Darryl Wideman, Head of Radnor House School
The American baseball legend Yogi Berra was famous for muddling his words. He once said, ‘The future ain’t what is used to be’, though in the light of the events of the last few months this may contain more truth than we might wish.
It was not a coincidence that the ‘Roaring Twenties’ in the last century followed the horrors of the First World War and the Spanish flu pandemic, and it easy to imagine that the demand for holidays, entertainment and sports will soar, if and when the time comes where we can return to life as we used to know it.
While we all may agree that we want to say good riddance to 2020 and hope for a much better year in 2021, it nevertheless feels like there are still a few more challenges to overcome before we can be sure that everything will be all right.
One of the most interesting areas to observe in the coming years will be to see whether we are willing to learn from what has happened and change our ways, for example by striving to create a society that is genuinely more equal, or whether we will revert to type and focus on our own selfish needs at the expense of others.
Futurologists talk about ‘The Third Horizon’, looking ahead to a point where organisations sustain success by planning for the hypothetical. You might think schools would be particularly good at this, filled as they are with young minds as yet largely unjaundiced by the day to day complexities of life.
Unfortunately, the education sector in this country has always struggled with progress and innovation, delivering a curriculum that has remained largely unchanged for decades. PowerPoint may have replaced the Banda machine, but the teaching and learning model is usually little more than a transfer of knowledge from adults to children.
It is also claustrophobically constrained by an overly rigid examination diet at 11+, 16 and 18, which inevitably results in the retention of short-term knowledge in preparation for do or die tests, with all their accompanying stresses for children and adults alike.
The most frustrating part of the process is that we know the current system is not working for many children, but we seem incapable of finding the genuine motivation for change. We lack the will to develop more effective educational models that will finally move us from the Education Acts of 1870 and 1944 towards something much more appropriate for the needs of the 21st century.
Let us therefore hope that this crisis turns out to be the catalyst for significant change in many areas of our lives, including education. As a rather more learned American than Yogi Berra, the philosopher Eric Hoffer, put it: ‘In an age of great change, the learners inherit the Earth, while the knowers are beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.’