When schools re-open we should remember that education is not all about the classroom

As a wannabe rock star

By John White

“NoWrongPath” is a social media movement, which aims to provide inspiration and reassurance to young people receiving their exam results.

It illustrates that there are many varied routes and paths in life, and that ways are often not straight, traditional or obvious, a theme being to get people to recount their journeys in life, often concentrating on those who did less well academically.

I left school with a few ‘O’ Levels and two mediocre ‘A’ Levels, D’s I think, barely passes.

I had discovered motorbikes, girls, and rock and roll – probably in response and rebellion to having been dragged up every mountain by my parents from as soon as I could walk.

For a number of years, I would do anything but climb mountains.

When I was 22 I rode my motorbike to and through the Middle East.

A few years later, my country dropped bombs on a town in Serbia, the former Yugoslavia, where I had drank beers and partied with folk, and in Syria I was taken in by families who might now be in refugee camps – or more likely dead.

Riding through the Golan Heights where ten years previously the Yom Kippur war had raged, there were still abandoned villages with bullet-ridden walls.

I drank tea with Arabs, and I picked bananas and aubergines with Israelis.

It is probably safe to assume that these experiences had as great an influence on my outlook on life as any lesson, lecture or exam.

On a motorbike through the Golan Heights

Academically, although I loved reading and writing, my school wouldn’t let me take English A level as I had failed the O level. Despite this, a few years later I obtained an English degree, and I seem to be able to string a sentence together for this column…

I have run an outdoor centre for 30 years, and while never making it as a musician (we made a record but nobody bought it!) my love of music and the arts has remained and hopefully has helped Anne in her professional career.

I still occasionally pick up the bass, and I can scratch a half decent tune out on the fiddle.

At school I never got beyond three blind mice on the recorder.

When my kids were 5 and 11, we took them round the world for 6 months, visiting India, Australia, Fiji and America – my mantra being Mark Twain’s quote ‘Never let schooling get in the way of a good education.’

Schooling has now however suddenly got very different.

In the past weeks and months children have been taught at home via the Internet.

Teachers have transferred the blackboard to the screen, and the kitchen table has become the classroom.

While before some pupils emailed their homework in, now it is all emailed, all homework.

Of course this has presented challenges, frustrations, inequalities, just like traditional schooling.

Some young people engage well, others not. Some teachers engage well, others not. Just like traditional schooling.

The talk and plan is that schools will reopen physically after summer, possibly and probably in a very different manner.

It seems however, that there is a rush to adapt an old norm to a new unknown reality.

This is understandable, as change is always uncertain, and it is safe to stick with what you know, but perhaps we will be missing an opportunity to create a new reality.

Begin afresh with a blank piece of paper.

If our best creative thinkers were asked to make a framework for educating young people, starting with that blank sheet of paper, with today’s technologies would they build the institutions we have today?

Would they build a school?

Perhaps it would be unfair on the classes of 2020 or 2021 and further, to experiment with them and their futures, so undoubtedly things will be kept as normal as possible. But with curriculum change and continual development flux is nothing unusual.

There have been plenty experiments in the past.

It is already quite radical to have suggested staggered start times, blended learning and a concentration on screen contact.

Perhaps national exam level provision could develop into a drop-in style of tutorial seminar-based provision, where a school is a resource to be used as required, and not attended per se.

Perhaps the new normal could have place-centred outdoor learning as its core.

I heard one teacher complain on the radio, “we are educationalists, not child minders”.

There seems to be a blurring between parenting, social work and education, and schools appear to be being used as a solution to all societies’ ills, becoming all things to all people.

The role that schools have played over and above teaching has become evident during Covid and lockdown as parents have had to look after their children continuously.

Situations are all unique, and there will have been a whole spectrum from embraced appropriate enjoyable home learning, to dysfunctional chaos.

Most families have probably been somewhere in the middle, but sadly in some cases schools have had to continue providing a haven for vulnerable children.

Most importantly there is “NoWrongPath” even more so today when destinations may be more uncertain.

Resilience, empathy, creativity and integrity will be what our children need in the future.

I think the class of 2020 will be fine, they have had a unique experience which will help make them who they will become.

Travel is likely to be harder in the near future, how easy it would be to take a family around the world or ride a motorbike a long distance for a gap year is debatable, but there will always be opportunity for experiential adventure.

Routes back into traditional education are always available, perhaps even more so now.

I suspect universities will be desperate for students, and will be creating access courses to enable those with uncertain schooling certificates.

When I was caught ‘skiving’ PE (I hated PE) I had no idea I would end up running an outdoor activity centre.

When I was failing physics A Level at school, I had no idea I would end up with a Masters degree from Edinburgh University.

While the First Law of Thermodynamics (energy cannot be created or destroyed and the total quantity of energy in the universe stays the same) is a crucial and fabulous bit of knowledge, it probably isn’t what helped me when my motorbike gearbox broke in Jericho.