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First of all I’d like to congratulate those students and teachers who organised this magazine for providing a great means of communication of ideas and opinions. In our school we have a rich diversity of cultures and such a means of exchange should broaden and deepen everyone’s world view by breaking down some cultural divisions. Or is limitations a better word? The school is presently dominated heavily by a homogeneous Italian tradition for obvious reasons. Being a European school, we should explore our diversity more fully as this is one of our greatest resources and strengths. Secondly, I have tried to keep my language simple and clear to enable everyone, at their different levels of English, to understand ideas which are challenging the present educational paradigm. These ideas are the real remedy to the dysfunction of the educational system, not the structural changes being promoted by the government. The real qualitative leap forwards in education will happen through changing what happens inside the classroom., not necessarily the rules governing the system.
This generation, like all generations, has a different character to the one preceding it. This has been noticed by all teachers, both traditional and progressive. The progressive teachers believe that this change is necessary as we live in a world with new challenges, and to meet these challenges a different set of abilities is required. That is not to say that we don’t need those traditional qualities that are still highly regarded, we just need to change the recipe. We need more emphasis on cooperation, a sense of responsibility, creativity, personal judgement, intuition, Emotional intelligence, presentational ability etc. The more traditional teachers believe the old qualities remain the most suitable in modern times. They want to maintain the emphasis on competition, determination, concentration, imagination, patience, rational intelligence, respect for authority etc. That the world has changed fundamentally in the last twenty five years is not, I hope, being questioned by anyone – traditional or progressive.
New challenges for a new generation
To contribute to the new world our students must be creative in a way, and to an extent that no other generation was. These days repetitive processes can be done faster and more accurately by computers. Soon computers will even translate languages and possibly teach them. They are already making a major contribution in this area. And technology is not only replacing people, it is also deskilling the human input in every human activity. One only has to look at the graphic instruments on every home computer to see how much the graphic designer was deskilled to the point of near extinction. To find a role in the world, our students will have to add the intuition, judgement, innovation and creativity which can only be done by humans.
Another important development in the modern world is the self organising network. This is a network of people with little authority controlling them. These networks are adaptable and creative like no other rigid hierarchical structure could be. They are made possible because technology connects individuals and gives them the power of information. We don’t actually need layers of hierarchy anymore. Everyone can access all information and communicate with all those in the network, and even outside of it if they need to. Ideas can come from anywhere (not just the top) and be improved by anyone (not just those with a specific role) in a network. These networks are currently transforming all organisations, jobs and society itself. To work in a network centric society requires a completely different set of characteristics than working in a hierarchy. To excel the students need to cooperate rather than compete. They must have emotional intelligence, empathy, an ability to discuss, organise, take responsibility, convince, use information and present solutions.
The students must also continuously change and adapt to new realities in the modern world. They must continually reinvent themselves. Gone is job security or, if you have job security, gone are the days where you don’t have to update and retrain.. The traditional teacher developed a determination in the student that would help him or her struggle hard within a reality. But the modern student needs adaptability to new unpredictable realities more than determination. And the ability to learn and adapt is served better by the emphasis on competences rather than knowledge.
Students must be able to communicate with different cultures, especially in English, in a simple and direct way. This includes all fields, doctors, business, science, lawyers etc. International conferences, transnational groups and new developments are communicated in a foreign language. Languages, and simple and direct communication is so important where massive amounts of information need to be managed or circulated by individuals and decisions made. One only has to look at the present lexicon used in the European institutions to see that simplicity and clarity, which are more inclusive, are prevailing over a rich, high quality, elitist language which can be exclusive. A look at the “charter of European fundamental human rights” makes this point perfectly. That is not to say a richer, high quality language is not important. It is a an expression of culture and identity and, of course, must be maintained at all schools.
Anyone who criticises this generation, for not having the same qualities as the last one, should reflect on these new qualities students are in need of, and are excelling at.
The older generation did have more determination, patience, concentration, imagination, respect for authority etc. But these days if I wanted to design or invent something I would not need so much imagination. Computer graphics has reduced the need to conceptualise in so many areas, and we are still at the beginning of this technology. Students need less imagination anyway, as they can find graphic and colourful presentations or real life examples on You tube. And creativity has replaced determination. Remember that creativity requires a relaxed environment, while determination requires a high pressured one. Cooperation has replaced competition. And why patiently look for words in a dictionary if a computer can do it for you. The older generation had to have different qualities to survive hardship and live in a less stimulated and dynamic environment. These qualities are still very important now, but the emphasis on them is less in the modern world, and we must produce students for the modern world, not the world of our generation, when we were students.