#9 Jevron Epstein – Going to Space, Student-Focused Learning, and Healthy Tech Adoption for Children
PODCAST: Episode 9
Jevron Epstein – Going to Space, Student-Focused Learning, and Healthy Tech Adoption for Children
We had the honor of having a conversation with Jevron Epstein who is the founder of a unique group of schools called Generation Schools. Jevron has a true passion and obsession for student-focused learning and providing his learners a solid foundation for their futures.
Click on the YouTube link to watch Jevron’s full episode where we discuss student-focused learning. This episode is brought to you by Smartick.
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About Our Guest: Jevron Epstein
Jevron Epstein has a background in Human Behavior and Finance studies and furthered his education by completing CFA Levels 1 and 2 as well as qualifications in Montessori teaching.
Jevron is the founder of a group of schools called Generation Schools. These schools incorporate a future-focused education system that aims to dismantle the prior structures and beliefs of traditional single-subject, outcome-based education and instead emphasize a thematic, personalized, holistic approach to education and human development. Armed with his experience and knowledge, Jevron has developed an education methodology that effectively combines the Cambridge curriculum with the Montessori philosophy.
Jevron has recently taken on the role of Chief Operating Officer at the Cornerstone Institute, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Cornerstone is an independent, nonprofit higher education institution engaged in teaching and learning in the service of others to advance human dignity and social justice for all.
Student-focused learning is at the core of what Jevron stands for, believes in, and built his school’s philosophy on. Jevron has the future of education in the palm of his hand.
- The challenges of establishing a new education model.
- Student-focused learning.
- The shortcomings of the current education system and how to repair it.
- The importance of mathematics, software development, and financial literacy.
- How to ensure and care for mental wellbeing at school.
- What the future of education looks like.
Full Episode Transcription
In today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with Jevron Epstein. Jevron holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a double major in human behaviour and finance. He furthered his education by completing his CFA level I and II, as well as his Montessori qualification.
Jevron is the founder of a group of schools called Generation Schools, which incorporates a future and student-focused learning and education system that aims to dismantle prized structures and beliefs of traditional, single-subject, outcome-based education. And emphasises a thematic, personalised, holistic approach to education and human development. Armed with his experience and knowledge, Jevron has developed a schooling methodology that effectively combines the Cambridge curriculum with the Montessori philosophy.
Jevron has recently taken on the role of COO at the Cornerstone Institute, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Cornerstone is an independent, not-for-profit, higher education institution engaged in teaching and learning in service of others, to advance human dignity and social justice for all.
In this conversation, we discussed the challenges of establishing a new education model, the shortcomings of the current education system, and how to repair it. The importance of mathematics, software development, and financial literacy. How to ensure and care for mental well-being at school, what the future of education looks like, and a range of other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking conversation with Jevron, and I’m sure you will, too. Without further ado, I bring you, Jevron Epstein. Jevron, welcome.
Jevron’s Educational Background
Jevron Epstein: How’s it? Thanks.
Philip von Ziegler: Nice to have you here. So to start off with, just tell us a little bit about yourself, maybe, and your education journey. How did you get here?
JE: Okay, so I went to 13 different schools growing up. When I was born, my father’s Jewish, and my mother was a Christian, so we started off by sending me to a Jewish Day school. It was called Kerem. And then I went to a school called Menorah.
And then my parents got divorced, and my mother said, you’re no longer Jewish, you’re now Christian, and I went to the Robertson Lifestyle Christian School. Obviously, you can imagine thinking that Jesus didn’t exist, and all of a sudden he’s real, was quite a wake-up call. I got quite a bit of corporal punishment because in those days it was still around. And the teachers told my mother there was something wrong with me, so I needed to go to a school that was more in line with my personality.
I was then sent to the Waldorf School in McGregor, where I spent quite a lot of time. And it was at that stage where my parents took me to an educational psychologist and I was diagnosed with functioning Asperger’s, or at that stage, it was just Asperger’s.
I went to a school called Olyfkrans College, where I was assisted to understand different environments for different people, and it was actually a very good school. Our national sport at that stage was tug of war, which was quite strange from a South African perspective. And then after that period of time, I was healed and I went back into society, where I finished off at a school called Grantleigh in Richards Bay.
During those 13 different schools, I gained lots of experiences from what worked and what didn’t work in those environments. I then went further on to study a BCom, a dual major in Finance and Psychology. And then ventured into the financial world, and said I wanted to be rich, so I needed to do something that had numbers involved.
I worked for a company in Johannesburg doing listings onto the exchange, and it was soul-destroying. So I came back to Cape Town and then decided I would start a small accounting practise that were just accounts for schools, so I could understand the financial metrics of a school. Built the business up to about 100 different entities within that schooling accounting system, and realised I wanted to build my own school.
So I studied the Montessori Early Years qualification because I found that during my experience that was the most practical form of education, Early Years. Reached out to some people, said I needed some money to build a school. The initial amount that I thought I needed was 20 million, and a couple of years later, I think we spent close to R500 million. So maybe not the 20 million I thought it was, but just diving straight into education.
PvZ: Amazing. So your Montessori education, is that something that you did at school?
JE: One of the schools that I went to had an aspect of Montessori. And if you actually understand Montessori, which is different to Waldorf, which is Steiner, is that Montessori is based in the real world. So everything you do in the classroom has an aspect of relativity.
So a simple example is a binomial and trinomial cube. In the early years for the children from 3 – 6 and 6 – 9, it’s just putting a puzzle together. As a child gets older, you can utilise abstract understanding for it, and you could, for example, say that red is a, and blue is b. And before you know it, you’re doing the binomial and trinomial theorem, which is a2 + b2. And I think what that does is from a fundamental perspective, from maths purely, by the time you get to high school, it’s no longer something that’s innate, it’s real. So that’s why we went to the Montessori.
More About Generation Schools
PvZ: And you’ve deployed this philosophy across your Generation Schools?
JE: Correct, yea, all of our schools have Montessori Early Years because Maria Montessori only lived long enough to give us Early Years Montessori. And then we’ve adapted going further in our schools into different curricular offerings.
PvZ: Okay, and I see that the school also follows the Cambridge syllabus. How did you come to that combination of Montessori philosophy and a Cambridge curriculum? Is that correct?
PvZ: Yes, correct. So Cambridge started in 1209. Four students were expelled from Oxford University. They were sitting on the river Cam, and they said, well, what are we going to do now? They smoked some recreational marijuana, and they said we’ll start a university.
PvZ: As you do.
JE: So on the aspect of that notion, as you do when good things happen. I think Cambridge is the world’s leader in secondary education. It is by far bigger than any other institution. I think it’s something like 12,800 schools adopt the Cambridge IGCSE and A-Levels. And what it is, it’s Cambridge University’s schooling arm, so it’s called Cambridge International Assessment.
I travelled the world. I spent time in Singapore and Finland looking at all various forms of secondary education, but there was none that was as linked to Montessori as Cambridge. I then invested quite heavily in Cambridge and found myself sitting on their Advisory Board for the university and advising them on things like technology within schooling systems, digital learning, etc. So I just found it to be the perfect fit for us.
Hiring Culture at Generation Schools
PvZ: Great, so, I mean, if you’re building a pretty unique set of schools, you’ve obviously got a philosophy that you abide by. And in doing so, I’m sure that the recruitment process is quite challenging. What do you look for in an educator when building a school, or a set of schools like this?
JE: So this is going to sound strange, but all infrastructure investments, such as schooling, people die on the tracks to make the train tracks that we utilise to create capitalism. So the reality is when we started Generation Schools, we knew that we wanted to involve ourselves in every aspect of schooling, primary, secondary and tertiary education, and then employability.
So with that start in mind, we had already started putting together our own school exiting qualification, as well as our own teaching degree. So today we have a Bachelor of Arts in Alternate Education, which specialises in the best forms of different education components around the world. We also have the only online professional development qualification for Cambridge.
So what we do is, we just look for people that have got grit, that are willing to push themselves with regards to their capabilities of learning. And then what we do is we induct them into our schooling group by providing them with professional development, and/or qualifications. So we rather look for human capabilities versus educational capabilities.
Impact and Adaptation of the Pandemic
PvZ: So coronavirus, 2020, crazy year. How has that impacted your schools, and what have you done in order to accommodate the challenges that coronavirus has posed?
JE: I looked at the numbers yesterday, we have 36 more children now in our schools than we had at the start of coronavirus. It was difficult. I can’t say that it wasn’t a challenge. But if a school group is created on constant change, and change can either be destructive or constructive. I wouldn’t say we were prepared for it, but we knew what to do.
So we were quite decisive. So we went straight online, and my schools are built on tech, so it wasn’t too difficult. And then we just managed holding the spaces for our educators and students who felt vulnerable during this period of time. But also being exposed to all of the harshness, what COVID did to their family members, people in their neighbourhoods, etc.
So we made a decision and we just moved forward. We’ve now gone back to our bricks-and-mortar schooling, and I think we’ve got a 10% vacancy of students that are still on our digital platform, and that’s decreasing every day. So I think it was just being prepared for change, and then making a decision and moving forward with it.
Future of Generation Schools
PvZ: And the next step for Generation Schools, is this something that you’d look to deploy across South Africa, or the African continent? Or are there other countries that you may have in mind down the line?
JE: So we currently have 7 schools, all in the Western Cape. We’ll get to 10 schools in the Western Cape by next year, and that’s 10 schools in 4 years. So to put that into perspective, that’s 2,400 students. So for us, it’s quite a big number already.
We also have a university that’s got 2,000 students in it. At this moment in time, 80% of those students are online and 20% of them are on campus. But in the world that we live in, we believe that infrastructure is important. What made Cambridge successful is something called the cathedral effect. It’s a notion when you think about Cambridge, where your mind goes. If an institution is built just digitally, humans don’t understand that. We’re concrete beings, we like to see things. For argument’s sake, if I sold you a house, but you never saw the house. It wouldn’t feel like you owned the house, and it’s very similar to schooling.
So for us personally, it would be to build out the university; to build out schools within the Western Cape. We have been tempted to go outside of our region, but I think from a Western Cape perspective, it’s the most difficult place to start a school.
Now, you’ve got hundreds of school groups across South Africa where land is cheaper. Access to resources, I wouldn’t say easier, but it’s more accessible, where the Western Cape is difficult. So I think if you can prove yourself in the Western Cape, and our focus for education is to truly change it. But to truly change it, we need to build all the infrastructure that’s required.
The best example that I was taught, was that if you take a black hole, a black hole sucks everything into it. But on the rim of a black hole is data, and that data tells you everything that was in the black hole. So it’s interesting that you need to study that rim, but if you get too close to it, it’ll suck you in.
So for our aspect is that in society, capitalism is the black hole for education. Everything is built towards capitalism. You can change the name of the school, you can change the curriculum, you can change all these different things. But if you’re not changing the purpose of schooling, you’re sort of just biding your time until someone else does that. So for us, it’s to build junior schools, high schools, universities, and businesses.
And then to have our students eventually all work within this realm of community, and not have to charge school fees for schooling. Industry should charge, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, they should pay for school fees, and I think that’s the model that we’re working towards.
We have recently expanded something which we call an Associate Offering into Africa. So we are accredited with Cambridge Assessments to be able to accredit other schools as Cambridge schools. And we provide those schools with all of the support that they need, examination functionality, teaching and learning, professional development. We’ve taken away textbooks, so we’ve digitized all the textbooks.
So we see ourselves becoming like the armor of a school. And I think our growth pattern will be to allow other schools to have their own communities. But to take away all the rigor that they currently face with regards to getting students through school, getting them into university, and then finding employability for them. So for us, it’s more the holistic, complete infrastructure for schooling.
PvZ: And in doing so, you’re better preparing kids for the digital economy.
Shortcomings of Traditional Education
PvZ: You know, technology has advanced at such a pace. And that said, what are some of the shortcomings of the traditional education system?
JE: I think the two things are, is the reflection of what the real worlds like. So if you have single-age group rooms, then you should have single-age group offices. And if you all wear uniforms, we should all dress the same. So if we all have to wait for a bell to ring to leave our desks, if we need to ask to eat food, or wait for a certain time to eat food. Then all of these things should be reflected in the working space because these students become the working space.
So there’s this complete disconnect between schooling and operational management of organisations. So what we did obviously was, we have mixed-age group classrooms, because you actually learn when you do, not learn when someone speaks to you. Those mixed age-group classrooms also teach students the ability to understand what bullying is. Because it’s a collegiate family environment, we have a lot less bullying than any other school would have because it’s more of a family structure.
And then obviously another big component in this is technology. We expect students to write examinations with pens and papers, but not utilise all the facilities that a computer can have. We also learn facts that we don’t need to know. We don’t introduce Google into our school as a form of a pencil. We bring it in as something that’s a bystander looking in.
Meanwhile, these students are all downloading their book reviews, and/or copying or pasting qualifications and tests from other students. So it’s fundamentally all broken, everything. And I think what I do like about traditional education because I think there are pros and cons, is that for 10% of the school, they really enjoy it.
PvZ: So if you had a magic wand, what would you fix in the world’s education right now? What’s that one glaring issue that you think needs attention?
JE: I think it’s student-focused learning. I think we’re all individuals and I think schooling is built on a structure that doesn’t exist. These As, Bs, and Cs linking to grades of beef. A-grade beef is the same thing as an A-grade student. No one wants a buy D-grade beef. And those students all go into a funding system that continues.
So if every student has strengths and every student has weaknesses, focus on their strengths, understand their weaknesses. But to do that, you can’t have an assessment-driven qualification. So to give you an example, you have individuals that talk about IEB. IEB is an enriched curriculum, but it is actually only offered in grades 10, 11, and 12. And if you actually go a little bit further, it’s probably just grades 11 and 12. So what happens all the way in between? Why not use all that time to prepare the student by utilising all the tools that they can use?
So I think my magic wand would be to actually remove the form of assessment that we’ve got, and make it individually driven, and we can utilise technology to do so.
Marketing an Alternative Way of Learning
PvZ: How do you convince parents to come to school like yours? Is it something that you actively have to go and pursue and market? Or do you have those forward-thinking, progressive parents that are actively looking for alternatives to the current system?
JE: We made an acquisition of a school recently and that school had started off at the same time that we started off. A traditional school and I think it had 240 kids in the school. And I think people are tired of, I’m not saying marketing, but of schools saying, we do all these different things. We focus on individuals and we do all these different things. However, we assess them all the same, at the same time, and if you don’t make the assessment, all the words that we said mean nothing.
So I think parents are starting to wake up, so, yes, we have parents that are forward-thinking. We’ve got some phenomenal entrepreneurs in our schooling system, and we also market to our students. So because a 10-year-old has access to a smartphone, we provide them with information on our schooling that they can go to their parents and ask for.
We market differently – you won’t find us on bus stops or newspapers, it’s all digital. And when you come to a tour and you see how our schools are built because they’re completely differently built, they look like Google, parents understand that. We’ve got links with some amazing organisations.
I’m fortunate to be going to the SpaceX launch next year when they send our first satellite into orbit. And people don’t know that the South African National Space Agency is in partnership with NASA to send the first female to the moon. We are now selling digital infrastructure within space. So we have these things, these projects that parents hear about, they find out about, and they can’t understand how this is being done in a school. But it’s just more reflective of the world that we live in in terms of the way that we focus as an organisation.
The Definition of a Successful Education
PvZ: But what that does is it obviously generates a deep curiosity or interest in something outside of your standard subject. And for me, a traditional education, or at least, let me rephrase that, a successful education is one where you leave school with a deep curiosity or a passion for something. With that curiosity and with an Internet connection, you’re going to find your way.
And I wish I knew that when I was going into university because I felt like everything was preselected and preplanned for me. Very little of what I did was of my own doing, of my own decision-making. So that said, how do you define a successful education? When a kid leaves your school, what do you hope to have achieved?
JE: I think the child needs to know who they are, I think that’s the first thing. Know who they are, understand how they fit into the world, and to realise no matter what, it’s just someone else’s perspective. And if they stay true to themselves and they have all the skill sets, what we would want is we want every child to leave our school, either being employed within our group and/or provided equity to start their own business, or placed into an organisation that they’re passionate about.
We see education as a lifelong journey. It’s on the basis of our learner-management system. So our schools are developed on a student-information system, which builds onto a learner-management system, which links into an environment. So our students have access to our platform for life. There they can see job postings, they can connect with alumni, they can see opportunities with regards to seed funding or grant funding. Open days at Takealot to go and spend some time working there.
So we see education as saying that we need to stay in contact with our students and be able to create that network. So like the old alumni, where we get together, we have a braai, and we build a clock for the school. We see it differently. We see it as building the community and the future.
So to give an example of a student that’s recently left us. This student did their degree while they were at school with us, left at the age of 19, and is now working within the university, within the student affairs, assisting students that are joining us next year.
So it’s about creating an ecosystem, not on the basis of a commercial structure where we’re trying to own everything. It’s just about creating connectivity. So I agree with you, you said something interesting. You said curiosity. So our school is built upon curiosity, experience, knowledge – that’s it. Without curiosity, you can’t create experience. Without experience, you can’t create knowledge. So those are the only three constructs of our school.
The Classroom of the Future
PvZ: So, 2030, what does the classroom look like then? As I said, technology is obviously progressing at a rapid pace. Coronavirus has been a catalyst for a hell of a lot of tech adoption. So what does that 2030 classroom look like?
JE: So this year I spent, thank goodness for COVID. I spent quite a bit of time finalising a BCom in software development, and our BA in Alternate Education. And what I’ve realised is that I found a subject that I was interested in. So I’m very interested in going into space, but I’m also interested in holography.
Holography is the creation of holograms. And what we’ve done, which is quite unique, because we don’t have screens that are displaying content to different schools. We have holograms. And how the holograms work, is that there was a technique called Pepper’s Ghost in the 1800s. Where someone would lie on the stage and they would utilise a candle and the refraction of light to produce a hologram. If you go to the South African National Space Agency, they utilise that as a form of physics within the school.
So we took that and we bought our own hologram. And our holograms are not at this time human-sized, they’re probably about 5’2″, not the average human. Some humans are 6′ and above. And what we’ve done is we’ve utilised obviously transparent glass, and then we’ve built holograms and we’ve linked those to VR headsets. So, for example, if you’re an educator, you can put on your VR headset and you can be in the classroom, you see and you experience people.
But the student that’s sitting there is looking at a hologram or a person in their classroom, and they’re not doing it with invasive technology, so they don’t have to put on a VR headset, too. So in 2030, I see us having spaces no different to Workshop 17. Where you arrive at school, your schooling is in your pocket already because our digital platform has digitized and augmented all the learning. But you have access to these pods for either robust discussions, debates; it’s like setting out the agenda points. We sort of deem the minutes to be read.
And that’s what I see; I see it to be quite different. I would like to have a satellite in space that I’m not restricted to telephony as well as archaic sets of fiber structures. And I think that would maybe happen within the next two years. And then to focus on Africa. We’re not going anywhere else other than Africa.
PvZ: Yea, super interesting. I think something that you touched on there, which I think human beings in general, have a difficulty thinking in exponents or thinking in sort of compound growth. And with the rate at which technology progresses, is really one of those functions. So to project 10 years into the future, I think things would be a lot more advanced than what people actually think they will be.
That said, it was interesting to hear you say that teachers should be the ones using VR headsets and not necessarily the students. Why do you think that’s the case? Do students still need a physical environment to be in, to hold face-to-face discussions, and to be educated, even if it is with the hologram? The idea is that students are not going to be as effectively educated sitting at home with the VR headset, versus being in person.
JE: Yea, I think isolation is very bad for human beings. We are here to create a community. So I think that this notion of everybody sitting by themselves behind a computer, learning, I don’t see that world existing. I think humans want to connect. They want to go out, they want to be together. And I think for children, why should children put VR headsets onto them? Why are we programming our younger years to have poor eyesight and poor muscle tone? They need to go to an environment where they can gym; where they can see their mates; where they can be children.
PvZ: And I think the notion that we should swap it around doesn’t make sense to me. So I agree with you, I see schooling always being there, and I think that community is required. If students don’t connect face-to-face, I think the world in 10, to 20, to 30, to 40 years’ time, is a very scary place. Especially with neural lacing, and all these other funny things that people are coming up with.
PvZ: Sure, sure. Another interesting thing is if you look at the development of the human brain, it’s obviously not much has changed over the last 100 years, over the last 1,000 years, over the last 10,000 years. But a heck of a lot has changed in terms of the quantity of information and data that we process on a daily basis, in the last two decades.
So if that’s it, how do we prevent this inevitable event where there’s just too much information to take in? Do humans, are we able to adapt at a pace that will allow us to take in all this information? Do we get to a point where this is simply too much? Or is that a sort of irrational fear?
JE: I think saturation that you speak of is caused by schooling. I always, this is quite crude, but when I look for people that join my team, I have a small team that work with me on certain projects. I look at it, is it a cup, is it a mug, or is it a shot glass? So how much water can that entity contain? And I say that schooling’s done that because we have the ability to to learn more information. We have the ability to understand more, to experience more, to feel more.
But certain educational systems have stopped that. They’ve done it because of purpose-driven education where it comes to exams. So we look for people who have enough room that they can saturate themselves with regards to new information but also to know what matters and what doesn’t matter. I think it’s important to know where to find answers, not necessarily always what the answer is, and I think those are the individuals that we look for.
So for myself personally, there was a lady called Dweck from Stanford, and she came up with something called the growth mindset. So if you’ve got a growth mindset, you’ve got agility, you’ve all these different forms of thinking. But what it all actually boils down to, is not necessarily knowing everything, but where to find that information when you need it, and how to learn it quick enough for you to understand it.
And if it’s something that you’re passionate about, you will retain it. If not, you’ll move on. But you’ll still have that experience in life that has taught you something about it. So I hope that answered the question in a strange, roundabout way.
Screen-Time and Healthy Tech Adoption
PvZ: Worldwide there are concerns that kids are having far too much time behind the screens. Screen time is this bad thing. How do you feel about screen time? How do you feel about kids using technology for recreational purposes beyond education?
JE: I think, from an education point of view, so in Early Years, so our schools don’t allow technology until the age of 6. We don’t have technology. It’s all blocks, bricks, and it’s dirt because that’s all for formative growth. That’s required for muscle tone, and for everything that you need to be a human.
Then we obviously have spaces of excellence. So we have this, it’s like an imagination box, where you can have things like holograms, drones, computers, etc. We know that parents provide the students with enough screen time at home, and they have the skill set already to do so. My 2-year-old daughter will go up to any screen, and because we have touch screens in our home, will try and change it by touching the screen, and then thinks that the TV’s broken. So, speaking from experience, I know what happens behind the scenes.
I think from an older-year perspective, technology becomes the center. Everything should be on their phone. Everything should be within a space that they can find it. And I think that’s when technology should come first. So in our junior schools until the age of 12, technology doesn’t come first. From 12 onwards, technology is the focus.
Management of Students’ Mental Health
PvZ: How do you address mental health at school? This has obviously become very topical over the last couple of years. And there’s a sort of a correlation between the development and use of social media and mental health problems amongst teenagers and in younger kids. So how do you address that at school? And how do you make sure that kids leave your school with a healthy mindset?
JE: It’s a very good question. So my personality trait doesn’t allow me to think like that. So I had to have like an awakening in our first year of schooling when a parent asked the same question. I hadn’t thought of it yet. So I asked the parent, what did you think? And then I went down this rabbit warren, and it came up that we needed wellness as a subject within our school. So each of our schools has wellness coaches. Those wellness coaches in the old days would have been career counselors or guidance counselors or psychologists, or whatever you would call them.
And their job is to instill wellness within the school space, to provide a safe space where someone can go and speak to the wellness coach, but also to change the language narrative. We’ve always had mental illness within the history of mankind; we’ve just never had the words to utilise to express it.
So the more we evolve as a species, the more our language evolves. And the problem, even with a good storybook, the more language you use, the more emotional it becomes. So it’s sort of finding the middle line between emotion and language, but then also having someone that understands the reality of it.
So I’m very careful of how I position what I’ve just said, but it is that. The more we talk about it and the more we unpack certain things, if you look at anything under a microscope, you’ll find imperfections. And I think that’s the same thing for mankind and for humans. We just need to be able to address it within an aspect of schooling that we can teach our students the coping mechanisms that they need.
And we have multiple different workshops, innings, and outings, where it comes to things like cyberbullying, understanding female rights, male rights. I had a student email me yesterday and said that they want to know why they couldn’t show their stomach at school.
And addressing these concerns, it’s not like they did in the past – because I said so. It’s now a conversation, it’s a debate. It’s understanding the constructs of this new age and also what the world perceives. So it is all very complicated, but wellness has a firm seat at the table.
Student’s Learning Challenges and How That Can be Mismanaged
PvZ: So you mentioned earlier that as part of the shortcomings of the traditional education model, there’s this middle of the bell curve set of children that enjoy that sort of education. You’ve obviously got kids that are sitting on the spectrum of learning abilities, learning challenges, the way in which they learn.
And with that, you oftentimes get those children that simply aren’t learning in the way that the teachers educating them. And when these kids have these learning challenges, the default is to prescribe some or other prescription Methamphetamine.
JE : [laugh]
PvZ: I guess if that’s what you want to call it. And me, personally, I feel like that’s overprescribed, and it’s just the default diagnosis that doesn’t really go beyond the surface. How do you feel about that?
JE: So, I’m going to try and be very P.C. about this. I think that if someone diagnoses you with something and they give you medication, what they’re giving you medication for is the outcome, not the cause. So I think, I love doctors, there’s no reason. But I think the reason we give students medication is so that they can cope within the class, not to fix what’s wrong. And I think we utilise our children as these test cases.
If I actually asked an educator that was teaching me in primary school, please explain to me what the purpose of algebra is, they would have no idea. The system is so fundamentally flawed that a preschool teacher has no idea what high school maths is. Nor does a high school math teacher have any idea what happens in preschool. Yet we want these students to go through a schooling environment where they’re educated.
We have fundamental issues in South Africa, specifically in mathematics. We are so poor that I think we should be by now be the worst country in the world when it comes to mathematics. If not, in the last two.
And I think it’s because, I’ve heard lots of children say, oh, English is easy, but maths is hard. Why is maths hard? Are our educators not trained correctly with regards to providing mathematics as a subject? If you ever looked at the maths syllabus if you are trained to be a teacher of mathematics.
I think there’s so many different issues that we have. Instead of focusing on trying to fix children that are not broken versus giving them medication so that we can just make maybe the school’s life easier. We should maybe be spending our energy and time and money, in understanding resources that are more impactful.
I always use this as a narrative when parents say they would like to utilise medication for their children. I say Rome is burning and you’re worried about the curtains. So I think it’s just once again highlighted what has happened in society.
Importance Of Maths
PvZ: Yeah, on the point of mathematics in South Africa, in that context. Why is maths so important?
JE: Maths is the basis of logic, if you don’t have logic, you don’t have maths, and everything that you do in life. I’ve asked you, I’m going to give you a stick of butter and a microwave. I would like you to calculate the speed of light utilising that, you can utilise maths to do that. If you don’t understand maths, and I ask you that question, you think I’m giving you a joke.
You can utilise the same using algebra, you could put together the same equation that could solve a sudoku, and that could power a wind turbine. It’s actually understanding the purpose of mathematics. We go to school and teach children maths in a silo-based form of education. We don’t tell them why. Why do I need to do trigonometry, for what reason?
And if you ask the teacher the question, they’re not going to be able to answer the question. I think that’s a big basis, why is that? Education needs to be demystified. We have all these thoughts with regards to how these structures are set up, but we don’t understand the purpose. So our school is built upon the question why? And I think one of the things that is missing within schooling is that from Generation School’s perspective, in the early years, there are only three subjects that really matter numeracy, literacy, and logic. The rest don’t, you can gather that information.
So in a classroom, we can teach you about a cumulonimbus cloud. But if you don’t have curiosity, experience, knowledge, you’re wasting your time. And I think numeracy, literacy, and logic are those fundamental building blocks. We don’t teach children to think sequentially or logically. We provide them with information, and we think that children’s learning is systematic and stagnant. It isn’t like that. It’s messy. You learn when you do.
So if I tell a child, don’t touch the stove because you’ll burn yourself. Until that child burns himself, they will not understand what I mean. Same thing with regards to mathematics. You can’t teach maths in a class. Also, I don’t know where this notion is that you learn by sitting still. I learn by moving. I do most of my thinking when I’m in the car and I shouldn’t really be thinking when I’m in the car, but that’s an example of that. I could give you multiple different case studies with regards to education, and how it’s failed our system.
But I think we’re all aware of that. So now how do we move forward? A question was asked of me recently, saying, why did you go and get involved in tertiary education? And the answer is simple. Secondary education is obsolete. Early years is great because it’s concrete. We’re teaching children numeracy and literacy.
But this whole secondary education doesn’t make any sense. It’s an extension of junior school, but there’s no reason for it. So what we’ve done is we’ve modularised all of our degrees and we’ve created short courses and we call them nano degrees. So if you’re in high school, you can do some industrial psychology. Or you can do some software development, do some AWS front-end development, AWS back-end development, maybe some app development.
You can learn about the history of the South and Africa and you can actually utilise real-world subjects on your quest for learning versus finishing school and going to university and having nothing being similar. So that would be our long-term plan – is to remove secondary education from the schooling system.
PvZ: So I have two things that I would introduce into the schooling system if I could. One would be software development and I think some of the more progressive schools have already introduced it, but it’s certainly not a set part of the curriculum.
And then the second thing is financial literacy. Now, this is a fundamental part of our daily lives, but the school system, as we know it, doesn’t teach enough about financial literacy. How do you feel about that, and have you introduced that in any way in your schools? Or how do you prepare kids for the future, given the fact that day-to-day most of what they’re going to be doing is based in finance, somehow?
JE: I think you need to come and spend some time with us; we think the exact same. So software development, if you go to university and you study computer science, you’re not actually studying software development. You’re studying a lot of theory and then there’s a practicality component afterward. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken a software development house and we digitized the idea of how software development works. How does it work as a language?
So we teach software development as a language. We can do Java, C++, but we do Laravel, and we go into Python and we explain how software development works and why it’s important. So we have a BCom in software development in our university, so students can gain those credits while they’re in high school. In our Early Years, we do a lot of gamification with regards to things like didactic Montessori material. Then in the high school, we can offer that as a component.
When it comes to financial literacy and more importantly, how things work, taxes, death, etc. If you own businesses in your organisation that allows you access into that information, you should bring it in. So one of the subjects in Cambridge is called Enterprise and Enterprise is basically business. So what we did as we took our venture capital fund, called GenVentures, which invests in various different businesses, and we linked that to the curriculum.
So we put the outcomes required for the curriculum into the actual business plan. So when you provide a balance sheet, a cash flow, return on investment, return on equity, looking at the taxable structures of your organisation, it’s part of building your entity. So when you start off with an enterprise at the age of 13, by the time that you are 17 or 18 to pass that qualification, you’d have started a business. You would have run the business, the business either would have failed, or it would have done well, be something that you can take forward or not.
And then we’ve got three simple philosophies when it comes to our GenVentures fund to invest in the business. Will it float, will it grow, and is it needed? And it sort of deconstructs what’s required with regards to the real world in a space that’s fun for students to play within. It’s someone else’s money where they’re not scared to fail. I think a lot of people don’t leave the comfort of their homes or the comfort of their jobs to go and try something new or follow their passion, because they’re scared of failing. So if you just take failing away from the students, the outcome is beautiful.
We’ve got a business called Pie & Data. Our first store opened up in Mitchells Plain and for 20 bucks you buy a pie and you get R5 data for free. But more importantly, on your way out there’s a screen and for an extra 50mgs you just fill in some details and then you leave and you get an extra 50 mgs. So it’s for a low LSM, it’s the market cap I would say of our country.
And what you’re doing is you’re providing a way to fill their phone and fill their stomach. But our actual product are the humans that are coming into the store because we’re mapping their likes and dislikes. Do you have a funeral policy? If you do, who’s it with? And we are actually collecting data. That data then goes to the school and the software development students utilise that data to run data sets and saying, well, how can I take this data set to make it meaningful, and how could I sell it?
Well, maybe a funeral home would like to know who doesn’t have funeral policies. And if we entice them to buy our pies by giving them data, maybe giving them data with the funeral policy will be able to assist. So it completely relooks at the way that we do things. And that business was born and bred from one of our schools.
On average now we’ll make between 6 and 7,000 pies a week for these entities. And that’s just a sub-ecosystem within a school. But if we didn’t have a university, if we didn’t have a junior school, if we didn’t have a high school. And we didn’t have the staff complement we have, we would never be able to do this, so you need infrastructure to scale.
PvZ: Of course. So will it float, will it grow, and is it needed? How do you assess those three criteria if somebody came to you with a business plan?
JE: I think a practical example is needed. A student came to me, a smart student, said to me that he would like to collect gas from the backsides of cows. Because he could utilise that to create gas-liquid and you could make fuel. So we went through it. I said, well, will it float? Well, it’s cheeky, I like it, cool. Will it grow? Well, then we need to have a look and see, well, can we actually financially make it viable? Putting these containers behind the rear ends of these cows and collecting the gas, and then, is it needed?
So, using those three aspects and even a crazy example like that, is that you could probably motivate it. If the student is able to motivate it through those three, then they’re an entrepreneur. Because no idea is ever perfect; it’s behind the person that can make it perfect. So if the student was able to convince us that he had thought this through well, and that there was an opportunity to do something, we would back then.
We would obviously do an MVP and that’s a minimum viable product, and we would then actually run through the process. And if we lost R50,00 doing it, it’s fine. Because the learnings from this, the stories that would be told, and the information that goes into the community, would be priceless.
Jevron’s Opinion on School Uniforms
PvZ: So traditional schools generally have traditional uniforms. How do you feel about uniforms?
JE: So once again, I’m going to find a polite answer for that, there’s no point. I don’t understand why you would want a child to wear a tie. What does a 5-year-old have to do to wear a tie? I also think it’s interesting that we give the ladies these dresses, but yet the dress has to be a certain length above their knee, but they’re growing. It’s impractical.
I understand why uniforms are there – to create uniformity, hence the name. So in our schools, we have baseball jackets, we’ve got hoodies, we’ve got clothing that’s comfortable. And we’ve now recently introduced a council of students that are going to design their own uniform because we feel it’s important that they have a say in what they wear.
So I think that uniforms are well, well, well past their sell-by date. And I think if any school just wants to make a small change, it would be to understand what that is. And understand what COVID has done with regard to understanding that you don’t actually work when you’re uncomfortable.
Importance of School Sport
PvZ: And in terms of extramural activities at school, extracurricular sport, and so on, how important is sport in a child’s learning journey?
JE: I think sport is imperative. I think being able to utilise your muscles and to think in a sports-like manner is an important skill set for students to have. I loved sport at school. I played every single sport that was possible.
And in our schools, we’ve introduced time-sensitive sports. So we’ve got action, soccer, action netball, action hockey. We’ve got one of the best 5-a-side soccer sides in the Western Cape. We ran a special soccer school at Ajax where we had most of the South African youth in that soccer side. So it’s imperative that we offer that.
But we also realise that the days of playing 3-day cricket matches generally don’t fit into what the teenager of today wants or needs. So having an action cricket game, you get the best of both worlds. So we do focus on that.
And we’ve recently started our own gym, and it’s called Brave. It’s a boxing gym. We offer this for students to come and join us at 6 o’clock in the morning, it’s part of their school fees. And to get out there, and to have a run, and to have a laugh, and to build sort of community with not only their peers but the educators, too.
PvZ: Jevron, thank you for your time. Just for those who are listening and may want to find a little bit more about you and about your schools, where can they reach you?
JE : Yea, so generationschools.co.za. Go have a look, contact us for a tour. I’m always up for a personalised tour of the schools. We have been fortunate that we don’t advertise too extensively because our schools are full. However, that being said, we are always looking at expanding our offerings to not necessarily have more students in our schools, but more families that want to be part of something that’s different.
The process to get into our schools is that we do want you to come for a tour. We want to be able to connect with you as human beings and be transparent with regard to what it is that we do. So if you are interested, come have a tour. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
PvZ: Great, yea, your insight and wisdom is inspiring. Thank you for this chat, I really enjoyed it.
JE : Yea, thanks.
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