am a huge fan of new technologies and the benefits these bring and I wonder what we will think of the current developments when we look back in future times. I wonder if one day, in a similar way to the what I have described in relation to food will also apply to technology and whether we will again have to think about how to unravel the problems caused because the pace of change was too quick and not enough thought was given to the long term consequences and different perspectives.
In recent years we can observe visible changes in technologies. We have seen a growth in access. Most of your children will have a mobile telephone although calling is possibly one of least used functions on this mobile device, will own a laptop computer or desktop computer and will own a game console. This is in addition to a television. Technology provides children with immediate feedback whether it be in the form of a text message, moving to a different level in a game, information about how well you have performed at a dance game or whether someone likes the photos that have been posted on Facebook. Feedback is almost instant as is the opportunity to seamlessly move onto a different activity or entertainment. If you don’t like one video on Youtube then simply open another. With this in mind I am unsure whether this can lead to mastery of a skill or facilitate thought.
During the summer I was fortunate enough to attend a number of presentations by Howard Gardner during a weeklong workshop that I was participating in at Harvard University. This coincided with me finishing reading Gardner’s book ‘Five Minds for the Future’. There has been a great deal written about what people will need to be able to do and know to be successful in the future and then how this impacts upon schools today. You may have heard of 21st Century Skills, a framework that has been developed in the USA, Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland and the new Secondary Curriculum in England and the IB learner profile. What is consistent about the curriculum frameworks or frames within frameworks is that the words problem solving, creative, synthesize, global, thinking, perspectives, ethics, respect and citizenship are common.
It struck me that during the workshop at Harvard I collaborated with professionals from all over the world including Brazil, China, Japan, the USA, the UK and Australia and there were many similarities in the challenges we face as educators. It seems that education is going global and we are starting to talk about the same things. During one of Gardner’s presentations he spoke about the importance of quiet reflection. A time for us to make sense of information, a time for us to think about our place in the world, a time for us to think of solutions, be creative and solve problems. In recent discussions with students and on reflection about how I spend my own day I wonder how much regular time we have to be think deeply. I also wonder what the consequences are if we don’t have regular time to think deeply.
Children today lead very structured lives. There time at school is structured into a series of lessons, the school day is often followed by organized sports or activities and then we can add homework into the equation. As mentioned earlier many of your children will own and therefore be plugged into technologies. Skype, texts, emails, Facebook, MSN messenger, Youtube, Twitter, he list goes on. When I work on my MacBook it is so easy to be distracted, either from the computer or from my I-Phone. A new text arrives, a friend is now online with Skype and also I can just watch a quick video in Youtube or access various websites. I have I-tunes set-up to retrieve my favourite podcasts from I-U ranging from Harvard Edcast to Football Weekly. Now I don’t even to search for what I want, I have the system set-up so that the information comes to me. I am never bored, I don’t have time to be bored. So, where is the quiet time that we need?
Gardner, Howard. Five Minds for the Future. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School, 2009. Print.