No straight lines
Teacher, writer and social activist, Ger Graus is also a successful businessman and Global Director of Education for KidZania. He thinks that young people can imagine their future with confidence – if they know how. ITM’s Andy Homden caught up with him recently on-line.
You write a column in The Week Junior called Becoming Me. Why that title?’’
The column is about people who have ‘become themselves’ – it’s about their journey and what they have learned along the way. We look at the notion that change is inevitable, can be good and is not there to be scared of. Children need to write their own narrative of the possible and their futures should no longer be mass-programmed – that Industrial Revolution is over. The last question we ask interviewees is to draw their professional lifeline and the answer always indicates very clearly that there are no ‘straight lines’ in anyone’s journey.
Becoming Ger Graus
What about your own story?
I grew up in a physically and mentally abusive family environment in the south of the Netherlands, in what was then a mining community. I left home at sixteen, worked on farms, went to school and then university, the first in my family, and became a German teacher – my dream. Once graduated, I wanted to see more, read the Times Educational Supplement in a library in Maastricht, and became a teacher at Taverham High School in Norwich – for one year, or so I thought. Five years later I moved from a school with five hundred children to one in Hull with five hundred children in every year group; I think they called it economies of scale – good economically, not so if you’re a child becoming a number. From there to Languages Adviser in Manchester, Senior Inspector in Salford, Ofsted inspections, Education Action Zones Director and then the out-of-school agenda: founding CEO of the Children’s University, KidZania London and KidZania globally. Thirty-seven years later I am still in the UK – with Settled Status. It’s been a good journey so far; but – and here’s the thing – no straight lines!
It’s been a good journey so far; but – and here’s the thing – no straight lines!
Who are the role models you looked to along the way?
There are so many and everyday there are more and more; people full of goodness and purpose; kind people; from every walk of life and from all over the planet. On a personal note: my grandfather; Mr Beurskens, my German teacher; Johan Cruijff and his “Turn”; Mrs Daines, my first Headteacher; Paul Nevens, a magician Geography Teacher; my children and my Executive Headteacher wife of course – always. My friends and colleagues.
What have you learned as you became ‘you’?
The most important lesson learned is that we should always look for lessons to learn. My life is a scrap book of lessons learned at every step of the way, from brilliant, trusted people. Furthermore, education is not someone’s domain, someone’s empire. Schooling might be, but in educational terms “Every child is everyone’s responsibility” as my favourite Executive Headteacher would say. Being schooled is a child’s job, education is its life. And finally, you can’t just rely on those in charge, in government, national or local, to make things better in education. These people regulate and at times provide, but mostly they make party political economical decisions, dressed up as educational ones. The true improvements, the creativity, the brilliant teaching and learning, and the drive to make things better come from realities, from the bottom up, and from within.
What do you look back on in your career with real pleasure?
In 2005, I took forty primary aged children to Italy to perform twelve Shakespeare plays in a reduced and bi-lingual format in the Piazza Santa Stefano in Bologna, live on Italian television. The children were from twenty primary schools in Wythenshawe, South Manchester – one of the most disadvantaged areas in the UK. The project was funded by a private-public sector partnership and showed me what any child can do when given the right opportunity. I have to say that (as a non-Brit!) receiving my Honorary OBE for “Services to Children” in front of my family and friends is something I will never forget. It was an incredibly humbling experience to see how proud your children are of you in those moments – that display publicly tends to be mostly the other way around in my experience.
What do you think are the main challenges that education will face in the next ten years?
Access, equality, fairness, participatory democracy, early opportunity. Through the amazing potential of technology and the internet we are either going to get this right or we mess this up for a very long time and for countless young people, especially those from disadvantaged contexts
You have to walk the talk. There is too much that we have and that doesn’t function as it should: think simply of white boards which are too often blackboards without the dust; look at the Corona Virus crisis and how we struggle to utilise technology to continue learning, let alone make this work for all! The gap between schooling and the demands of the real world is colossal and growing. Experience-based learning, connecting schooling and the real world through education, early opportunity, and social fairness all come into the mix here. We need to stop telling and allowing lies: “Outstanding school”, “World-class education”, testing, league tables … all that is just not the truth. We are who we are and if we share a long-term vision and values, and a consensus of how to get there, then we will. Stop politicising children’s education is the message!
Ger Graus is the Global Director of Education at KidZania.
Sought-after keynote speaker and consultant, Professor Graus advises governments, NGOS and businesses on the subject of future education.
For more about Ger’s ideas see: Raising aspiration