Broaden young horizons
Children can only aspire to what they know exists.
Speaking during the WISE@NY summit at the UN in September 2018, Dr. Ger Graus made a powerful case for experience-based learning, which he sees as the key to social mobility.
Doing the right thing
The greatest challenge we face every day is to do the right thing for every child. What makes this particulary difficult, however, is the lottery of inequality from birth, especially when education systems appear obsessed with mass-approaches, and fail to widen a child’s individual experience of the world.
Take the world-view of many children in Wythenshawe, for example, an area I know well. It is a place of significant socio-economic deprivation in the north of England, adjacent to Manchester Airport. I was Education Director there in the early ‘noughties’ and often asked children what jobs they could do at the airport.
The answers I got were what they could see: baggage handler, passport control, driving busses, selling newspapers, security – one-third of the airport’s job total.
When I pointed out that you can fly aeroplanes too, the answer I got was: “People from Wythenshawe don’t fly planes” – from six-year-olds! The aspirational ceiling was already firmly in place!
According to Desmond Tutu, with whom I once shared a tub of ice-cream (an experience in itself!), “Whatever the question, education is always the answer”. Surely, one of the most important “answers” education can reveal involves the process of raising a child’s aspirations by broadening the range of her or his experiences. It is our collective duty as educators to twitch curtains, open windows and doors, thereby widening horizons to a better future, for each and every child. I speak from experience – as the grandson of a Dutch miner for whose family, education has opened so many doors.
What’s out there?
Unbelievably in 2018, too many opportunities remain closed to too many children. So – how can we open them up? By giving them more of an idea of what’s out there – they can’t choose something if they don’t know it exists.
Should we not draw up a list of experiences outside of school which we believe our children are entitled to, and add them to the curriculum to be experienced by the age of seven, eleven, fourteen and sixteen? Museums, galleries, restaurants, ballet, sports, concerts, being part of a team, performing, receiving an award, places of work, and government, visiting their capital cities . . . . .
Wilding the tame
Children also need to experience risk. We live in a world that is strangely contradictory. On the one hand ever speedier global access to knowledge, news, events and more, all of which demands research, analysis and judgement. On the other hand, ever narrowing education curricula and testing encourage caution, safety, and over-protection in the name of health and safety. No wonder our children are confused. How on earth will they acquire the skills to make informed decisions, take calculated risks, and learn from their mistakes?
Measure what is of value
We have also become obsessed with testing, coming to believe that, to coin a phrase, weighing the pig makes it fatter. We have grown to value that which we can measure relatively easily, instead of measuring what we value, and are failing to develop a child’s awareness and experience of the world without which they can only define their own future in a limited, stereotypical way.
Our research at Kidzania suggests that a child’s view of her or his own future is strongly formed by the age of four, and little happens to challenge this self–view over the next ten years*. There is irrefutable evidence that children can only aspire to what they know exists: male and female, black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural.
In this context, not asking a child to see further than their own horizons is a profound mistake, while delaying the introduction of “careers education” until the age of 14 is surely leaving things a decade too late.
We need to introduce early opportunities for children to experience the world around them and the futures it may hold – let us for now call it ‘Futures Awareness’.
Experience is everything, and not all classrooms have four walls. In this enterprise, potentially, we are also all teachers: the businesswoman, the bricklayer, the beekeeper, the baseball player and Mr. Beurskens. Mr. Beurskens was my teacher and it is because of him that I stand here today. And, of course, because of my grandfather.
Perhaps in future we should not ask children what they want to be, but who they want to be like. And if we empower children with the benefits of wide ranging and enriching experiences, their future might just involve, in the words of the OECD’s Education strategy acting rather than being acted upon, shaping rather than being shaped and choosing rather than accepting choices decided by others.
Dr. Ger Graus OBE, is Global Director of Education at KidZania, large scale role-play centres where children aged 4 to 14 can experience the world of work through role-modelling and role-play. Since its inception in 1999 in Mexico City, KidZania has established centres in 24 cities around the world.
*See Gender, Careers and Stereotypes in International Teacher Magazine