14 Jun Educational Reform
As the country moves steadily closer to Brexit, the race to become the next Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister of our country has been drawing to a head.
The field is full of candidates. The 13 have now been whittled down somewhat with the results of the first round ballot of Conservative MPs showing Boris Johnson very much in the lead.
But in all the positioning, hustings and hustle, there are some serious policy announcements that will have an impact on the nature and direction of our country, not just with regard to Brexit (and whether or not we actually leave the EU) but with regard to what kind of country and society we want to be.
And where does educational reform sit in all of this?
I think it’s fair to say that education has never been at the forefront of the national debate. It is both too big and too tricky to unpick for many politicians and isn’t as “compelling” as, say, having a stance on defence or security, foreign policy or the health service.
And yet it is intrinsic to our success as a country. Getting it right could make all the difference to the fortunes of the UK whether we leave the EU or not.
And whilst statutory education – primary school, secondary school and even further and higher education often feature as keystones in the debate, early years education often doesn’t get a look in.
I fear that there are perceptions that the early years is a time where children “just play” and that there is no “meaningful education” provided in the sense that is understood to be delivered in primary and secondary formats.
This may well be due to the conventional perception and expectation of what education should offer both in form and format. I can see it now: a mortarboard-wearing instructive teacher of the traditional didactic model standing up in front getting the class to recite Latin, so that they can regurgitate it for an exam, which will give them a grade to denote their academic capabilities, which in turn will then funnel them into a certain school / university / job.
So is nursery education “just play”? Well yes. And no. But that’s not really the point – what matters is whether or not it is effective in setting the foundation for future academic and psycho-social achievement. It is the outcome that matters.
In a rather wonderful piece of research, Professor Heckman, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, proved that effective early years education has the highest rate of return on investment in human capital than any other segment of the educational journey. The simple point – intuitive as it may be if you think about it – is that the sooner you start, the better.
If what Professor Heckman says is true, we should look to the early years to be the vehicle to achieve so much more for our children and their futures. It is our opportunity to immerse them in an experience that will define who they are, how they perceive the world, and what competencies and capabilities – social or technical – will take them forward into the future as happy, engaged and proactive adults.
I believe that the formative years of 6 months through to five are critical if we are to provide our children with the capabilities and core values that will see them thrive through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. And this really was the genesis of Hatching Dragons. We were driven by answering a single question: how can we prepare our children for the future?
A big question perhaps. After all, the world is changing faster and in new directions that previously could not have even been contemplated. But for us, we believe that the answer lies in providing our children with the opportunity to both develop the technical and social skills we feel that they will need to meet those challenges, whatever they may be. For us, the tool to achieve that is bilingual immersion.
You see, bilingual immersion isn’t just about learning languages. That is, of course, the technical output – the skill – that the child will have upon graduation. It is measurable, applicable and a huge benefit to anyone who speaks it – the ability to engage another community in their own tongue goes to the heart as well as the head of the person, or so said Nelson Mandela.
But it is more than that.
The process of bilingual immersion delivers so many benefits on the cognitive development of the child:
- Creativity is enhanced;
- Problem-solving and executive functioning skills increased;
- Critical thinking skills improved;
- Empathy and understanding nurtured and strengthened.
Children learn to see, comprehend and understand the world from different perspectives, which is an intuitive skill that we all will need in spades if we are to prosper in light of future challenges and opportunities that robotics and AI represent. It is what Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, firmly believes: if our children are to excel in a future in which computers and machines will be processing much of what we do now today.
All educational reform and policy debate on this matter are pointing to the same thing: that softer skills will become fundamental.
These qualities are all pressing but are achievable through bilingual immersion. They are inherent in our programme and is the very reason why we are working regularly with researchers from Oxford University and UCL’s Institute of Education to prove that what we are doing here delivers on that promise.
Educational reform is critical but let’s start not at ages wherein children have to deconstruct what they’ve learnt and/or how they’ve learnt it. Let’s start at an age where children can set the tone and the foundation for their futures. Let’s start in the early years.
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