News | 11 Sep 2019

Educating beyond the present


This week I attended the AIS leadership conference with the overarching theme of ‘Reimagining Learning’. The first Keynote Address, entitled ‘Educating Beyond our Present’ was presented by Professor Louise McWhinnie from the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation, University of Technology Sydney and, seriously, I could have left the conference after this one presentation, such was the degree of curiosity it sparked in me. Professor McWhinnie spoke about connectivity in thinking, being interdisciplinary in our thinking, and the essential area that has emerged this century in transdisciplinary innovation.

We see some of these ideas in the important and popular area of STEAM, where the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Maths are often merged to create innovative and real world solutions to current issues. Professor McWhinnie was keen for us to ‘love the question, not just the solution. She spoke about the neuroscience around curiosity and the fact that a curious mind is prepped and open to engage in learning. She also used the reverse image of spoon feeding as leading to potential ‘choking’.

It is up to us as educators and parents to keep the curiosity alive. What happens from the age of 2, where a child is fixated on, and fascinated with, the smallest joy, such as a butterfly in a bush, or the way a washing machine goes around and round? How is it that this curiosity gets lost as we age? As a school, we are dedicated to providing the opportunity for our students to remain curious and engaged in learning.

I posed the question to Professor McWhinnie: If students have access to so much information and instruction these days (we’ve all heard that our smart phones hold more computing power than that found on Apollo spacecraft that landed on the moon), where is the need for expertise in a specific discipline? She assured me that all students who is studying transdisciplinary innovation has a primary area of study in which they deep dive, becoming experts in their field. It is only when we know content and skills in one area that we can we apply them across disciplines. This is why at Northholm we also focus on expert teachers, explicit teaching and deliberatepractice.

The discussion then moved to the importance of ethics and morals in a continually technological world. Our decisions now create the solutions, or problems, of the future, which is why we cannot afford to get it wrong. Do we really want driverless cars, for example, where the decision making in an emergency is handed over to the computer in control of the car, who may not value our life as the owner of the car above, for example, the life of a young child recklessly darting onto the road to retrieve a soccer ball?

I came away from this presentation with more questions than answers, which really was the whole point of Professor McWhinnie’s lecture. What is our role as teachers in the preparation of our students for the future? How do we educate for the future beyond the present and not educate for the present which becomes the past?

We need to understand the pace and scope of change. As the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Troudeau said, “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”

Director of Learning and Teaching