What do we want children to learn in Nursery? Now, before you say “My kid’s older so I don’t have to read this”, I would encourage you to read further. It may help you to better understand education in general, and OIS in particular.
Let’s first of all talk about proprioception (a very impressive word), and its impact on children learning to read. The proprioceptive system is what enables children to know where their body is in space. You can tell the little kids for whom this system is not yet fully developed – they’re the ones who have to keep their body moving to get a sense of where they are, or sometimes they’re the ones who sit with their ankles wrapped around the chair legs, to remind them where they are in space.
Just as they have difficulty in sensing the position and movement of their body, they also have difficulty sensing the orientation and direction the pencil (or the eye) has to move to form their letters or numbers. They can still learn to recognize letters and words by sight, focusing on the overall size and shape. It’s a right-brain approach, a rote-learning approach.
In countries like Sweden, Germany, Finland, where learning to read does not begin until the age of seven or eight, the left brain (and, more important, the part which connects the hemispheres) comes into play. Children are able to sense the direction and orientation of the letters (because their proprioceptive systems are developed) and associate individual letters with sounds. They are able to learn to read through understanding, rather than by recognition/repetition.
At age four, children in the UK have reading levels far superior to those in Finland, because the kids in Finland don’t start until at least seven. But, because the Finnish kids start when their neurological development is at the right stage, they learn more efficiently and with a deeper understanding. It doesn’t take long before their reading levels are well above their UK counterparts.
It could be said, though, that learning to read is a slightly easier process in Finnish, where pronunciation rules are consistent, unlike English, where
“A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”
It’s about waiting until those little brains are ready. It’s about developing those necessary precursors, like proprioception. And what activity best develops proprioception? Play! And what do we do a lot of in Nursery? Play!
Neurobiology has a part to play as well. Myelination is a word used to describe the forming of a sheath around the neurone to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly, and is an indicator of development in the child’s brain. Different areas of the brain myelinate at different times. The visual nerves myelinate by about six months old, but the part which supports the association of sounds with letters or groups of letters doesn’t myelinate until at least five years old, and often later in boys. (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ed Magazine, Winter 2011)
I once came in contact with a little girl (JKG) who was reading at a phenomenal level, because a dedicated grandmother armed with flash cards had made it so. But when she was given a book with no words, with just a series of pictures, she was not able to piece the story together from the pictures alone, the way the kids in Nursery do. She had learned to read by recognition/repetition – imagination was not a part of that process. She could “read” very well, but her ability to see, feel, and imagine the theatre behind the words was (and forever will be) limited.
So if we don’t teach Nursery kids to read, what do we do? What do we teach the three-year-olds?
We teach them to take turns, to be nice to each other, and to communicate clearly and confidently. And we start the development of their ability to empathize – “Why is that little boy crying? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Empathy is something which can and should be developed from an early age. If a child grows without fully developing their ability to empathize, then they will never be able to fully understand a different opinion, which will have an impact on their ability to learn.
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neil A. McWilliam
Head of School - OGC Campus
As an educator, from time to time I get the opportunity to feel proud of a child I've worked with in the past. And because I've been around for a while, I've got a lot of "past" so these opportunities happen quite frequently.
Here's a story. For ten years, my wife and I were teaching houseparents at a British International Boarding School in the Swiss Alpes. I taught Math, my wife taught Biology, and together we were substitute mother and father for 65 teenage girls. We lived with them, we put them to bed at night and woke them up in the morning, we ate our meals with them and we made them eat their vegetables and mind their manners. We hugged them when they were good and punished them when they were naughty.
Sabine was one of our girls. She came from Germany, spent five years with us and graduated to some college I'd never heard of in the States. As a teenager, she was a little awkward socially, an average student with an inclination towards naughtiness. I can't remember the number of times I grounded Sabine for being naughty. She wasn't "bad", she was just a nice kid who didn't always get it right.
I lost touch with Sabine after she graduated, but found her again through the magic of Facebook several years later. By then she was married with two lovely kids and, with her husband, had just opened a specialist florist outlet in Knightsbridge (just behind Harrods) called "Only Roses". They had taken a major risk locating in such an expensive neighbourhood, but they both had faith in their vision.
There are now five franchised Only Roses stores in the Middle East with six more in the pipeline, and a second non-franchise store in Beverley Hills, where they live now. Little Sabine has done very well!
Did you see the Academy Awards?
Did you notice that the statues were made up of roses, and the backdrops were made up of roses. In all 40,000 special, long-lasting, red roses were used for the occasion.
And yes, you guessed it, they're Sabine's roses. That made me smile.
Neil A. McWilliam
Head of School - OGC Campus
Like many of you, I spend a lot of time sitting in traffic. As a way of amusing myself, I have started to note what I see on the sides of school buses.
- Excellence in education and all round development
- Ready for the world, ready for the future
- We inspire our students to write their own future
- Enthuse enlighten empower
- From knowledge to life
- An educreative way
- Dare to dream….learn to excel
- Illuminating all with the lamp of knowledge
- Growing learning minds
- Dream learn serve
(no shortage of lofty aspirations!)
“Learning for the future” is a part of the strap-line of many schools, as well it should be. There is no point in educating for today’s world because our kids will be in the world of the future, and I think we can all agree it will be different.
So we all “educate for the future” – or at least we claim to. But we can’t see the future, so what we’re doing really is educating kids for our “best guess” at what the future will be like.
Now, I’m in charge of educating your kids for the future, so it would be reasonable to ask about my “best guess”. These are my thoughts:
1. Change: I think the future will hold constant change, and I think that change will happen at an ever-increasing rate. Change is happening right now. Our washing machine at home broke down recently, so the repairman came, with his laptop. He plugged it into our machine, typed away for a while and the machine was fixed. Washing machine repairmen used to bring a screwdriver, now they bring a laptop.
The skills are changing, but the values are not. What is good now will still be good in the future, and what is evil will still be evil. The challenge for educators and parents will be to balance valuable traditions with necessary changes.
2. Technology: I think computers will continue to get more powerful and more accessible (perhaps until component sizes get down to a molecular level). I think Moore’s Law will be with us for a while yet. I find the notion of artificial intelligence a bit disquieting. When I hear that my smartphone will, within ten years, have more intelligence than the combined intelligence of every person on the planet, I worry. Are we, educators and parents, doing enough to prepare our children to use this enormous power responsibly?
Already, the conversations are changing. Last week our JKG kids were discussing “Is Alexa living or non-living?” One little girl pointed out that Alexa can make jokes, and only living things make jokes. A little boy disagreed with her. He thought non-living because Alexa does not go to the washroom!
3. Employment: Robotics and artificial intelligence will bring a level of automation that will improve productivity and reduce employment. We’re all aware of this scenario on the manufacturing assembly line, but it’s not restricted to there. Look at the growth of medical apps, teaching apps, look at how we book flights and hotels. Jobs are disappearing, and new jobs are appearing. Will there be enough jobs to go around?
A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated the segment of the working-age population which is unemployed, inactive or underemployed to be 30-45% globally. The data on unemployed recent university graduates in the UK and USA is alarming. Developed countries are reporting a growing population of second and third generation unemployed. We have unemployed people with PhDs.
Are we (educators and parents) developing young people with the ability to pick up the skills and attributes they will need to be gainfully employed, and the agility to move between professions? 85% of new jobs in the UK last year were in the creative industries – is STEM still the answer? Are we doing enough to enable our children to use leisure time productively and creatively? There is much to indicate that they will have more of it than we did.
4. Information: Ian Jukes, the Canadian futurist, estimates that the amount of “information” in the world doubles every 72 days. That’s five times a year. That means
32 times as much information next year
1,000 times as much in 2021
1,000,000 times as much in 2023
There is going to be so much “information” – I use quotations because not all of it will be true. Fake news! Should our schools focus on learning information, or learning to evaluate information?
Recently, one of our MYP classes was set an interesting homework assignment. The students had to gather evidence for a presentation they would give the following day to support the hypothesis that the world is flat. The students found plenty of evidence – so much so that a couple of them were beginning to doubt if it really was a globe. It seems that, whatever you want to believe, you will be able to find evidence to support it.
5. Networks: I grew up in an analogue world, my son grew up in a digital world, and the OIS students were born into a connected world, where everyone has the potential to connect with everyone else all the time. And the power of the networks generated by this connectivity is awesome. This is how I think it works:
Suppose I have something really important/interesting/funny/hateful/enraging to say, so I send it out to my 500 social media friends (Yes, I know, I don’t have many friends). If half of them find it noteworthy enough to pass on to their (say 500) friends, my message has already reached 125,000 people. If half of this group passes it on to their (500) friends, my message will have reached 31,000,000 people.
Are we doing enough, in school and in the home, to develop our children’s communication skills and attitudes to enable them to leverage the power of digital connectivity productively and ethically?
6. India: India is seen as a developing country because that is exactly what it’s doing – developing, and deciding how it wants to develop. I think that India has the opportunity learn from the way other countries have developed. Perhaps India will never have to address questions like “Should we give our teachers guns and train them to shoot bad guys?”
What will India be like in 20 years, or 50 years? I think it will have the largest population (and people represent a country’s most precious resource), the largest economy, and it will be growing and developing at a pace we cannot imagine. I look forward to the day when India’s abundant sunshine will be providing electricity for the world, and when affluent Indians will not be sending their children to American universities any more. Instead, affluent Americans will be seeking admission for their kids in the top Indian universities.
The one thing of which we can be certain, is that our kid’s world will be very different to ours, and the way we raise and educate them needs to respond accordingly. As John Dewey (one of the truly great educational thinkers) put it, “If we teach today as we did yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow”
(It’s more than a little disturbing to note that Dewey made this statement 101 years ago!)
So, this is my “best guess” at the future. I’d be really interested to hear yours (email@example.com).
Head of School-OGC Campus
“Holistic” is a term you hear quite a lot at OIS. I say it all the time!
It refers, of course, to our approach to educating your children, in that we focus on educating the “whole child” rather than just concentrating on academics. Integrity, adaptability, creativity, confidence, curiosity, resilience, etc, etc, etc…. you’ve heard them all from me, many, many times.
I believe that if we focus on just exam scores, that’s all we’ll get. But if we focus on developing the whole child into an outstanding adult, the exam scores will follow (as our results show).
You have also heard me say many times (I’m not very good at saying something just once) that school years are for “education”, not career training. The objective of a holistic (or liberal arts) programme is to produce graduates with a broad, balanced education. Career training happens after kids finish high school (sometimes a long time after – American universities continue the liberal arts education for a further four years before any career specialization happens).
That’s why our programmes require students to study a range of subjects. For the IB Diploma, students have to study language and literature, language acquisition, an experimental science, individuals and societies, mathematics and the arts (as well as the CAS, TOK and EE components). This is what IB calls a “pure” diploma – a truly balanced education, with no specialization.
But there is a loophole! The IB will allow students to study a second science or a second humanities subject instead of a Group 6 subject (Visual Arts, Theatre and, next year, Music). This isn’t a pure diploma, but it is permitted. And it seems to be favoured by Indian students (and their parents) to get a head-start on a chosen career path by specializing (two sciences for doctor/engineer, or economics/business for a corporate career).
In next year’s 11th grade, 13 students are studying both Economics and Business & Management (out of a total cohort of 103 students). One eighth of our kids will be spending one third of their time studying economics/business.
This is not a holistic education, this is specialized career training. And if we look at what these kids did during their IGCSE years, almost all of them studied both Economics and Business Studies. This specialization, this career training, began back in the ninth grade at 14 years old. What could be gained from starting a child on a career path at such an early age? The child might become
- a Social Media Manager
- a Data Scientist
- a Podcast Producer
- a Mobile App Developer
- an Artificial Intelligence Strategic Analyst
- an Employment Brand Manager
- a Cloud Architect
- a Search Engine Optimization Analyst
- a Telemedicine Physician
(For the record, I have no idea what these professions involve – I’ve just been Googling)
There is a widely-held belief that universities will be impressed by kids who have devoted a third of their high school years to one particular subject area. I wondered about this, so I checked out the admissions websites of a couple of the most selective university courses, to see what they were looking for.
“You should be invested in the things that really mean something to you (we’re not particularly picky as to what). Explore!” (This is from the admissions department at MIT.)
“No preference is given to students who have majored in Science over those who have majored in other disciplines” (That’s from Harvard Medical School, where the admissions website then goes on to say..)
“Students are urged to strive not for specialized training but for a balanced, liberal education”.
Top universities want good, well-balanced, broadly-educated young people, not kids with a narrow field of experience. High school is a time for students to “explore” (as MIT advises) their interests, to round off their education by pursuing those areas that fascinate them the most.
My own son is an IB Diploma graduate. His three higher level subjects were Physics (I think he liked the teacher more than the subject), English (he has always loved reading) and History (he has always been fascinated by stories from the past). He’s now a veterinary surgeon, and it’s interesting to note that Biology was not one of his IBDP subject choices.
….because high school is not career training.
Any comments? I’ve had a number of parent comments from each of my last few letters. Please keep them coming – I do enjoy reading them.
Head of School - OGC Campus