Growing the Future

Based on Nikky Smedley’s seminar given at Bett 2015, Excel London this January – a version of this piece originally appeared in ‘Teach Secondary’ magazine. Links used in the presentation are listed at the end.

“As a company to be represented at Bett Show 2015, changing cultures are a bit of a cuckoo in the nest. The theme in the Bett Arena for the duration of the event is, “Enhancing access to education, through technology”, and we are not a technology company. However, as everyone knows, the most complex element in any tech system is the user – and that is our speciality.

We describe ourselves as experts in Creativity and Engagement, which is the truth, but I’d like to delve into those terms a little.

By Creativity, we do not mean the ability to draw or dance or play a musical instrument – although it could be argued that these are technical skills, and that the creativity comes with what you do with them. This premise is transferable to any skill set, as an engineer, a physicist, a retailer – you learn the skills to complete the required tasks in your field, but success can often depend on the creative application of those skills. This is of course also true of education.

The gaming industry, a hugely successful sector in the UK, is an interesting case in point, where 10% of business is involved in generating hardware, and the rest is the creative input inventing and honing those games which will appeal to the target market.

Apple would not be where it is today without the amazing creative marketing genius of Steve Jobs.

Engagement is of course a key issue in schools and corporations. Increase levels of engagement, whether within or without the institution and a raft of problems will dissipate. Technology can have a part to play here, but so can attention to the human beings who are interacting with it.

Research tells us that when businesses are recruiting, they want good communication skills above all else; that drive, initiative and flexibility feature widely; that leadership and teamwork skills are valued and that problem solving, reasoning and creativity are consistently rated as highly, if not more highly than computer and tech literacy.

Don’t get me wrong, of course STEM subjects are hugely important, but along with the knowledge of these areas has to come the development of individuals to become self-motivated, self-organising, and in the best possible way, self-interested, in order to use that knowledge in ways that move the individual forward as well as our whole society.

Lord Young’s June 2014 report, “Enterprise For All” is a jolly good read, and I agree with much of it. Mostly he talks about the value of developing enterprise capabilities in students, in order that they may be more ready for the future world of employment – what but the development of these capabilities can also be highly effective tools to increase engagement, and therefore learning, here and now in the classroom.

Increasingly, businesses are saying that they are looking for innovators to help them grow into the future, and with an ever-shifting landscape, even those working outside business will need the ability to re-invent themselves and be flexible in order to survive.

The Bett Show is awash with wonderful technological innovations and advances, but we also need that spirit of innovation in our human interactions, and more than ever in those interactions that happen in our classrooms.

We work within an outmoded system, our educational structure lags behind the “real life” experience of our children and young people, we the grown-ups, the educators, need to get as nimble as they are – otherwise, we’re just not making the most of all the technological tools we have at our fingertips.

So how do we do this and keep up with the all the other stuff demanded of us, and get them through the exams? We’ve got a curriculum to deliver after all !

Going back to Lord Young’s report, he talks about the fourth ’R’ being Relevance – and whilst I don’t think that this is a universal panacea, I do think it has a big part to play. That relevance doesn’t have to be in terms of future employment or growth as an individual, it can work in the smallest of ways.

I remember my earliest days as a Physics student, and whilst I was painfully aware that I was unlikely to need to know that Density = Mass over Volume in my adult life, when I found out that there was a formula to explain why a drawing pin is sharp – it blew my mind. It was like seeing The Matrix, the whole world opened up to me in a new guise. Physics as a concept was suddenly interesting to me, because I knew what a drawing pin was, I knew what my hand was, and I understood pain. The idea that you can explain an every day occurrence with a mathematical equation is exciting to me to this day.

Of course there are additional factors to increasing engagement, and in my full talk I discuss what fellow professionals see as the key drivers to achieving this, and how these techniques can be implemented in the classroom, as well as sharing case studies showing successful outcomes, through awakening students’ awareness of their own roles and responsibilities as learners and their place as individuals in the educational world they occupy.

In today’s world Technology, Creativity and Engagement can go hand in hand, and the hands involved belong to real live people, young people who will be the future we will not know. The more we can help them believe in their own capabilities to learn, to invent, to achieve – then the more we will be ‘Growing The Future’, a future in which they can be happy and fulfilled. Isn’t that what we all want?”

Links From Nikky’s Presentation:;search%3Anikky%20smedley


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