Claiming a place in the ‘new normal’
Whatever else changes in education after the lockdown, according to Ger Graus, Global Director of Education for KidZania, widening horizons and raising aspirations must become an integral part of the ‘new normal’. Social mobility should at the heart of all we do.
The world is becoming smaller and the main issues facing us are clearly global, while the current pandemic is forcing us to see these matters in a new context. Empire building, building walls and being “Billy-No-Mates” really is not the answer. Developing global citizens who take their global responsibilities seriously clearly is. We need to equip our children to confidently do this.
What will work look like?
For me the most important issue, especially now, is what working in the future will look like for our children, and what it will mean? How will they embrace rapid, continuous change positively? The lockdown is really making us think about these issues. What will they do with their spare time, of which there should be more and more? Employment and self-deployment. How well are we equipped in terms of schooling and education to facilitate and provide what’s needed? How can education and schooling again become and remain relevant? It needs to provide purpose and allow children to write their own narrative of the possible. As distance learning becomes an accepted norm, we must ask ourselves who, therefore, are the teachers? And how all will be able to access them, especially online.
How we limit aspiration
When it comes to the work they will do, children can only aspire to what they know exists. People often ask me what I mean by this and why I think the idea is so important. It originated in Wythenshawe, South Manchester, where I asked young children what jobs they could do at Manchester Airport, which is next door. The answers I got is what they could see – which is only about 35% of all jobs there. They also told me that: “Children from Wythenshawe don’t fly planes”, the ceiling of aspiration firmly put in place by us. Allowing this ceiling to exist is nothing short of scandalous, and its very existence goes to the heart of a great deal that is wrong with modern educational systems. The current crisis above anything else in education has shown that the gap between have and have-not and thereby can and can-not is getting bigger – internet access at home for all must now be seen as a utility. If not, we will perpetuate a situation where social mobility journey are either in 1st or 2nd class.
At Kidzania® we have a great deal more latitude to address some of these problems, which we have explored more fully within a research framework we have called our Global Barometer of Children’s Aspirations. When they visit one of our centres, young people aged 4 – 14 tell us what kind of experience they would like to have and, in effect, what roles they aspire to.
The findings are devastating, and mirror exactly what I first experienced when my students at Wythenshawe visited Manchester Airport. We have analysed the first choices of more than half a million four to fourteen-year-olds visitors to KidZanias® across the world and this is what we have found:
- In all cases the stereotypical choices are already set in pre-school, at the age of four. Choices – from pilot to cabin crew and from hairdresser to courier are clearly influenced by what the children already know
- Tragically, there is very little change by the time the children are fourteen: as children grow older, they continue to make choices that are limited by their own knowledge and experience
- Almost all girls choose activities below their age range and almost all boys above
We have found irrefutable evidence that children can only aspire to what they know exists: male and female, black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural.
When we know all this, why is it that we wait until the age of fourteen before we engage children in being aware about what their futures might hold and how they might get there? A decade too late! A decade of allowing stereotypes and dismayingly low aspirations to cement themselves.
Our education systems are based on the requirements of the past. Every economic age has its core asset, and, in our time, this is more than ever about knowledge, skills and character qualities. We need to join up in-school teaching and out-of-school experiences and we need to aim for children to understand that learning is a satellite navigation system to better places in life. We need to introduce into education and schooling early opportunities to be aware of the world around us and the futures it may hold – let us for now call it Futures Awareness™.
Experience: the key to unlocking a child’s future
Experience is everything. For our children to connect with the purpose of schooling and education, we need, of course, to provide knowledge and understanding. But how? And why? We need to utilise what is available to us – in terms of technology for example, but also in terms of all that says, not all classrooms have four walls. The environment, including the virtual one, is the third teacher.
We are the facilitators enabling children to join the dots and recognise that experiences are “the appliance of the science”, the theory into practice, the why answers and often the awe and wonder. We need to empower children to make sense of the world, as agents of their own change and guide them to discovering their own inspirations and aspirations. Then we need to support them in finding their roadmaps and help them to get there, from an early age. For all this to be achieved we need to become our children’s Allies of Empowerment!
The situation needs to change now. Failure to act condemns yet another generation to limited aspiration, wasted potentials and frozen social mobility. Perhaps the lockdown will provide the much-needed stimulus to action. Removing the ceiling to aspiration must become part of the ‘new normal’ so that all our children can embark on their social mobility journey in 1st class.
The time to act is now – more than ever.
Professor Ger Graus OBE is the Global Director of Education for KidZania. Educational activist and much sought after public speaker, he has a passionate commitment to the enhancement of all children’s social mobility.
For more about Ger’s career, see ‘No straight lines’
All images except children hiking kindly provided by Ger Graus