As the impact of globalisation and the realities of the 21st century become increasingly clear, numerous commentators have discussed the inflexibility of the existing education system. Often adhering rigidly to to systems developed years ago there is a strong feeling that the educational world is simply not keeping pace with the real world into which its students are actually entering.
Amongst this group, and continually citied by educationalists that I have met and worked with previously, is Sir Ken Robinson. His popular TED talk has now been viewed over six million times and displays his strong advocacy for an increased focus on personalisation and of creativity within the school environment.
Whilst there are certainly schools that are innovating their approaches to the curriculum it appears that many of the most transformative changes are taking place in projects pitched at older students. On my return trip passing through Melbourne I met with Will Dayble, a tech expert who was in the process of launching The Fitzroy Academy of Get Shit Done which sought to truly develop and instil the skills necessary for people to really thrive in this rapidly changing world.
Despite this being a new prototype programme they easily filled the 25 available places, receiving over 100 applicants. Many it seemed though shared very similar backgrounds,
‘The one uniting theme was that students were at a ‘transformation point’ in life. They were bored with their day job, unsure if they wanted to go to Uni, or generally didn’t feel their career had purpose.’
Two years ago I was fortunate to visit Kaospilots in Denmark and recently read also of the Experience Institute based in Chicago; both of which are programmes that also seek to cultivate new approaches to learning for its students. And, like Will in Melbourne, these organisations recognise the fact that the world of education can not stand still,
‘Work is changing. We use 20th century education methods and expect 21st century results. Passion, purpose and practicality are important to a fulfilling career, but they’re not part of university agendas.’
‘The big question we want to answer is, “How do we teach people to work on problems that don’t exist yet?” It’s certainly not through using the same thinking that got us to where we are now.’
I heard from Will a few weeks later following the completion of the four-week programme. By all accounts it had gone well, with them now already looking ahead to further courses,
‘For me, facilitating 60+ people over a month was an intense lesson in leadership. As it was a pilot, we were flying blind day to day, despite putting a lot of work into the project before launch. The diversity of the group lent itself beautifully to learning and growth.’
‘A big challenge was finding the right rhythms. Disruption has a rhythm. Learning has a rhythm. 3 hour classes or 20 minute punch-ins? How much should we prescribe and how much should we let people find their own way?’
‘I feel there’s a lot of work to be done in figuring out the space and timing that keeps people uncomfortable, motivated and engaged. It’s definitely not lecture theatres though.’
Will’s own educational journey appeared illustrative as to why this venture had become such a passion for him. Being an extremely academically gifted child he really should have thrived at school, but despite this strong intellect he barely even finished high school. He spoke candidly to me about the rigidity of the schooling he received and so like many entrepreneurs these conventional educational approaches only appeared to drive him towards other activities,
‘I started coding as a little kid and started my first serious web business at the time most people were going to university. I moved to Europe and then failed pretty miserably with a punk record label, music festival and a bunch of other entrepreneurial endeavours.’
‘Meeting a computer science geek (now my business partner) was one of the best things that happened to me: he brought solidity and structure to my creative firestarting. That led to me co-founding our web development firm, a cafe and various other startup projects.’
Having successfully started a number of organisations and with plenty of business coming through these established enterprises, why was Will so passionate about working in the messy, slow, bureaucratic world of education?
‘Personally I feel education – true, purpose-driven, practical education – is a silver bullet. It’s a lever that can move so many embedded problems. There’s also a growing craving by the middle-ground to get better at thinking outside the box. You hear about ‘creative solutions’ and ‘disruption’ and ‘working agile’, all this language and impetus around doing what the freaks and geeks do naturally.
But how do we do it? I don’t feel universities and existing education institutions are capable. The folks out there actually getting shit done are the people I want teaching the next generation. People want purpose, we want passion, we want to change the world. And it’s possible, we just have to be smarter about how we teach.’
‘My advice to young people? Truly connect with and listen to the people you care about. Learn by doing, and do lots of fun stuff with those people. Also, don’t be afraid to be strange, and kind.’
Interested in what The Fitzroy Academy is about? Watch this.