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Jeremy Rossmann

Recently I have had the good fortune to hear Jeremy Rossmann speak on two occasions. If Jeremy Rossmann is not currently a household name I am sure he will be before long; the Mark Zuckerberg of education. I won't go into his full story but he's a clever guy, studied Computer Science at MIT but dropped out as it wasn't meeting his needs. Set up a school to teach coding to high school students in his own living room and rapidly expanded to the point of setting up an alternative to university called Make School. Google him to find out more Jeremy Rossmann on LinkedIn. Mr Rossmann is an excellent speaker who paints an interesting, positive and very encouraging view of the future of education and the fact that his views seem to correspond more or less directly with my own makes him all the more credible. He points out that if we did not have taxis and a think tank sat down together to come up with an idea for how we could utilise cars to move people around would we take a large number of cars, paint them the same colour, put TAXI on the side and send them off round the streets and expect people to wave at them in the hope they will stop and take them where they want to go or would we come up with an idea that would allow you to press a few buttons on your smartphone that would magically bring a car to you. The same can be argued about education. If we were to design an education system from scratch now would we come up with the monolithic structure that we now have which does little to encourage students to be inquisitive and to want to acquire knowledge and be life long learners which so many institutions claim to be among their aims. Not that it is easy to come up with the designs for the Uber alternative to our current system. He argues that teaching students to write computer programs is essential. Even the New York Times advertises for more programmers than journalists; programmers are needed everywhere. We can't expect everyone to be a programmer but we insist that everyone learns mathematics and don't expect them all to become mathematicians. Mr Rossmann argues that despite the mammoth credential factory that is our higher education system the world will become less reliant on credentials, university degrees, A levels, IB points, SATs, etc, and will be far more interested in what people can actually do. Some of us have been advocating this approach in schools for years but progress has been stymied as universities tend to be very traditional and only want traditional qualifications. But these days companies such as Google and Facebook are leading the way in wanting to employee people who can show they have the skills they need rather than just bits of paper saying how wonderful they are. So maybe you are a straight A student but if you apply to somewhere like Make School they will be far more interested in what you have actually done, the programs you have developed, apps you have uploaded to iStore, websites you have created, etc. And what else have you done, have you shown your ability to work with other people, have you shown initiative in setting up a club or helping other people. Hopefully this will move us away from situations where, hypothetically, one medical student may achieve an average score of 89 while another achieves 88.9 so the first one qualifies as a doctor and the second does not. You would hope that the major factor is how capable they are of doing the job. Some may argue that this approach may be fine for software engineering but it does not apply to other areas, but why not? Why shouldn't we expect our doctors, lawyers, politicians, explorers, magicians to demonstrate their abilities and their enthusiasm for their chosen career? Seems very sensible even if asking our potential medical students to demonstrate surgical procedures they may have carried out while at school might be asking a bit much!

Teaching environment

Last week I took part in a 'hackathon'. Never been to one before and despite writing software for a living I have always steered clear of events where I need to mix with a bunch of geeks. Fortunately, as Jeremy Rossmann has pointed out (see earlier post), the modern software engineer needs to be a people person and the group of people I worked with at the hackathon were easy to get on with and certainly wouldn't be tarred with the geek brush. There was a good mix of adults and school students, experienced and inexperienced.

The hackathon took place in an old industrial building in one of the less celebrated parts of Hong Kong at an establishment called Maker Bay. This is divided into a number of smaller rooms and spaces and, while set up for design technology, it shows how we might design schools in the future, assuming we need to design schools in the future.

Go to any modern school and it is likely you will find that the rows of desks facing the front of the classroom where the teacher will spout forth have been replaced with a much more relaxed environment. Even so, it's still a classroom and it's still in a school. Good work can be done but can we do better.

Back at Maker Bay you have have an environment where adults and students can go along, take classes, work on their own projects, work with others, make a coffee, sit down on a sofa and chat with friends about whatever. A relaxed environment where everyone can feel some ownership of their environment and which encourages creativity.