Entrepreneur, Educator and Activist Louis Howell shares his thoughts on the disruption that's desperately needed in the education sector as part of a brand new series of guest blogs on our site.

Louis Howell

A few weeks ago, I was kindly asked to chair a panel that kicked off the Impact Hub Kings Cross’ Build Back Better Hackathon

Joined by esteemed, highly knowledgeable panellists, the conversation we had about ‘Building Back Better Communities’ was incredibly insightful and informative. 

What struck me most significantly though, was the way in which the panel concurrently described the 3 stages of society’s response to the pandemic as follows:

  1. Crisis – the fear of the unknown and acknowledging the fact we were unprepared for such a situation.
  2. Surviving – implementing and making use of measures expected to keep us safe.
  3. Resilience and Evolution – appreciating this is a temporary situation that, admittedly, will impact the way we operate going forwards. So, change and transformation is required.

Whether you would use these exact words or not, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a fairly apt description of the way in which our collective response has been playing out. 

Now, if we assume (optimistically) that we are transitioning out of the second stage – Surviving – as a society, what are we doing to prepare ourselves for stage three?

Aspiration x Agency

Conversations about how we make a lasting and systemic transformation to any part of society almost always culminate in the agreement that ‘education’ plays a massive part. 

Well, if we are in this third stage of being resilient and evolving then that begs the following question:

Shouldn’t the way we approach education be completely transformed in line with the way our society is having to completely transform?

A common understanding of education is that it plays a role in preparing individuals for opportunities in an existing labour market. This assumes the people being educated have a genuine desire to enter a career path that they feel serves them and serves society. 

With all of the obvious flaws to our system that this pandemic has exposed, do people still aspire to work in jobs, organisations and industries they may not deem evolutionary?

This concern around aspiration goes hand in hand with the issue many learners in traditional education settings share: education doesn’t cause them to feel they can actually make an impact with what they are learning and the way they are being taught. This lack of agency could be detrimental to our journey of societal evolution, we could be losing massive amounts of innovation, energy and creation due to people potentially feeling…helpless.

What does a radical approach to education look like?

Currently, I am going through a new course run by the Co-operative College which focuses on how to embed ‘Co-operative Learning’ into a wide range of education environments. 

As someone who does a lot of work in the mainstream youth education sector with Revolution Hive, as well as providing a range of training and development opportunities to organisations with 7PK, this is a welcome and refreshing way to look at both WHY and HOW we are educating people.

The fact there is a consistent reminder that education should help to empower people to tackle the issues the world faces by working with others and truly focusing on systemic change is exciting. However, I am more taken by the agreement that what you bring and where you are at is of massive value to the learning journey we are about to go on.

Compare that to traditional education, where there is a significant focus on prerequisites in order to be deemed worthy of entering the learning environment; whilst then having your field of vision narrowed to focus solely on your own “progression” in order to “succeed” during and after the course.

It’s no surprise that the focus on competition and individualism are creating further barriers to our journey of evolution post-pandemic.

Desire for Difference

As mentioned earlier, the current career pathways may be of less appeal to people as we collectively question whether the industries where so-called opportunity exists are actually serving society in the way we would like. Does this create a threat for companies and industries that are supposedly mainstays and providing abundant employment opportunity?

Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be a threat per se. If anything, a chance to challenge the way things have been done and instead develop new perspectives on the way business is done, services are offered and jobs are created now exists. So, this brings us back to the point of co-operative learning.

For people to be open to being challenged, be open to developing new perspectives and understandings, and be open to working in different ways, the learning journeys they embark on need to be different. No longer driven by competition and individualism and not driven towards the same outcomes.

The time for this change is now. Right now.

Personally, I will be embedding these principles and practises within my consultancy for businesses and other organisations that intend to evolve and improve their Social Mobility, Community Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion or Talent Development initiatives, as well as the work me and my team do in mainstream education.

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