The Purpose of Education
“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one“
This is a quote by Malcolm Forbes, the former American entrepreneur behind the Forbes institution. This is one of my favourite quotes around education purpose simply because it resonates with my own core philosophy of education. Sadly, my own experience of typical secondary schools is such that, stepping into one , you might be forgiven in believing that the quote ought instead to be
“The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with a full one”
All too often it feels as though schools consider children to be ‘pots to be filled’ (with knowledge) rather than ‘pots to be moulded’. However, you know when you are in a truly outstanding school. In these, I feel that Malcolm’s quote really does come to life. In outstanding schools, developing knowledge and skills (filling the mind) and the qualifications that are then achieved is of course important. However, more important still is the development of an “open mind” in young people. This might be considered as a mind which is always ‘open for learning‘ – and never closes. This is now where young people leave school as expert, passionate and lifelong learners.
Opening Minds and Hearts
As the Principal of an Avanti school, however, I would be so bold as to perhaps extend the meaning of the quote even further still. A student with an open mind (and I would add open heart) is not only open to learning – (s)he is also open to the minds and hearts of others. Such a person works hard to live by a set of values that embraces the common humanity that makes us all the same at heart, while also celebrating diversity – that which makes us all different and so very interesting in this increasingly joined-up, global community.
We live in an age where technology; the internet and social media in particular are all bringing communities closer together – socially, politically, economically and through work and opportunity. It makes it even more interesting when there are forces at play that seek to divide rather than to unite. As an example of this, those of us who are registered to vote in June are starting now to consider our position over the very future of the European community – a referendum of which many of my generation would not have dreamed.
In our schools, these kinds of ideas of local, regional and international community find their place in the subject of ‘citizenship’; which explores the various communities to which we belong and also considers both the values alongside our rights and our responsibilities within these communities. Our students, the next generation, must consider (probably more than we had to), exactly what it means to the British, European and indeed global citizens of the present and the future. As is ever the case, our votes in June, as adults, will have a greater impact on our children’s futures than they will on our own. There is no simple answer.
At Avanti House, citizenship education is well led by Ms Martini who also oversees the allied programme of personal and social education. Within the programmes of study in citizenship education – particularly at secondary – the idea of what it means to be a British citizen, central to the EU debate, are explored.
Fundamental British Values
Our own Government is very clear what defines ‘Britishness’ and it articulates this publicly in five key themes:
i) Democracy (indeed the birthplace of democracy),
ii) Individual liberty (freedom of expression),
iii) Abiding by the rule of law,
iv) Expressing mutual respect to all and linked to this…
v) Tolerance for those with different beliefs.
Avanti Values: Educating the Whole Learner
Schools in the UK are expected to develop these themes – and at Avanti House we do, both in our curriculum and also in our own values which we live and breathe.
Everything about our own six values of gratitude, respect, integrity, courage, empathy and self-discipline aligns perfectly to the above British values. Indeed, in our curriculum and our conversations with children, we DO talk about the above fundamental ‘British’ values but we are also quite clear that we consider these (and our own) to be not just British, but rather universal human values – and hence perfectly acceptable values for a future as global citizens.
Through our work in the citizenship curriculum at Avanti House we do recognise that the world is becoming more global in outlook than ever before and that the speed at which this is occurring is increasing. We must equip our children for a world which is diverse, joined-up, multi-cultural and also transient in nature.
Our youngsters, as young adults are increasingly likely to live in more than one country in their lifetime and even when they do not, they will see so many people from many backgrounds and cultures. We must work with families to embrace the opportunity that this creates for developing in children a global outlook. This is even more important in our own schools (at Avanti) where ethnic and cultural diversity in the schools themselves are not a great as they are elsewhere – even in other Harrow schools.
We must look to this as a challenge as we develop the curriculum and the ways in which we and our children work with our local, regional and global communities. International visits and visitors will assist in this agenda and we have begun to throw open the doors to both of these. To this end, most recently, year 8 enjoyed a day’s workshop with published author and presenter Susan Popoola (Consequences: From Diverse to Mosaic Britain) where children reflected on their own values and their responses to them. Visits abroad – to Europe and beyond are also in the pipeline as are potential links with schools on all the major continents.
The Universal Teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: Inclusive by Default
As an Avanti Schools Trust school – (and the Trust opens its fifth school in Croydon this coming September) – Avant House has, as its faith foundation, the teachings of the 15th century Indian saint Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, considered by those of the faith to be the most recent incarnation of Lord Krishna, was by his own life example the greatest of unifiers.
Throughout His life, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu declared openly that sectarianism was one of the greatest enemies of human progress. He resolved himself, to become a citizen of the world – by cutting off His connection with any particular group, caste or creed and He did this when He became a Sannyasi at the age of 24. Chaitanya’s legacy of course is the most profound collection of teachings of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Bhakti tradition of Hinduism. In this tradition all are implored to devote themselves to hearing and to chanting the many names of God – a theme in the Bhagavad Gita as being the most appropriate way to reach the Divine in this dark age of kali – to go beyond even being a global citizen of this Earth – and to become intimate with and embrace our much larger spiritual selves. Such themes, alongside other ways in which both the many faiths and other philosophies explore the ‘awe and wonder’ of our lives – are central to the PRE (philosophy, religion and ethics) curriculum at Avanti schools. Our aim at Avanti House is to nurture the next generation of global citizens; inheritors of our world. We aim for them to be enterprising and highly qualified, of robust character and with an ethical and philosophical insight which will help them to tackle to biggest of questions that our lives throw at us. Quite a lofty aim!
On this path, effort never goes to waste; and there is no failure.
Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from
the greatest fear.
Ladies Pampering Evening
As I left school on Friday evening, I dropped into the latest Friends of Avanti House (FOAH) event – a pamper event for ladies.
More details will emerge on the FOAH website I am sure but I am told that the event was well attended and a huge success.
Congratulations and thanks once again to FOAH and in particular the Pamper Event organisers, Sheetal Lakhani, Tejal Thakrar and Sheetal Bhudia for pulling this together and for the many volunteers; it bodes well for the organisation of the summer fair ahead of us!
At this event, I picked up my latest ‘read’ – a book by social entrepreneur and fundraising activist, Manoj Kerai. The book is called “The Burning Bride” and is a story based in reality – an exploration of the dowry problem that still exists across India. Earlyindications are that this is a worthwhile (albeit adult) read.
Some photos of the event below: