I’d like to thank everyone for the overwhelming response received to my inaugural blog post. I never imagined that my next post would actually take me beyond Eid ul Azha/Hari Raya but, since it has, let me take this opportunity to ‘hope’ that you all had a very happy Eid (assuming you celebrate it). Moreover, I hope it was a happy occasion for the underprivileged and the unpossessed who are all too convenient to forget on joyous occasions.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who commented on my blog post. I have read and appreciated all your comments and, though it is difficult to reply to everyone individually, I want you to know that I am grateful for your feedback – whether you agreed with me or not.
I realize that my next post was supposed to be about the politically desirable but otherwise elusive ‘common national curriculum’ but I’ve decided to defer that to a later date – also, I may fall asleep writing it. I am also now going to scrap, with much regret, a blog post I wrote but never managed to complete (and thus publish) on Malala – because the moment has passed – though I continue to pray for her complete recovery.
For now, I want to focus on something closer at hand because, as I type this, I am about to start descending into Kuala Lumpur and am pretending not to have heard an annoying announcement about having to switch off all electronic devices. (As you may have gathered, I am on an airplane – much as I might want to descend into KL on my own wings). I am here on an ‘advance trip’ in connection with our forthcoming ‘School of Tomorrow’ conference in Kuala Lumpur on 20-21 November. (Amongst other things, I will be groveling before local media representatives in the hope that they may cover the conference.)
(Landed without laptop jamming the plane.)
End of next day… The School of Tomorrow is a journey that started in November 2000 when, on the 25th anniversary of Beaconhouse, we organized a conference in Islamabad called ‘Rethinking Education’ (more importantly, I was still in my 20s at the time!). While this was by no means the first Beaconhouse Academic Conference, it was perhaps the first time that we recognized that people outside Beaconhouse might also know a thing or two about education and invited, as our keynote speaker, Dr Roger Schank (www.rogerschank.com), learning theorist/artificial intelligence pioneer/outraged educator, along with a few other non-Beaconhouse speakers and delegates. Under the presiding gaze of General Pervez Musharraf (who was our chief guest as well as ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan at the time), Roger Schank recounted a little story that has since stuck with me: “Many years ago,” he said (or so I imagine), “my son got an A+ on a Chemistry test. He was very pleased with himself and showed me his test paper. I took a hard look at it. Now, I’ve been a professor of computer science at Yale and Stanford but I couldn’t answer a single question. I congratulated my son cautiously but kept the paper. A year later, I showed it to him. He could not answer a single question.”
Although the crowd laughed appreciatively (though I suspect several people didn’t really get the point) and General Musharraf, uncharacteristically hanging onto the keynote speaker’s every word, smiled knowingly, Dr Schank’s story was anything but funny. It was Tragic and lies at the Heart of all our education conferences. It is, in fact, stories like his son’s that have led us to a continuing journey that has become the ‘School of Tomorrow’ conference series (as I explained to a mystified journalist in KL today, it is indeed a journey, not a destination…because we won’t suddenly decide on Sept 1, 2015 that we are Now a school of tomorrow [this was, of course, just before I remembered that the academic year in Malaysia starts in January, causing my ‘semi-joke’ to create further confusion.])
The School of Tomorrow conferences challenge our subconscious and deeply ingrained notions about education. They may even make some people shift a little uncomfortably in their seats. Nonetheless, these conferences are important because they confront us with hard questions such as Why is it that, when we all went to some school or another (presumably), most of us don’t remember much (if any) of the physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, algebra, history (etc.) that we learnt…even those of us who got 450 A grades in our O and A Level exams.
Think about it.
To be continued… (this one really will be, because the School of Tomorrow does not put me to sleep!)