Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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21/1/16: making virtue out of necessity.

Ah, the joys of middle management!  To every youngster (defined here as being aged less than 30) I get to speak to, I give the advice, bypass middle management, go straight from the bottom to the top.  Don't know how this is done, haven't achieved it myself, but nevertheless consider that this is good advice.

So, when one of my colleagues left at short notice, I found myself taking over the leadership of a course called, "Teaching, learning and assessment" which I think is better termed, "Curriculum, learning, teaching and assessment."  So, firstly need to work out what we're trying to achieve in education (ie. curriculum), engage with how children go about learning, look to devise a teaching programme which engages both with how children learn and also what we are trying to achieve, and then make sure that this is all happening at least satisfactorily (ie. assessment).

I have some great colleagues working on the team, and opted to teach the first two sessions myself, engaging with fundamental questions such as, "What are we trying to achieve in the education process?"  As with so many aspects of education as an academic discipline, it sounds as if the answer is obvious - right up until the moment you try to answer it.  Have to say, have enjoyed the preparation required for these sessions, which has involved going back over notes I started to take as a PhD student on things I've read and also reading a further recent book on the issue and various journal articles.

You can find (most of) the PowerPoint for the first session here.  As you can see, I decided to approach the issue as to what we are aiming to achieve in the school curriculum in the first instance by asking the question, "Who are the stakeholders?"  In the group discussion amongst the students, two groups came up which I had not prepared for: donors and faith group leaders.  As with subject specialists, we need the input of interested parties but may consider that we need to take an overall view as to what we are trying to achieve.  So, for example, my own view is that it is for parents and faith group leaders to encourage children to become faith adherents themselves, I don't think this is the role of schools - and, indeed, cases where former school pupils have rebelled against the approach taken at school is not hard to find.  Of course, many schools across the world have strong affiliations with faith groups, one key question here is whether parents and children have an equally viable choice in a non-faith school.  If, as is the case in many English villages, they don't, then all views need to be welcomed and respected.  If there is, there may be more flexibility here, but my principal view on this point remains.

So, an interesting session with a great group of students.  One of the wonderful things about working in higher education is that one can spend massively more preparation time relative to session time as compared with school teaching.  Another session coming up this week looking at a few key issues, one question I'm wanting to ask: should we be educating more people to graduate level than there are jobs available for graduates?  If you'd like to engage with this debate, do use the comment box below!

Two final things.  Firstly, the Operation Mobilisation ship Logos Hope is due to arrive here in Dar es Salaam tomorrow and then open on Tuesday, so I'm looking forward to visiting, although sorry that Peace and Tommy will be moving back onto the ship, it's been great having them here.  So, if you're in Dar es Salaam, do go and visit, next to the Azam ferry terminal to Zanzibar, bring 1000 Tanzanian shillings (about 30p), wear closed shoes (ie. not sandals or flip flops) and bring identity.  Then you can enter the world's largest floating bookshop, I've seen some video footage and it looks superb!

And very finally, I was struck this week by this BBC News story which tells how a 10 year old Muslim boy living in Lancashire was meaning to write "I live in a terraced house" and by mistake wrote "terrorist", bringing the full might of the British law down upon him and his family.  At first sight the story seems funny, until you realise just how traumatic the experience was for them all, with the boy now terrified to write for fear as to what the consequences will be for his next spelling mistake.

On the face of it the police reaction was grossly over the top.  But: can the following fictional news story be regarded as 100% fantasy with no possibility that it could ever be printed for real?

Families of the victims murdered in the recent bombing by a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist were horrified and angered to discover that the incident could have been prevented.  It turns out that the 10 year old UK born son of the perpetrator had written in an essay at school that he lived in a 'terrorist house'.  It is not clear whether this was a cry for help or a momentary lapse of concentration.  Teachers had, apparently, laughed this off as a mis-spelling of 'terraced house' and thought no more about it.

Detective Superintendent Yvonne Cuthbertson said, "What makes this incident particularly frustrating is that the teacher involved had received anti-terrorism training only weeks before, in which teachers are quite clearly told that ALL suggestions of terrorism MUST be reported to the police.  There is no room for discretion here.  Teachers need to understand that they are not experts in terrorism, and can be assured that any referrals will be dealt with sympathetically and proportionately."

Is there some middle course here?  I don't know.  We live in a fallen world, the need for security will mean that some freedoms will be curtailed, it is highly unfortunate that the need for security rebounded so spectacularly on such a young child.  May we all know God's wisdom as we look to balance conflicting priorities in our personal, professional and communal lives.

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