My summer of discontent…

 

I know I have banged on a lot about education this year. It’s a big deal to me, and, it should be for everyone because the state of education of our children impacts on all of our futures. I suppose I was already germinating seeds of discontent but I went to a conference earlier this year which kind of sparked off a whole range of new thoughts rather unexpectedly.

The conference in question was Thinking Digital 2013, billed as a conference for people who want to understand how our future will be affected by technology and other world changing ideas and more I thought it might give me some inspiration and ideas for work on where technology might be heading in the next 3-5 years.

Although I did come away with some good stuff for work (my boss will be pleased about that!) what I really came away with was affirmation that the education system in the UK, and for that matter most other countries, is failing. Failing our children and failing us as parents, employers and society as a whole.

Thinking Digital 2013 at the inspirational Sage Gateshead

This was an underlying theme of many of the talks to which I avidly listened to, from professors to tech specialists to parents the problem was one and the same; the education system in the UK was designed for a totally different purpose than that which we need today. I see this first hand constantly, we are trying to hire people at work and we just can’t find the skills, young people are not coming out of education well equipped or qualified to work in our high-tech world. Even if they have the results on paper most times they are not able to think and work in a useful way, we have to train them all over again, and most times take a leap of faith in hiring them.

I have nothing against taking a leap of faith, everyone needs a break and frankly if someone hadn’t given me a break 13 years ago I wouldn’t be where I am now. It doesn’t compensate for the failure of the system though.

Victorian classroom picture

Victorian classroom

One of the key things which was re-inforced by the talks I heard was that our education system is a Victorian construct designed to provide workers to make Britain the leader in the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Massive social change was needed and schools helped to facilitate this. Factories needed workers, this was a big shift, people came in from the country to live in urban areas, they could no longer have their children with them in their work, women as well as men were required to work in factories, people became reliant on wages rather than self-sufficiency. What to do with the children? It was a problem and various people identified that maybe 5 year olds should not be working in cotton mills. But what could they do all day and who could monitor them and somehow do something productive with them.

Schools were set up to provide childcare, and an education. But what was the purpose of that education? The schools were not Eton, let’s face it! The purpose was not to create thinking, questioning people, it was to create order and people who would follow instructions and not question their “superiors”. To a large extent that is still what schools do today. Examinations, testing and assessments all inform the way teaching happens. Even on my BA I was told that undergraduates were not allowed to show original thought, our role was to learn and recite what other, cleverer, more academically qualified people had already said.

How can we expect to end up with children who love learning, question everything and so will be the inventors of the next big thing. We don’t really have factories anymore, and we have robots to do the jobs that thousands of workers did in the industrial revolution so the purpose of schools, the structure of eduction and how (and indeed if) we measure achievement need to change also.

Do we really trust this man with the education of our children?

Michael Gove keeps going on about how our exams are too easy and all this nonsense. Personally I think we should scrap the lot, be done with it, stop trying to incrementally fix something that is totally buggered. Come up with a new model, radically different that allows us to measure real world problem solving, research skills and the ability to sort, filter and critique the billions of pages of information that are now at our fingertips constantly. These are skills that our young people need, not the ability to regurgitate facts learned by rote, Google can tell us the facts, we just need the skills to be able to establish the good facts from the bad.

Sugata Mitra on stage at Thinking Digital

To that end, one of the most inspirational things I have heard about, ever, was a talk by TED Prize 2013 winner Sugata Mitra. Wow! I was blown away, and, totally inspired. Why wasn’t every school like this? Or at least adopting some of these principles. Please do take the time to watch his TED Talks as they are amazing.

Prof. Mitra advocates child driven education with technology. I am a big fan of Montessori, but, when Maria Montessori developed her educational programme computers and the internet had not even been imagined. If she was here today I am pretty sure she would embrace Prof. Mitra’s child driven education.

You should familiarise yourselves with his Hole in the Wall experiment, I was blown away. What I also really liked was that it wasn’t just a wild theory, he proved his point scientifically, it is research based. Too much of what we hear about it one or another persons opinion and is not very valid at all.

Self Organised Learning Environment

The basic principles as I understand it of Prof. Mitra’s Minimally Invasive Education method are using a Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) which consists of one internet connected computer for a group of four learners. The basic idea being that if you ask the children a question and step back they will find a way to answer it by teaching themselves. The facilitator (or “teacher”) does not teach them, nor do they answer questions, they help the children to answer questions themselves.

There are many things that this method teaches, collaboration, group work, that individuals have different roles to play. It is also hugely empowering as the children do it themselves, all the need is encouragement, some praise and some thought provoking questioning.

The next talk was by Jo Fothergill & Tara Taylor-Jorgensen who are two amazing teachers from New Zealand who are using Prof. Mitra’s method in their classrooms. Jo & Tara are both ICT teachers from New Zealand and have been busy attempting to put some of Professor Mitra’s work into practice around ‘minimally invasive education’ and ‘self organised learning’.  Jo and Tara are both CORE Education NZ eFellows.

What does this really tell us? You can colour in circles neatly.

They have been given a funded sabbatical by the New Zealand government, who have recognised the value of the method, to research and development new assessment methods that can be used with SOLE. The skills that can be assessed and the way of assessing them are radically different from what is addressed by the current SAT test in use both in New Zealand and the UK.

Finally, some enlightenment and progress. I really encourage you to check out all of these great developments for yourself and make your own assessment of them.

I’ve really been struggling since my daughter started school in September, but, after a long talk with the lovely class teacher and head teacher last week I’ve offered to help out with IT for the reception class. Last night I dreamt about it and I am going to put forward the idea of setting up SOLE’s for the kids rather than them each working in isolation at a computer.

I will report back on where I get with it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

More on Sugata Mitra:

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spring wreath

I had this idea ages ago that we should make lovely spring wreaths at WI for our homes. So I sorted lots of supplies and inspiration and all of the lovely ladies brought fabric scraps, yarn and paper to use to decorate them and we created a board on Pinterest for inspiration. It was a wonderful evening and I loved the fact that each wreath was totally unique and lovely in it’s own way. You should have a go and make your own.

 

Caramelised onion and three cheese tart

It’s coming up to the end of the month. This means two things, the coffers are a little low but there are lots of random bits of food lying around. Rather than just go shopping this morning as I often do, I decided to carry out a thorough stock audit in an effort to use up all those bits and bobs that were lurking in the fridge and freezer, to not buy what I didn’t need and to use up any veg before it went off.

Caramelised onion tart

I found some rather nice casserole and things in the freezer and, about 1.5 kilos of onions (among other veg) which were right at the tipping point of ending up in the compost bin.

What do you do with that much onions? Well I guess soup is an option, but I wasn’t really in an onion soup kind of mood, however, I also discovered a packet of puff pastry, the ends of a few nice bits of unpasteurised cheese that were about to turn and a half used pot of creme fraiche. So I decided a tart was in order. This is going to be my husband and I’s lunch for the week, better than a few quid a day on a sandwich.

Serves 12 (or 8 big pieces)

About 1kg of onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 packet of ready-made puff pastry (or make your own)
Olive oil
3 eggs
150g creme fraiche
50g grated unpasteurised Comte (or Gruyère or similar)
50g Baronet, rind removed, chopped into smallish pieces (or Reblechon or similar)
50g grated unpasteurised cheddar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour a good glug of olive oil into a large heavy bottomed frying pan and heat over a low-medium heat. Add your thinly sliced onions and cook gently, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, sweet and golden, about an hour. Honestly, when you cook onions this way you’ll almost never believe they are onions when you eat them. I first read to cook them this way in the Moro Cookbook and seriously could not believe that you could or would want to cook onions for an hour. You really must use quite a gentle heat, so they don’t burn, and also a decent glug of oil. If you see the onions catching at all, turn down the heat and add a little more oil. You won’t regret the time it takes.

tart before the cooking

While the onions are cooking, make the savoury “custard”. Take your eggs and beat lightly, add in the creme fraiche and mix well until all combined, stir in the grated cheeses, but not the Baronet or similar, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. There is not a lot of the custard, but this is not a quiche, the onions are the main player.

Then roll out your puff pastry to fit your tray. I used a tray approximately 14 inches by 8 inches. Grease the tray with a little olive oil and then line with your pastry. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

When the onions are done spread them evenly over the pastry. Then pour on your custard to give a fairly even distribution. There is not loads so go sparingly and then spread around with a palette knife or spatula to cover the onions. Scatter the Baronet pieces. Pop the tart into the middle of your hot oven and bake for around 20 minutes or until puffy and golden brown on top.

ready to eat

The tart filling does puff up quite a lot while cooking but will settle pretty quickly as soon as you take it out of the oven. Serve hot with a green salad, some tomatoes and a chilled glass of white wine for a delicious lunch. Or, slice and chill then eat for a packed lunch, better than sandwiches! My estimate is that the total cost for ingredients for this dish was less than £4 and I cut 8 large slices for lunch, so not bad for 50p per portion.

Foraged wild garlic soup

I’m not working on Monday’s at the moment and I wanted to do something fun with my kids today, and I wanted to cook with wild garlic. Yesterday a friend told me about a secret spot not far from home with a great big patch of wild garlic, so we, myself and my two little helpers, headed down there this morning to pick some.

Half of our haul being washed

Half of our haul being washed

It was a lovely sunny morning and we had a nice walk down there stopping off on the way for some coffee and hot chocolate from a local cafe. We headed down to a small wooded area really right in the middle of our town. Wild garlic grows in woodland areas, the sort of place you’d find bluebells. You have to be a little careful what you are picking because it does look quite similar to other members of the allium family like Lily of the Valley which is not edible, but in fact toxic. The easiest way to tell is to pick a leaf and rub between your fingers, there is a definate aroma of garlic there if it’s the right stuff! The garlic we picked was not in flower but you can also eat the flowers of wild garlic.

A typical field of wild garlic

A typical field of wild garlic

So today’s lunch is wild garlic soup. Now I know I’m mostly paleo but this has to be an exception and so I’ve got a lovely loaf of bread, local bakery too.

Just after blending

Just after blending

You need:
Two large handfuls of wild garlic leaves about 200 g
A few potatoes two large or several small I used some that had been hanging around in the back of the fridge for while
2 celery sticks
A bunch of spring onions
Glass of white wine
Chicken stock
Glug of olive oil
Few spoons creme fraiche (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Delicious!

Delicious!

Wash and chop the spring onion, celery and potatoes. Add a glug of olive oil to a large pan and heat, throw in the chopped veg and cook without colouring for a few minutes. Wash your wild garlic well in plenty of cold water and drain. Remove any tough stalks or roots. Add the white wine and  enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables to the pan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until the potatoes are tender and then add in your wild garlic leaves. Allow them to wilt and cook in gently with the other ingredients. Simmer for a few minutes. Then blend using hand blender until you have a really nice smooth consistency. Stir in the creme fraiche or yoghurt, or omit if you want dairy free. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve with crusty fresh bread (or not!).