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#4 Marc Bennie – COVID’s Impact on Education, Digital vs. Traditional Education, and AI in Education

PODCAST: Episode 4

Marc Bennie – COVID’s Impact on Education, Digital vs. Traditional Education, and AI in Education

In this episode, we speak about COVID’s impact on education with Marc Bennie. Such an insightful episode with a brilliant, forward-thinking educator in Cape Town. Marc offers a unique blend of insight and foresight from the perspective of both a parent and teacher, making this a must-listen episode.

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About Our Guest: Marc Bennie

Marc holds a Master in Education and is an Information Technology teacher at Reddam House, a prestigious private school in Cape Town. Marc completed his master’s thesis focusing on EdTech and its impact on the future of education.

Marc Bennie

He was involved in the introduction and roll-out of robotics in Reddam’s curriculum and has been teaching kids to code for several years now. A passionate surfer, husband, and father of 2 teenage boys, Marc strongly believes in the power of project-based learning, curriculum personalization, and the adoption of a blended learning approach, whereby students are encouraged to learn both in-class and online.

Topics Discussed

  1. COVID’s impact on education.
  2. Traditional vs Digital education.
  3. The need for innovation in education.
  4. What an optimal national education model would look like.
  5. Parental involvement.
  6. The power of AI in online education.

Full Episode Transcription

Guest Introduction

Philip von Ziegler: In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Marc Bennie. Marc holds a Master’s in Education and is an Information Technology teacher at Reddam House, a prestigious private school in Cape Town. Marc did his master’s thesis on EdTech and its impact on the future of education. He was involved in the introduction and rollout of robotics in Reddam’s curriculum and has been teaching kids to code for several years now.

A passionate surfer, husband, and father of two teenage boys, Marc strongly believes in the power of project-based learning, curriculum personalisation, and the adoption of a blended learning approach whereby students are encouraged to learn both in class and online. In my discussion with Marc, we unpacked topics such as how COVID has impacted class-based learning, traditional versus digital education, the need for innovation in education, what an optimal national education model would look like, the power of AI in online learning, and a range of other topics.

I really enjoyed this conversation with Marc. He offers a unique blend of insight and foresight from both the perspective of parent and teacher, making this a must-listen episode. Without further ado, I bring you Marc Bennie.

Marc, thanks for joining us. Maybe just to start off, would you mind just giving a little bit of background about yourself? Who you are, what you do?

Marc Bennie: Okay, I’ve been a teacher and educator for just over 25 years now. I did some teaching in Asia when I first finished at university. Then I came back to South Africa and I did my Master’s in Education, looking at that stage just computers in education because it was in the early 2000s. And at the same time, I started teaching here in South Africa and did my masters and teaching concurrently. And then I’ve been working at an independent school in the city for the last 17 or 18 years.

COVID’S Impact on Education

PvZ: Great, I mean, coronavirus has obviously come as a shock to you guys?

MB: It shifted everything and it did come as, well, the shock of the consequence, I think, was more than the actual shock of the pandemic, because the pandemic has touched me a bit. I know one or two people that I’ve got it. I know somebody whose parents have died, but the actual impact of it, I see on the streets all the time, and I see it in education as well, because the landscape is rapidly changing.

PvZ: Yea, as an educator yourself, dealing with children on a day-to-day basis, what’s the impact been like in a classroom?

MB: It’s very difficult. You’ve got to manage social distancing and the fatigue that comes with hand sanitizing, with ensuring the kids wear masks, that they keep their distance from each other, and 7- 9 year-olds, they don’t want to do that kind of thing. Even if you shout and scream at them, which is not the point, they still go up and slap their friend on the back and the mask will slip down on and they can’t quite grasp it. And I can understand when you’re that age and I don’t think I would have at that age to be able to grasp it either.

But at the same time, there’s a rigid set of regulations that allow schools to be open, and you’ve got to adhere to them while trying not to be too dictatorial on the children at the same time. It’s a very fine balance that you have to find.

Traditional vs. Digital Education

PvZ: Taking a step back, I’d like to just touch on your personal life, specifically focusing on your kids. As an educator that understands both the value of digital education, as well as traditional education, how have you struck a balance in your personal life? And specifically looking at your kids, have you taken any deliberate steps to guide them down a certain path?

MB: And a lot of it I’ve let them, in a sense, make their own decisions along the way. Obviously, I’ve been a hand at the back and I’ve nudged them in certain directions. So my youngest son now, he’s in Grade 9 and he needs to make subject choices for next year. And that then throws open another whole can of worms is in a post-corona, and where we are now, what kind of subjects in Grade 10, 11, and 12 are going to offer the most value to you out of your time at school? What do you choose?

And obviously, you need to get a blend where you’re doing some practical, some theory, and at the same time, that’s still going to add value to your life when you finish school. So you need to at some times remove the emotion when you’re having a discussion as a parent, when you’re having a discussion with your child and you need to listen to them, number 1, about what they would like to do. When they’re younger, you can enforce what you would like, but when they become teenagers, you definitely cannot.

And one of the things that have been in the EdTech space for a long time is, if it hasn’t come so much from the school, I have continuously pushed for a kind of blended learning approach for them at home as well. So that when things do change, they’re, I wouldn’t say familiar with how change feels, but they’re not scared to embrace the change that is coming. But still, I think, at the moment the kids are quite limited to the subjects, particularly in the CAPS curriculum, as to what they can choose and what would be a wise choice. So it’s a tricky one, particularly high school kids.

PvZ: I mean, naturally, you come up with a pretty unique perspective as both a parent and an educator. And I think a lot of parents out there are struggling with the decision as to whether or not to send their kids back to school right now. And those that don’t, are battling even further with the decision as to whether or not to homeschool their kids.

MB: Well, look, I think the biggest issue at the moment that I see within the online and the physical classroom at school, is that the longer the kids stay online, the greater the anxiety develops with them at home in terms of school return.

But the other thing, and I’m not going to say it’s an across-the-board thing, but just my experience where we are, where I’m at school at the moment. Is the girls are very loyal to return, because they’re coming back into this whole social can of worms. So they’re quite happy, and they’re organised enough, to manage their online learning. And the boys all came back very quickly-

PvZ: Because they enjoy that social interaction.

Because they enjoy that social environment. They enjoy hanging out with their friends.

PvZ: They need the structure.

MB: So I see out of it all there is going to be a real growth in anxiety. The unintended consequence of sending all the kids home with a general anxiety disorder is going to grow and grow and grow.

PvZ: That’s a super interesting point, and it’s actually something that’s not spoken about. To your point, at Smartick we obviously have a look at tons of data. We’ve got dozens of thousands of kids completing millions of exercises every day, and we take 20 – 50 data points from every exercise.

And interestingly,  across-the-board, as one would expect, boys and girls on an academic level perform pretty much the same, when you’re looking at a purely empirical academic sense-.

MB: On the numbers game, for sure.

PvZ: But their learning approach, their learning styles, and their ability to interpret certain types of information, or at least the areas of interest, ranges. And it’s a very clear separation between boys and girls in that regard. And as you just mentioned, girls may be coming back to the school environment with significantly more anxiety, and that has a whole sort of can of undesired consequences with it.

So I guess the point that I’m trying to make or the question that I want to ask is. Looking at a blended education, are there certain aspects of a child’s development that parents or educators or online educational programs need to take into account when they’re developing a curriculum for a boy or for a girl, or is it something that you can apply across?

MB: Yea, well, look, obviously in a South African context, where a curriculum needs to be delivered that meets the needs of the country, it’s a little bit more difficult to tailor-make something that is more specific. But definitely, I mean, obviously, your core subjects, your English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa here in the Western Cape, maths. The core ones you do, I don’t think you can edit them too much to incorporate socio-emotional feelings.

But I definitely think in the life orientation curriculum, there’s been a lot of focus in South Africa in the life orientation curriculum on HIV and sexual awareness and sexual education. Which is understandable, given the history of our country and where we are now, and with HIV being something that has been a real sticking point over the years in the country.

But these psychological disorders and psychological conditions are rapidly emerging, and they are emerging because of social media, number one. So even if it’s not playing out at school, it’s still playing out in the digital world, whether it be cyberbullying or whatever.

And all of these things need to have much more play now within the curriculum, even if it is an entirely new subject that is introduced that deals with digital literacy, digital education. And at the same time, the psychological consequence that comes out of educating digitally.

Screentime vs. The Use of Technology for Education

PvZ: Yea, I mean, talking about social media, it’s actually one of the biggest causes of anxiety today. The way that attention engineers essentially build this product in order to capture as much attention from kids as possible.

That said, screen time is obviously an issue that parents are concerned about, teachers are concerned about. But to a degree, using technology in a productive manner is a net positive, in my opinion.

MB: Well, I don’t quite think screen time and the use of technology to learn are quite the same. If your kid’s lying on the couch, playing around on Instagram or whether they’re playing a MindLink Minecraft game, that’s different to sitting down and tackling a school project where you need the tech. And I think that that particular aspect gets blurred with parents. They think, oh, my kid’s incredible at computers, look, he can do this and do that and do that. That, I don’t think, is making the most out of technology to educate your child.

And it’s to find that balance because it’s a fight that you will continuously have with your children. Leave it alone, do something else, do something on that. And then it’s like, I need it for school. And then you look what they’re doing and it’s so far removed from school, then it’s another fight you’re going to have. It’s very, very tricky, and the 11 – 14-year-old age group, how do you teach them what is right and what is wrong? Because there’s such a strong pull with the device that it’s hard for them to actually make a logical choice. I just see it like a lot of drunkards all the time saying yes to the next lot of alcohol, that’s how I see it!

Because there’re just so many carrots out there to lure them in, whether it be social media; whether it be a new game; whether it be a new link that somebody sent. It’s limitless how much just draws them in.

PvZ: And it’s challenging to draw that line. Something else that I think you’ll have a unique perspective on would be, to what extent are teachers responsible for teaching their students those essential life skills that are, for the most part, a parent’s responsibility? There’s far too little of an emphasis on financial literacy at school.

And I’m just curious just to know, from a teacher’s perspective. Whether or not you think something like financial literacy, as well as those core soft skills that a person needs in order to function in society, build a career for themselves beyond the academic, is something that should be taught at school or at home?

MB: I think that, look, obviously, if your parents are having conversations around the dining room table in the nighttime about business, there’s a lot of osmosis that goes on with the children. But at the end of the day, the first time that the children in South Africa come across any form of economic sciences is in Grade 7.

So maybe before they’ll touch on a market day, a market day here or there, either as a fundraiser for a charity or for something that the grade may want to do. The actual idea of profits and any financial literacy around it isn’t built into that activity. And the first time they really touch it is in Grade 7, and that’s when the kid is turning 13.

And it does come in maths and you do work on profit here or there, but it’s housed in maths. It’s not housed in an actual subject that is structured towards teaching financial literacy. And I think out of this hopefully will emerge a new curriculum. And I hope that is definitely one of the subjects that they start at the beginning and they carry it through because it used to be. Prior to the CAPS curriculum being released in the National Curriculum Statement of 2001, it was. It was built in right from Grade 1 where there was touching on financial literacy all the way through.

PvZ: Interesting, okay.

MB: But there was too much burden on the teachers from an administrative point of view, that they then cut down the number of subjects that kids were doing to lessen the administrative burden. And unfortunately, they chopped away some subjects that should still have stayed in the curriculum here in South Africa.

Personalised Learning Systems

PvZ: I see. Something that stood out to me over the last couple of years is the question as to whether or not your traditional education, specifically relating to tertiary education, is as valuable as it was 20 years ago. And when I say valuable, I don’t necessarily mean the degree itself, but studying at a specific brick and mortar prestigious institution for a much lower price, accessible anywhere in the world. And the thing that really stands out to me there is that the need for a country-specific curriculum sort of goes out the window. And I don’t know what your thoughts are on South Africa’s curriculum specifically, or country specific-curriculums? Or should we be looking at like a universal agnostic global curriculum?

MB: There’s a young guy that stays two houses down from me, who probably 5 years ago, and in fact, his sister’s at Stellenbosch University. But he’s opted to study engineering online, and that was his own personal choice. And he is doing it through a European university, and they come in three or four modules in a year and he’s got to work hard in those modules and he has submission. There’s a big hall somewhere in Cape Town, I’m not too sure where he goes for the June exams, and then the year-end exams, or whenever he does write exams, they’re not quite at the same time out there.

But a boy like that, even 5 years ago, would definitely have been a candidate for UCT or Stellenbosch, at a brick and mortar university, to study engineering. And he’s now obviously looked on a bigger picture and gone for his choice of university in Europe, and he’s doing it at home.

And it was quite enlightening for me when you speak to him. He’s like, well, I wanted to go into this line of engineering, which UCT doesn’t quite offer and Stellenbosch doesn’t quite offer. So then obviously he needs a curriculum that’s more personalised for him. And I think that a personalised curriculum going forward for children is definitely going to be where there’s a lot of development going to happen.

There’s a big online institution started by the Maddock Brothers called Valenture Institute. Now that’s a school-based institution for online learning, and then they’ve also got some post-Matric stuff that they offer. And what they do there is that you can basically tailor-make your curriculum. So if you want to do a Cambridge system, if you want to do the SATs from the United States, it’s all there for you that you can choose your own educational journey as a youngster, and it will take you to where you want to go.

Whereas brick and mortar universities and the schools that are existent in South Africa at the moment, are very defined in the way that they channel you. Where they think, some of the bigger schools, where there are lots of kids, they’re like, okay, this kid’s good at maths and science, let’s channel them towards a focus on engineering when he finishes school, or she finishes school.

This person is very good at accounting and business, let’s channel them more towards the financial and financial institutions. Which I think is a consequence that has come out of the colonial system and colonialism, because obviously, you needed to have a certain amount of engineers, a certain amount of doctors, for the society to continue to turn itself over.

But the online space and the digitization of the world has changed that playing field completely. And while you still need many people to fill those roles, there are many other roles that need to be filed in society as well. And to broaden the curriculum and offer more opportunity, I think, is definitely what has to go on the way forward.

PvZ: Essential, yea, and one of the points that stood out to me was, talking about that student that did the online engineering degree, that was his personal choice. I feel like a lot of kids these days are sent down a path that they have very little involvement in actually making that decision.

MB: The first time they probably get to make a decision is when they’re postgraduate when they then want to specialise if they’re a doctor. Or if you’ve done a finance degree, which section of finance do you want to go into, or anything else that you’ve studied where there is that specialisation later on. I think that specialisation is the first, otherwise, it’s all cut in cloth for you; that’s the way you’re going to go.

PvZ: Yea, and you’re certainly not going to succeed at something that you’re not innately interested in.

MB: Well, you’re never even going to do it. And if you study law, if you don’t want to be a lawyer, then you’re not going to be one. You might use the law degree to push you into another space where you want to be, but actually, maybe you should have just done that from the beginning.

PvZ: And that’s sort of an interesting thing. You get to university and all of a sudden your high school academic achievements don’t mean anything. You see top matric students getting to university, flunking out because they’re doing something that they simply have no interest in, and it was chosen for them. So I guess my next question will be, as an educator that’s obviously passionate about education and providing a world where the next generation has access to the right tools in order to further themselves. What would you do to change the current education system?

MB: I would restructure. I would restructure it, I would remove most of the content, and I would remove all the current assessment models. Because I don’t think that sending a kid home with 10 pages of work to learn for a test the next day is going to do anything for him, for me, or for our society. But obviously, I would structure, particularly up until they are able to get a bit more of a feel of where they want to go with their life after they finish school, is I would make it all project-based learning from a very young age.

PvZ: Interesting.

MB: And exploratory learning, and to make sure that the kids have the joy of learning at the same time that they’re picking up stuff that some teacher would have had to try and force-feed them in the classroom if each subject was still compartmentalised. So the other thing I would do is I would take it all and I wouldn’t make it all subject-specific.

I would make it project-specific, where out of that project you can find – obviously, it would have to be very well-structured in the beginning, and it would have to be well-planned out. That you can take out your maths marks, your English marks, and all the other marks that you need to for assessment purposes. But it’s not, in the sense a formalised assessment where you sit quietly for 45 minutes and do a test. And if you still want to do that kind of test, then make sure that the kids need to learn nothing.

Because if I need to learn something and my mother sits behind me with a book in the nighttime and smacks my head, I’m going to rote-learn that stuff and be able to regurgitate it, but not all children are like that. And it’s the kids that are actually the freethinkers and the thinkers that struggle with that, squeezing them into the box. Those are the ones you want to free up because they’re going to make the difference in society when they get older.

Creating Maths Curiosity for Learners

PvZ: Now, I mean, looking back at my personal education journey at school, I was fortunate enough to do quite well academically. But a lot of that stuff was really just the ability to learn and regurgitate something. Only until probably after university, or during my varsity years, did I really realise why you’re doing maths. I mean, even late school up until Matric, you’re taught to do certain sections of maths in certain ways. To answer certain equations in certain ways; to solve problems in certain ways. But fundamentally, you’re never really taught to understand why you’re doing those things.

And the real unlock for me at school, specifically with maths, was when I had to understand, fundamentally I think understand is the wrong word. But to unpack the understanding or the back end of this section of mathematics, like fractions. Yes, multiplying fractions is done this way, that’s great. But why are you doing that? And once you understand that, it’s quite easy to do any set of fraction multiplication exercises.

MB: It’s that inquiry that, I think, is lacking in CAPS, in its vision. I wanted to increase that inquiry. But the inquiry has got to come for the children without administrative demand from the education system or from your employers. You need to let the kids, if they’re going to sit down for 4, 5 days, 2 weeks to work out something, they’re going to get the answer to that. Then it may have taken you 6 months of squashing it into them.

But also, if they come to that answer by themselves, it’s far more meaningful for them when they need to apply it. I can force the answer on some kids, but that’s not going to help them apply that, apply the thinking behind it, which I think is critical now. When you finish school, you need to be able to think for yourself and think critically.

PvZ: Yeah, that’s another thing that, for example, it’s not directly taught at school, that critical thinking. Thinking in a logical manner, having certain reasoning skills. These are soft skills that help you significantly in life. But I felt, at least in my education, that that was completely lacking. And it wasn’t until university where I had to go into my own personal self-development journey that I started unpacking these things, like the ability to think critically, the ability to question things. And only then did I start with that intrinsic inquiry into my personal education.

MB: Well, the education system, and the way it has been for several hundred years now in Western society, particularly, has been designed to feed the colonial model. If the system ran, they needed people to fill the system. And because of that, you can’t have inquiry in that model, it’ll defeat the model. You’re not going to get the people that you need to go and work in the city council buildings, that are going to push all the paper. Or whether they’re working for a big corporation that they’re going to be sitting in the back corner, whatever they do. You’re not going to get those people coming out of the system. But now with the digital world, you don’t need those people in the system anymore. They need to do something else.

Marc’s Perspective on The Future of Education

PvZ: As an educator, where do you see the state of education, specifically from a teacher’s perspective, in the next 5 to 10 years?

MB: Well, I think that whatever was the conventional wisdom before has been completely reconfigured by COVID now anyway. So at the moment now, I think that the schools really do need to let the COVID-dust settle. And I’ll give you the example of some of the lessons. Where I teach we’re running a hybrid model. So I’ve got physical kids in the classroom and I’m in the middle of a Google meet with the kids at home at the same time.

Now all I’m doing is really kind of just coping in that situation. There’s no real room in that to start to think about, okay, where is this going to go afterwards? But definitely, first of all, I would guess the school week is going to shorten.

PvZ: Interesting.

So I think that you may have, shorten for the amount of time you spend at campus, at school. So I think you may find that it will be a 3-day, 2-day model, where the kids come for 3 days and then they’re doing work at home for 2 days.

Just because the other thing, and it’s really something it is not spoken about much or identified much within this Fourth Industrial Revolution. Is before the kids wrote with a fountain pen. 25 or 30 years ago, 35 years ago, the kids wrote with a fountain pen. To write 5 or 8 lines off the board that the teacher had written with chalk, it took you 45 minutes, that’s what it took you.

Now if a kid’s got an iPad, that same thing is going to take him 5 minutes or 8 minutes to do, provided you give them big enough chunks of work to do. And within that model of project-based learning, they are going to need to do a fair amount of understanding and grasping concepts by themselves anyway.

PvZ: Yeah, that’s that’s incredible. And it makes sense, going back to what you said earlier about children focusing more on learning through doing projects, but in that, specifically focusing on their interests. I don’t think there’s a reason for kids to be doing 8, 9, 10 subjects. You may be doing core maths and English and life orientation in a country like this.

But beyond that, if a child was able to select their subject from a young age and operate on more of a project basis, that school day could shorten as well. And you could have far more impactful 30-minute sessions or 45-minute sessions, focused on the things that kids are actually interested in.

MB: Also, a very important part of that project-based learning, is to make sure that it is multidisciplinary because some kids, they think they love maths. Then they find out that they don’t love maths so much when they get a bit older. And that’s the same thing, so a kid that may have absolutely no interest in drama up to about 14, all of a sudden stumbles onto drama as something that they want to do.

So I think that you need to make it as broad as possible, but as integrated at the same time. That if a child does all of a sudden stumble onto something they want to do, the opportunity to go in that direction is there for them. But you’re also then still offering other bits to bite onto.

So I really think that part of the educational journey going forward is also got to be the kids discovering themselves more. So I think that they need to be able to work out, and an 18-year-old can tell you. Not too well, but they can give you a bit more about themselves. But a 12-year-old isn’t going to be able to. They’ll tell you what they like and what they don’t like, but that’s very much driven by a needs issue. It’s not driven by any thinking behind it.

PvZ: And I guess traditional schooling in a way, and when I say traditional, I’m thinking pre-2000s; those sort of very authoritarian. You’ve got an educator, and you’ve got pupils in the class, and the pupils listen to what the educator says. And there’s no real conversation going on between the two.

Now, I would imagine over the last 20 years and looking back at when I was at school, that has changed in the sense that it’s more appropriate for students to have direct conversations with teachers. To go back and forth on things that they may agree with or disagree with, and I think encouraging that sort of individual thought is really important. But to what extent do you think, again, as an educator, you should be allowing students to determine what their curriculum should look like?

MB: Look, I think you need to put parameters down. Definitely, I think parameters are very important because just giving the kids the frame allows them to explore what’s inside. So by defining how far the thought must go, that’s your job as the educator. I’m not there to discipline you; you can do the work or not, I don’t care if you don’t do the work. But if you’re going to do the work, it needs to be within this way of thinking.

And then from there, you can start to develop those because that’s what you’re talking about that, that’s like the back end of critical thought. So now you want to plant the seeds of critical thinking in a way where you give them questions to answer, and that they will set the parameters of how you want them to find the answers.

Marc’s Approach as a Parent

PvZ: So one of the things that this Coronavirus lockdown has done, is forced parents to consider homeschooling, at least temporary homeschooling, potentially permanent homeschooling. As an educator, what are your thoughts on homeschooling? And out of interest, what are you doing with your kids?

MB: Well, the whole of from when lockdown started until the second week of July, they were at home, online, at school. But I do think that learning online and being at an online school are quite different in its ways. If you are going to go and do your schooling online, the package comes in many different ways. With our school-going online, you still dictated by what the traditional values and the rules that are existent in the school. That you have to be attending from this time to that time, and the lessons are going to be the same, they’re going to maintain the timetable.

Whereas if you are going to go to school online properly, that’s going to be different. And it’s going to either come with work modules, with some contact time or no contact time, embedded videos, depending upon how the curriculum has been structured that’s going to be followed. And with that does have to come a certain amount of motivation for the children to learn.

And what I found is that obviously within a cohort of 100 kids, you’re going to have 10 kids that you could put them under a tree in the middle of nowhere, with a WiFi connection. And they’ll, by hook or by crook, make sure that they’re learning everything, and they’ll be fine anywhere.

But you’re going to have 35 – 40 kids out of that cohort of 100, that will sit under the tree and do bugger all.  And it’s to make sure that if you are a parent, that if your child is in that group that struggles with motivation, that you’re able to motivate them in some way. So I do think, number one is that online schooling for prep school and younger is complicated, and I don’t know how successful it will be.

But I would guess from 14 years onwards, online school is a very, very viable option for parents. And if the child is able to manage it, then I think that many kids and kids will want to, they want to. And I think that is what is going to put extreme pressure onto the private schooling model and other models in South Africa, other educational models, is that the kids have had a taste of it now.

And some kids obviously don’t want to do it, but there are a whole lot of children that are older, that would really be quite happy to study at home and online. And be more than able to manage everything. But if you’re going to have to have a kid hook up to a Zoom core within a curriculum to have contact with the teacher, there’s a lot of problems along the way for younger learners to be able to learn effectively online on an online curriculum.

So your 14-year-old, you can leave. They all manage the digital side, they’ll manage it all. But you can’t leave your 9-year-old. They’re going to end up finding something else that’s going to distract them the whole day, and then have done nothing. So you as a parent would have to be intricately tied into that educational journey of your child if you start their homeschooling early. But the older they get, the more they’re able to manage it. And I do think it’s going to become a rapidly popular choice amongst kids when they get older.

The Importance of Balance in Human Development

PvZ: We’re in Cape Town, a beautiful city, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We’ve got beautiful surf, we’ve got beautiful mountains, we’ve got sporting facilities and great weather. How important is balance in developing a well-rounded human being?

MB: I think it’s becoming more and more important. And definitely, I also think that traditional sporting codes are under a very big threat at the moment. But like personal choice sport, whether it be surfing for kids, or mountain biking, or going to a yoga class, they are definitely things and choices that are becoming more and more desirable for kids. They prefer to do it, and they want to do what they would like to do.

Too many kids are forced into, okay, you’re going to go to this school, you’re going to do this, and you’re going to do that, and you have no choice about it.  With  Coronavirus now, is that the kids have seen it doesn’t have to be that way. So before they didn’t question – you’re going to go to school X, school X is a rugby school or whatever kind of school it is. You have to do that and you have no choice. And your Saturdays and your afternoons, all of that was taken up and consumed by either the need to identify with the school and its traditional values. Or identify through the teacher motivation – we’ve got this incredible team, you must be part of the team. And they give you that bind where you get that big cultural bind where everybody shares the same space, whether it be supporting or being on the field.

But I think that model’s under severe threat at the moment. First of all, there’s going to be no organised sport for now and for next year, that’s canned. So then these schools that have relied on that and have relied on that for their kids, how are they going to bring them all back? I can’t see how. A child has had an opportunity, a young person’s had an opportunity to experience something different. And it is different and if they like it, you’re not going to get them to go back to what that was before.

So I definitely think that choice is going to play a far bigger role in what your kids want to do. And then it’s going to become what choices do they have?

PvZ: Yeah, well, you mentioned, surfing, mountain biking, yoga classes. Something that I think about and I think about that specifically is, each one of those activities, besides the physical stimulation, is also a sort of mental meditation. And as schools become more progressive, as society becomes more progressive, do you see mindfulness, self-awareness involved in that critical thinking to a degree? But do you think schools can start implementing that in a way?

MB: They should do, they should be running mindfulness programs from when the kids are 5, 4. As soon as they are able to be mindful of a decision that they make.

PvZ: I wish it was something that I was taught at a young age. And, again, just through pure curiosity and stumbling upon things online, you go down this rabbit hole. And you figure out, well, there’s this whole world of mindfulness, self-awareness, critical thinking that you just wish you were educated in at a much younger age.

MB: Educated in it just a little.

PvZ: And I would argue that these are more important life skills than the ability to pinpoint a country on a map somewhere.

MB: For sure, because you can use Google.

PvZ: Exactly.

MB: So you don’t need to learn the continent of Africa anymore. But to learn how to be empathetic to the people around you, and to be aware of the environment and the impact of the environmental consequences of you being on this earth, and the mindfulness that underpins that, I think is vital.

Mental Health, Self-Awareness and Mindfulness

PvZ: And I think specifically for the mental health component as you mentioned, one of the biggest drivers of anxiety these days is social media. It’s only going to get worse. So how do you get these young girls and boys who are rife with anxiety to just calm themselves, to be able to control their mind, to be able to control their state? It doesn’t happen without a degree of self-awareness and of mindfulness training.

MB: And you need to be trained; it’s not something you’re going to pick up. It’s not a skill you’ll pick up.

PvZ: Especially at that age. What do you believe about the education system or about education in general that most people disagree with, or don’t necessarily believe?

MB: I think a lot of people think that your kids are going to be disciplined at school, and I think that is a very big misnomer. Because I have, as a teacher and as a parent, have enough issues of my own and I’m not going to discipline your kid. I’ll send you an email and tell you. But then sometimes I get an email response back saying it’s happening at school, it’s your issue.

And fair enough, for a period of time in my life, it is kind of my issue because it is happening at school. But to see those little issues and incidences in isolation, isn’t wise, because it’s a whole big picture you should be looking at. And hang on, if my kid is doing this, maybe there is an issue that I need to be dealing with, not, oh, you deal with it at school.

If it’s a bullying issue, or trolling on social media or whatever, whatever you’re up to. I can speak to you at school and try and reason with you, but I’m not going to have a consequence for it. If you hurt somebody, like lining up after break and you kick them, that’s a bit different.

PvZ: Sure.

MB: Because there’s a bit of impulsivity, and maybe the kids are [inaudible] and it’s boys and they’re rawling with each other, you have to deal with it differently. But bigger picture stuff, I can touch on it, but I’m only with your kid for 2, maybe 3 years as a teacher, and then within the phase that they at.

And then after that, they’re gone, and I’m not going to be dealing with them again. But don’t think what’s come up is going to go away, because that is part of the kid’s makeup, and that’s stuff that needs to be sorted out at home as well.

PvZ: I have one more question I’d like to ask, and that’s, as as a teacher, you’re involved with students on a day-to-day basis, both online and in the classroom. But as a parent, how would you go about sourcing online programs, online learning systems, to educate your kids from home? Is that something that you would recommend people to do? Or at least, how does somebody that is sending their kid to school, use the benefits of online education to complement their current education?

MB: I think being informed is the most important thing about making a decision like that. I think you need to do your research as a parent. You need to find out what’s going to work for you as the parent, and obviously with your child being involved in the decision-making as well.

But there’s a lot of educational product out there. Some of it’s very good, some of it’s average and some of it isn’t very good. But because it looks good with the gloss, you can have a curriculum and you can get a whole lot of people that work websites, and work social media platforms with images and presentation. And you can present something that is really very average to look incredible. So I think that you need to unpack your stuff. You need to have a good understanding of (a), your needs, and then (b), how you’re going to meet those needs.

PvZ: Great, awesome, thank you for this conversation, I really enjoyed it.


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