Education – A Manifesto for Change (2019) by Richard Gerver

From the Dean of Teaching and Learning

Driving in Brisbane is rarely a pleasure, however, recently I had cause to appreciate the traffic jam when I listened to an ABC program called Life Matters on the car radio. The interviewee was the celebrated British educationalist and presenter Richard Gerver, who was speaking about his new book Education – A Manifesto for Change (2019).

Richard Gerver has received many accolades over the years, most notably from UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation) and the British Government for taking a failing school in the UK and transforming it into an internationally acclaimed learning environment.

During the discussion he made several interesting points regarding contemporary education in First World nations such as Australia and offered an explanation as to why the Scandinavian countries continue to “punch above their weight” in terms of academic outcomes for their students.

Firstly, he made the point that we largely continue to educate for an outdated system that was designed to prepare workers to live a life of certainty. Most people worked at the same kind of job throughout their lives and many worked in the same sector for the duration of their working lives. Massive structural change, driven by unprecedented technological innovation, has changed this and our lives of certainty no longer exist. Gerver maintains that the skills required by young people entering the workforce now are those which call for flexibility, creativity, and the ability to work collaboratively and creatively. He strongly advocates for curriculum that encourages ideas and entrepreneurship as a means of insuring against the unpredictability of the contemporary workplace.

He looked to companies like Google, which are under enormous pressure to constantly innovate. He discovered that they start with an “assumption of excellence” rather than “an assumption of incompetence” in which workers need to be managed. He made the point that people, and by extension students, need to feel safe to innovate – they need to be able to make ridiculous suggestions and ideas. Gerver maintains that the best way for students to learn in the 'new world order' is for schools to have authentic connections to business and that they have the freedom to explore ideas that are not deemed “the way it is”.

In terms of Scandinavian educational success, particularly the Finnish context, most notable is that it nurtures the whole child and that there is universal respect for the teaching profession, but most importantly, educational policy is not shackled to changing government policies and the electoral cycle. Rather like the Reserve Bank of Australia setting monetary policy independent of the government of the day, Finnish educational policy is set by educators free from the influence of changing political priorities and short-term political gains.

Finally, he believes that technology will never replace a great teacher. When asked what makes a “great” teacher he said that they came in all shapes, sizes, ages and mannerisms but that he has discerned a few common characteristics:

  • Great teachers had high levels of emotional intelligence leading to positive interpersonal relationships
  • Great teachers are consistent in their approach – they don’t lurch from method to method or mood to mood
  • Great teachers have a life-long love of learning which they demonstrate on a daily basis to their students

I was almost sorry when the traffic started to move, and the Life Matters program came to an end. It also made me reflect on what we are doing at IGS in terms of preparing our students for contemporary work places.
While there is little we can do in regard to political influences in our education process, the concept of educating the whole child through the Round-Square initiative and the high uptake of our Economics and Business classes in Year 9, where the boys have to work creatively and collaboratively to market commercially desirable products, as well as our growing links to the Boeing Corporation through our STEM program, give our boys the opportunity to grow the skills and mindset that Richard Gerver believes will be their future.

Susan Shaw
Dean of Teaching and Learning