Young minds have inherent plasticity, which makes them receptive to learning from every experience. It also means they are capable of being moulded by mentors. This demands that all those involved – parents, relatives, friends, teachers, and so on – provide ethical leadership to help young people become their best.
In this article I look at how teachers can act as thought leaders in the information age, when all the information in the world is available at their fingertips, requiring teachers to shift from being information brokers to learning facilitators.
The information or 4th industrial age presents particular challenges for all of us. According to eminent neuroscientist and musician Dr Daniel Levitin, each of us absorbed some 94GB of data on a daily basis in 2015. This is more than most people acquired in a lifetime in 1800.
Under such an analysis, the goal of teaching and learning is no longer about filling children’s minds with more data. Instead, it questions the very nature of intelligence. Teachers must help children ‘swim with information’ rather than ‘drown in data’.
They must also help them apply critical thinking skills to complex issues, separating the wood from the trees. Arguably, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has learnt more about science, politics and systemic thinking than Donald Trump in just 16 years, by skipping traditional lessons in terms of her contribution to the world climate debate.
It is also about equipping children to be lifelong learners in an age when the half-life of careers is in steep decline. Never before have we needed so much to become learning individuals, learning organisations and learning societies; a deep dive into some of the questions raised by the information age can be found in the book Brain Based Enterprises.
In my own case, I had the good fortune to learn from some great teachers, both early in life and when acting as a school governor for a primary school. I also had the privilege of offering accelerated learning events to teachers on ‘learning to learn’ and helping children achieve more in exams in a voluntary capacity.
I was honoured to be invited to contribute to a book on education and creativity by Professor Sir Ken Robinson, presenter of the most-watched TED Talk of all-time, Are Schools Killing Creativity?
We met at Warwick University for lunch at a time when Ken had just written his ground-breaking book on education called All Our Futures.
The essence of his book was that creativity in education was a core skill across all subjects and that it could not and should not be confined to the art department, nor should it be reduced to incorporation via a ‘creativity week’ – it should be embedded into the very culture of education and learning.
In the age of ubiquitous information on demand, it is certainly true that the simple absorption of facts via memory tricks is going to be insufficient to guarantee success in life.
The real job facing young people now is how to turn vast swathes of data into valuable information, knowledge and wisdom (see the data-wisdom triangle in Figure 1). Dealing with the information age therefore requires creativity, discipline, critical thinking and learning to learn as core skills.
Figure 1: The Data-Wisdom Triangle
The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued. – Professor Sir Ken Robinson
The primary role of teachers in the 4th industrial age is to develop a thirst for learning, or what I call ‘learnacy’. The meta skills of being able to learn from theory, experience, reflection and pragmatism are just as important in a constantly changing environment as the learning of subject specific knowledge and skills.
If you can learn from any situation, you are equipped for life and whatever challenges life throws at you. I foresee the need for more T-shaped people – people with functional knowledge, skills and experience in a discipline; meta skills in terms of collaborating with others in other fields; and being able to work with concepts outside of their own specialty areas.
The model T human
Creativity in learning
Teachers increasingly need to find ways to reach all their protégés. Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences is relevant here, in so far as great teachers are fluent in reaching students across a wide range of learning styles and intelligences.
Musical, rhythmic and harmonic
People with good musical intelligence can often sing, play instruments, and compose music. They may have sensitivity to rhythm. * I know many great guitar players who have little sensitivity to rhythm (have you ever known a musician who cannot dance?), although great bass players always have good sensitivity to rhythm.
Visual-spatial people demonstrate good hand-eye coordination and have the ability to visualise things in three dimensions. Many artists and designers possess visual-spatial intelligence.
Verbal-linguistic types are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorising facts. When combined with musical intelligence, such people can make good songwriters.
Logical-mathematical people are good at performing abstractions, reasoning, numbers and critical thinking. Accountants and financial specialists are classic professions that need people with such skills.
Bodily-kinaesthetic people are good at handling themselves and objects skilfully. They may also have good timing, goal orientation associated with physical tasks, along with the ability to focus their energy.
People with good interpersonal intelligence are sensitive to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments, motivations, and often good at working in teams – part of what Klaus Schwab calls emotional intelligence in The Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is essentially a skill of reading the world around you. Arguably, emotional intelligence (EQ) and spiritual intelligence (SQ) will become more important than IQ in the information age.
People with good intrapersonal intelligence have a deep understanding of the self – what one’s strengths or weaknesses are, what makes one unique, being able to predict one’s own reactions or emotions. This is essentially having mastery of your inner world and perhaps equates to what Peter Senge called personal mastery in The Fifth Discipline.
Gardner said that if he were to rewrite Frames of Mind, he would probably add the intelligence of the naturalist. This, to me, seems to be the recognition of a systemic thinking intelligence, of how things connect as part of a system.
Gardner did not commit to a spiritual intelligence, but suggested that an ‘existential’ intelligence may be a useful construct. These last two elements relate to what Klaus Schwab calls ‘inspired’, or what I call ‘soul’.
A case of multiple intelligences
J.S. Bach is one of the greatest composers of all time. His main achievement was the synthesis and development of late Baroque, with the tunefulness and popular appeal of his material.
He drew upon the harmonic and formal frameworks of German, French, Italian and English music, while building his own identity – he used a mathematical precision in his music.
In other words, Bach was an ‘all-round learner’ using both musical and logical intelligences in his work. Through advances in neuroscience in recent times, we are beginning to understand the basis for what Bach did naturally back then.
World-class opera singer Renée Fleming now explores the nexus between neuroscience and music as a means of engaging our brains and helping us learn, via her academic connections.
The example below may not be from high opera, but it offers a practical insight into the use of music to help children embrace learning across many functional disciplines. Music reaches our emotional core and this has been long recognised by people such as the philosopher Immanuel Kant (and Madonna).
Check out this short video from BBC on engaging students to learn using multiple intelligences:
Music makes the people come together. – Madonna
The importance of critical thinking
The unrelenting torrent of data that rains on us daily means that we can become overwhelmed. In this current world where fake news is rampant, it is more important than ever before for people to have mastery over the data-wisdom continuum. In this context, teachers need to encourage their students to think critically so that young people can:
Separate fact from fiction
Understand the big picture and the small details
Distinguish what’s important from what’s background
Differentiate what’s important from what’s merely urgent
See patterns and trends in complex information
This is especially important if we are to ‘resolve wicked problems’ that the world faces, such as climate change, poverty, an end to our disposable society, and so on.