Archive for the 'global comment' Category

The Future’s Lookin’ Good

Crossroad on HillAt the time of writing this blog, the world was subjected to the horrendous image of a seven-year-old boy holding up a severed enemy head. With very good reason, the condemnation has been universal. And who wouldn’t recoil at the gruesome spectacle, let alone bemoan the future of the child himself?

However, my concern is not just with the unveiling of this image. My concern is that it becomes yet another example that is used by The World Is Horrible crowd to reinforce their downcast stance about the planet today.

Can I please offer another perspective; and one that I believe has significant validity? It’s that the world is an amazing place, and is pretty likely to become even more astonishing up ahead. But there is a caveat to this. It’s going to need lots of people who have an unwavering faith in the majesty and the potential of the planet. People just like you.

This unwavering faith is critical, because we appear to be at some type of crossroads right now. And I’m not sure that we can easily take both roads at once. My plea is that we choose the one that we’d all prefer. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But just like most things, there are endless complexities. So given those complexities, how do we actually create this amazing future?

My 1st response is this: What’s up ahead is not the Brave New World. It’s not the latest iteration of a sci-fi annihilation of the Earth and Mars. It’s not a rewrite of Harry Potter. It’s simply the aggregation of the struggles, the thinking, and the inspiring achievements of all of us. Every single day.

My 2nd response is: The world is a beautiful mess. It always has been; and it always will be. It is an ongoing duality of yin and yang, of life and death, of the dark and the light.  Of course the world’s not perfect. It’s a complex place, and it sometimes appears to have intractable issues. But will those issues hold us back from what we could achieve up ahead? I don’t think so. And you just have to look at our achievements thus far to realise this.

WHAT WE’VE ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED

Here are some examples of what we have accomplished in recent times. In 1900, global life expectancy was 32. Now, it is just over 70. In just 114 years, it has gone from 32 to 70! The infant mortality rate (as measured by the number of babies who died before the age of 1) was approximately 25% in 1900. Now, it is 3.69%. The literacy rate was 42% in 1900. It is now 84%. Most crime rates have dropped in the past 20 years (and given that, can I let you know that you’re a 60 times less chance of being murdered today than in the Middle Ages); we have a 30% improvement in cancer survival rates in just the past 20 years.

Statistics such as these will continue to surge ahead, and especially because the world is about to unleash the ingenuity of billions more people in 2nd and 3rd world countries who previously did not have many opportunities to improve themselves. This may very well become the greatest social justice advancement in human history.

My plea to you is this: Don’t base your beliefs about the world today on outdated information from the last century. It’s an amazing planet out there right now, and that data I just listed is very likely to continue on an upward trajectory.

THE PROGRESS PARADOX

Yet here’s the paradox to all of these improvements. The better that things get, the worse we think they are. It’s actually called the Progress Paradox. The standards of living in most parts (but not all) of the world are the highest they have ever been; and yet large scale surveys will often show that many people believe that it’s all getting worse.

This progress paradox exists, partly because the media sensationalise any negative issue on the planet. Fifty years ago, it sometimes took several days to find out about many major events. Now, we hear about them (and see them in all their gory detail) immediately, and they are often even broadcast on someone’s mobile phone at the scene of the incident. It’s called crowd-sourced journalism.

As a result, too many people view everyday life through a negative lens, and assume the worst about the planet in general. This perspective is fuelled by the daily radio ’shock jocks’, who delight in talking the world down through their own bitter insecurities. The ratio of good to bad issues in everyday life for 7.2 billion people is probably at least 100:1. Yet on the mass media, it seems as if there are 5 bad events to every good event. It’s just not the reality.

Now don’t get me wrong. Some events are catastrophic. The Malaysian Airlines disaster was horrendous; and there will be other difficult times in the future. And the world is hardly perfect in everyday life even now. There are still many wrongs to be righted.

But just keep in mind: On the same day that MH17 was blown up, there were at least four hundred million volunteer hours provided around the world. On that same day, billions of parents around the world loved their kids, and did their best for them. On that same day, schools across the world kept their students safe, and generally learning in productive ways.

PREDICTING THE FUTURE

And the big question that nearly everyone wants to ask: What’s coming up ahead?! Well, there are lots of ways to answer that. One is that we just don’t know with some things, especially with unexpected events like earthquakes, tsunamis, sudden major terrorist events, car accidents, and perhaps even solar storms that could compromise global telecommunication systems.

Another way of looking at the future is that we are going to continually see the most rapid changes in human history. The exponentialities are mind-boggling. We have created more new knowledge in the past three years than existed in all of previous human history; and the pace of fresh discoveries can be overwhelming.

As a result, we will have to embrace what we call Uncertainty. Uncertainty is the New Normal. We will need to adjust rapidly to even more dramatic changes; and to view those changes as an opportunity rather than a threat. People who love learning will revel in this type of future.

What else is up ahead? A recent very well-researched book called Abundance maintains that the world is very likely to achieve significant advances up ahead. We could have clean drinking water for every child on this planet by 2020. We could provide a primary school education for every girl on this planet by 2022…. which, I assure you, would be one of the most significant means of creating an even better world.

PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS

Here’s another option for helping us to predict the future: We can apply the science of Predictive Analytics, which is sometimes referred to as Big Data. Basically, with this approach, everything is a Numbers Game, and we can calculate the percentage probabilities on whether various things will occur.

Here are some examples.  Life insurance companies have already sized you up. By the time they find out what you eat, drink and smoke, how you exercise, and discover any ailments suffered by your parents and siblings, they can usually work out when you’re going to die to within a few years. Throw in a DNA test and they can narrow it down even further.

We can even predict with a 70% certainty what you will be doing on this day in exactly 2 years from now, mainly because we’re creatures of habit. We can predict with an 80% certainty whether you will contract the flu, 8 days before you actually get it. In predictive policing, we can determine the likelihood of some pending crimes with a 90% certainty. Even weather forecasters have an 80% success rate.

And, here’s the most powerful way of all to predict the future. You create it with what you do today. It’s your actions now that lead to whatever tomorrow will bring. The quick conversations with work colleagues; the short and inspiring message that you write on facebook; the charity that you start up in a few days time. Even the thinking you do today can partly determine your mood tomorrow.

I have little time any more for those who claim that our future is pre-determined, and that we have no influence over it. My response is: If we say that, then we lose our ability to shape it. We actually have a huge influence over it, because we’re creating it now. Right here, today.

RATING THE WORLD’S FUTURE

If I asked you to rate the world’s future possibilities from 1 to 10 (with 1 being awful, and 10 being astonishing), what would you say?  Here’s the reality. If 7.2 billion people average a 2 out of 10, then we’re in big trouble. It’s called the Self-fulfilling Prophecy. We’ll be convinced that everything is horrendous, and our actions will unfortunately contribute to that.

Conversely, if we all average a 9.5, then the world is pretty well guaranteed to do amazing things. You see, when we’re confident of what will occur, we can make anything happen. And I mean anything. So what honestly is your rating? Because unless you believe that our future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it happen.

Please be aware: This is more than just the Positive Thinking movement. It’s all very well to think optimistically. What is also required is to take consistent focused action that makes the so-called difference every day, in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

And you know why it’s important to believe all of this?? Because it gives hope to all of the kids in our lives. When they see grown-ups creating a worthwhile future, then it develops their own faith in the world being OK up ahead. And they’re then more likely to make the effort as well.

So. What’s your score out of 10? What’s your degree of faith and belief in the world’s future? And how resilient are you in facing up to what needs to be done every day? Remember, it’s not tomorrow where this needs to be done. It’s today.

Future-proofing

Gypsy fortune-tellers are fascinating. I saw one hard at work when I was about 8 years old. Beautiful to watch. The theatrics, the swirling clothing, the crystal ball, all created a sense of wonder in me.

I’m just as fascinated today with those who again claim they can predict the future. Only this time, some of them are dressed up in a charlatan outfit, they’re plastered all over the social media, and they’re peddling fear and unease about our collective lives up ahead.

And why?

To sell some deceitful program that will allay our fears, or require us to trust their fool-proof system for storing our hard-earned cash. Or perhaps to encourage us to live in a bomb-proof shelter somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Aztecs

Here’s a reality check for you. No-one can accurately predict the future. Oh, we can generalise with a series of trends, and we can determine some probable futures by analysing present patterns of behaviour. We can calculate how many 10-year olds there will be in 5 years from now. Just count how many 5 year-olds we have right now.

But can we accurately predict the share market movements through this year, or whether a major accident will occur in 3 months from now, or whether you will win lots of money in a lottery? No we can’t.

Naturally, most of us would prefer to have some degree of certainty about our future, which is why we keep hoping that the fortune-tellers will be accurate. But they basically won’t be. So here’s the next best option: Future-proof yourself.

And what does that mean? Well…. It means that you adopt a series of strategies and mindsets that will give you the best possible chance of thriving through whatever happens up ahead.

For now, here are some suggestions on future-proofing your life, your family, your work, your school, your workplace:

  1. Focus on what you CAN control, rather than on what you can’t. If you keep thinking about things that you can’t influence, you’re wasting your energy. Do some in-control things like saving some money, or establishing some consistent everyday patterns (such as exercising), or doing some charity work. Then you’re in control of your world.
  2. Fight back on the fear factor. There are some in the media who consistently resort to doomsday scenarios (note the Dec 21 2012 end-of-world scenarios being portrayed right now). Watch how a highly negative news report makes you feel. Then read a positive article about what lies up ahead, and again note your response. Become aware of your responses. It’s the 1st stage in turning your emotions around.
  3. Do some in-depth study. Having strong knowledge gives you greater confidence about what lies up ahead. If you want to know what’s going on, then make the effort to study up on the topic. Go and listen to some respected experts in the field. Find some valid online information. Remember that ignorance is rarely bliss.
  4. Watch the trends. While they’re not foolproof, trends can give some indications on what lies up ahead. If you’re in business today, you may be struggling. Yet, there are some obvious trends taking place. Examples? People want to save, not spend. And technology is having a strong impact on how customers purchase goods.
  5. Let go on certainty. Accept that, to live an inspiring life, you may need to embrace uncertainty. Not Knowing can end up being a welcome part of your life, rather than something to be avoided. So, be an ongoing adventurer who relishes the opportunity to be challenged by unforeseen circumstances.

    And lastly, if you’re involved with kids in any way (as a parent, a teacher, a relative), I beg of you to not scare the heck out of them about the future. I’m not sure why some adults do it. Maybe it’s a power thing, like: “It’s all gonna be awful, but I’ll save you.”

    Oh please. Get over it. If you push too hard with that negative line, they’re hardly going to feel positive about their world up ahead. And even worse, they might not even bother to help create that better world up ahead.

    Look at the last 50 years of world history. There have been so many pending calamities (world starvation; millennium bugs), and yet somehow we get through them intact.

    Inspire kids about the possibilities with their lives, and of the planet in general. And then we’re more likely to see a future that is beneficial for us all, because they’ll help to create it.

    National Standards, NAPLAN, and the Learning Oracle

    For what it’s worth… here’s my take on the endless NAPLAN and National Standards debate.

    ______________________________________________________________________________

    THE ELEVEN LAWS OF NAPLAND

    As negotiated between the great Learning Oracle, and the tribes of Napland

    Once upon a very recent time, on a faraway planet known as Edutopia, there existed an island state called Napland. This magical place was inhabited by a race of people called the Naplanders, who were obsessed with standards, targets and goals. Once each year, the younger Naplanders (known as the Offspring) completed a national examination that evaluated their performance.

    This came to be known as…. the NAPLAN TEST.

    This almighty TEST determined whether the aforementioned Offspring had acquired the rules and dictums of their civilization’s communication systems. And also whether their schools would get a bucketload of money to support them in acquiring those rules and dictums in the following years.

    When it came to these TESTS, three of the Naplander tribes featured strongly (although many others, such as the Parenticus, and the Media Circus, had a part to play as well). These three tribes were:

    1. The Napland Educatus, who are most often found teaching in environments (commonly known as schools) that feature high levels of tension, stress, very long hours, and quite a few successes. The Educatus openly welcomed the development of high standards in the Offspring (they always had), but questioned the manner in which the TEST was used to measure / analyse/ sort / sift the Offspring, as well as to rank their schools.

    2. The Napland Politicus, who are generally found wherever the Media Circus congregate (or sometimes the other way around). The Politicus hold the pursestrings, and thus, the rights, to insist upon the TEST. It would appear that their hearts are in the right place, given the money they had already spent on school buildings in the past year.

    3. The Napland Offspring, who are meant to be the focus in the whole saga. Funnily enough, while they have the greatest numbers of any tribe, and while everyone says that they matter the most, they invariably have the least say in the whole process.

    Sadly, the Educatus and the Politicus can not always agree on the manner in which the TEST results are to be displayed to the rest of Napland. Some in the Parenticus and the Media Circus have become obsessed with simplistic test scores in these online displays, to the utter frustration of the Educatus, who know that many deeper criteria determine a great Napland school.

    And so, into this Naplandic Impasse, there recently came by chance an all-wise Learning Oracle. This great Oracle represented the collective wisdom of all of the tribes of Napland; a wisdom that sometimes seemed to disappear out the window when it came to Decision Time on any major initiative.

    Upon consulting with the Oracle, all Naplandic tribes agreed to give their full support to a special set of Laws. These Laws, according to the Oracle, would ensure the sustainability and general worth of the ongoing TEST.

    Since that time, these Laws Of Napland have been passed down on a stone tablet, talked about over many a coffee, and inscribed in 140-character tweets on twitter.

    And so, to the Laws:

    The 1st LAW. The TEST is here to stay, so get used to it.

    It’s just how politics works. Don’t bother to resist it; work with it instead. That way, you might get to have some influence in adjusting the near-future directions of the system. It doesn’t mean that you meekly accept everything that will be decided. Rather, that you get involved, and offer your opinion. So, blog / twitter / Facebook, and engage in proactive dialogue about the worth and future direction of the TEST.

    The 2nd LAW. Collation of evidence is an invaluable process. Use it to support the Offspring.

    Sometimes, raw data is used to poor effect (eg to politically compare schools and systems). However, that same data can be hugely instructive when it comes to supporting individual children’s learning. Don’t let your political attitudes colour the worth of this data. Educatus must consistently analyse the individual and collective data from the TEST, and then respond with explicit teaching that targets each child. Professional dialogue between the Educatus is the most effective way of implementing these targeted practices.

    The 3rd LAW. Don’t teacher-proof the system.

    Sadly, other education systems around the world are based upon the assumption that teachers can’t be trusted, and that the system has to be teacher-proofed. This is a professional embarrassment to all parties concerned. The Educatus are the ones who make it all work. And the vast majority of them are impressive at what they do. Give them the resources and support to create quality learning in the classroom, and you’ll see better results on all tests over the next few years.

    The 4th LAW. Teach for the longer term, not just for the test.

    Yes, schools might be under pressure to ‘perform’ in the eyes of the Parenticus and the Media Circus, but this must never distract from the focus on long-term learning. The research is indisputable everywhere in Edutopia. If you teach to the test, you may get marginally better results on the test itself in the short-term, but the long-term results will plateau. Pay respect to the need for sustainable long-term improvement in all fields, and it will rub off in the TEST results anyway.

    The 5th LAW. Collaboration works more effectively than competition.

    It’s about time that the competition cliché (ie that we have to compete with each other in order to improve our standards) died a quick death. We’re not talking about the Olympics here. Not all of life has to be a bitter competition. Do you compete in your family? Your local church? Your neighbourhood? Outstanding human performances result from a deep personal inspiration to be exceptional. It’s a drive from within, not an externally motivated obsession, that leads to world-best practice.

    When it comes to the TEST itself, websites full of comparative data are based on the fragile premise that the competition will somehow challenge schools to do more. So what’s that indicating? That they’re not presently doing as well as possible? This is another professional embarrassment on the part of all concerned. The Educatus want the best for their students, full stop. They’re already doing whatever they can to help students to reach those high standards. Setting up artificial competition between schools doesn’t inspire them to do more. Replace the fear factor with the peer factor.

    The 6th LAW. Focus on the heart as well as the mind.

    We learn everything off by heart. For the brain to be engaged, an emotional connection must be made with the learning. Literacy rates might rise during strict instruction, but rates of reading for pleasure can sometimes fall. Remember that we’re meant to be developing a love of learning in our Offspring, and not just creating a set of numbers that have the Media Circus lauding education systems for advancing by some miniscule measurement over a two-year period. Build the Inspiration Factor, the heart, into every lesson every day for the Offspring. And this is why we need the best, the brightest and the most inspiring of adults to be the Educatus. Because they model that inspiration.

    The 7th LAW. It’s not EITHER / OR. It’s BOTH / AND.

    Too often, we feel compelled to choose between work and play, or inquiry and memorization, or phonics and whole language. Yet, powerful choices often pay respect to both sides of the process, and align them to the benefit of all. Pity the poor school or system that decrees that they must choose between endless prep for the TEST; OR a comprehensive development of creativity, initiative and love of learning in the Offspring. It’s not an Either / Or. It must be a Both / And. If you’re professional enough, you can generate a strong degree of initiative and creativity, while still respecting the need for explicit TEST skills development.

    The 8th LAW. To measure the quality of a school, look for deeper authentic criteria.

    You might measure your bank account, or the length of your index finger, with a clearly defined number. Schools are not that simple. And it’s not good enough to dismiss this perspective by saying that this is just our starting point with the online recording of data, and that later on, we’ll improve it further. It’s just the wrong approach, right from the start. TEST data is only a small part of the big picture. We must take into account other authentic data such as: whether the kids want to be there; whether the school contributes to the social fabric of the local community; whether parents will stick up for the school at a Saturday night party. The world is consumed by the endless simplification of issues that are invariably much more complex. This simplification fails to pay respect to the depth and substance that contributes to a sensational school.

    The 9th LAW. Focus on Second Decade skillsets.

    It’s a whole new world out there, and while the 3Rs will always be critical, there are other very important skills that are worth learning. Skills such as: cybercitizenship (being able to participate effectively in an online environment); emotional intelligence (being able to self-regulate one’s emotional state when working with others); and philanthropic endeavour (being able to contribute to a better community with your personal and team actions). In this Second Decade, these skills will be vital if we want our Offspring to make a worthwhile contribution to our societies. Beware any system that reverts to simplistic 19th Century skills only.

    The 10th LAW. When using the data from the TEST, make a decision that is based upon our own country’s culture, and not some other culture.

    While we can learn from other high-achieving systems and countries, we always must be careful about duplicating what they do. There are some countries that are barely democracies, and others that have a lifetime obsession with single scores. That’s their choice. Do we want to make those same choices about our lifestyle? We might end up carbon-copying the eating habits, the movies and the language of other countries. It doesn’t mean that we also have to take what they do with school data, and simply transpose it to here. We’re just different. Think about our egalitarian nature, and the community spirit that drives our best endeavours, Then make use of those strengths to create sensational schooling systems.

    The 11th Law. It’s not about the great god Economy. It’s about our children and their love of learning.

    The TEST must never be solely about preparing young people for a life of economic subservience. A world that is dominated by wealth and power has nearly destroyed us. Track deeper, and realize that TESTS such as this are simply an effective way of helping students to improve in some very worthwhile learning skills. Believe it nor not, there are even more important issues at stake: We want our Offspring to be safe, to feel valued, to love their learning, and especially, to believe that their world up ahead will be one in which it is worth living. And that will be determined by the choices we make with them today. Let’s get going.

    Innovation Forum

    michaelHad a fantastic couple of days recently, MC-ing an Innovation Forum in Brisbane. Organised by Independent Schools Qld. In total, six different speakers from all over the world, who offered six varying perspectives on innovative practice. Loved every one of them, partly because I’m finding myself becoming more and more obsessed with this tenuous concept of ‘innovation’. My gut feeling is that those who most emphatically embrace whatever the heck innovation means will be those who best cope (and even thrive) through the Second Decade. And it’s hardly as though I’m alone with this belief.

    For those who weren’t lucky enough to be at this Forum, here are some links and bits of info:

    DAY ONE:

    * Canadian Michael Furdyk (pictured) was deeply impressive. He’s a Gen Y, and has accomplished more than many others who are significantly more advanced in years. Why is it that certain gifted individuals manage to achieve in this way?? More on Michael here at http://www.furdyk.com/ For me, his most impressive work has been with Taking IT Global. Possibly the most advanced social justice site on the planet. At http://www.tigweb.org/

    * For a scientist (and specifically a nanotechnologist) Dr Kristin Alford explored some alluring and insightful concepts. One was that of the Presencing Institute, and Otto Scharmer’s U-Theory concept. If you’re easily inspired by near-future human possibilities, it’s worth having a look at http://www.presencing.com/

    * Greg Gebhart is an excellent speaker. First met him at the U-Learn conference in Christchurch in 08. He was third up on Day 1 of this B’bane session, and is the lead consultant with the Aussie Govt’s CyberSafe program.  Have a look at http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/ Greg placed some of his conference material at http://www.itvision.net.au/isq.htm Lots of great resources.

    DAY TWO.

    * Aucklander Graham Hart was a magic example of someone who lives in the creative spirit. His contribution to the Lonely Dog concept just captivated the audience. Ponder this for a moment. With his colleagues, he has developed a book worth $60,000. And they’ve sold 70 of them! I lingered through the example that he had brought with him; and I must admit, it was a deeply impressive work of art!

    * Next up was the principal of Crescent Girls School in Singapore. Eugenia Lim is quite obviously a high achiever, and has contributed a significant degree to her country’s advancement in recent times. I worked in Singapore last November, and was fascinated by the country’s perspective on creativity. Very logical-sequential, and yet highly effective.

    * Sydney-sider Nigel Collin was your classic end-of-conference high energy keynoter. I actually referred to him as Mr Berocca. Download some of his articles, and you’ll see that he has some upfront ideas about creative practice. The short video that was developed by his young son was priceless, and demonstrated that creative capacity can begin at a very early stage.

    School Aid in Haiti

    So help me, if just one person complains to me in the next two weeks about having to go back to work, I’ll dropkick them. If ever there has been an issue that has challenged us to appreciate just how lucky most of us are (well, most of us in the ‘Western’ world), then surely the Haiti earthquake has been the definitive one. Haiti earthquake

    Trying to sort through the media scrum in their reporting of this disaster is always problematic, yet it’s pretty obvious that the magnitude of this event is as momentous as any that has occurred in the past fifty years on Earth.

    And so, we each have a choice. We can express our sympathies at the next coffee club meeting, and roll our eyes at the misery being faced by so many of our fellow citizens (and they are our fellow citizens. They’re just in another country. Which happens to be on the same planet).

    Or, we can each really do something about this.

    So here’s at least one thing you can do. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably involved in education. If you are, then get involved in the School Aid appeal. School Aid have teamed up with Plan Australia and Save the Children to launch a co-ordinated appeal to all school students. A guaranteed 90% of all funds raised will be directly spent on the kids who are still alive in Haiti. If you encourage your students to raise funds for this cause, it will essentially be a case of Kids Helping Kids. And that’s just the sort of world we all want to see being created up ahead.

    Screen shot 2010-01-18 at 9.23.09 PMWhen a disaster of this magnitude occurs, it’s obvious that the world must unite for the one cause, and provide the support that is so necessary. If you’re socially just, you’ll appreciate the worth of this sentiment.

    Get your students involved. It’s good for them; and it’s good for the planet. At the very least, it might go a small way towards helping lots of kids who desperately need it right now.