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Apr07

#23 Vivienne Jones – Embracing Technology In Education, Learning From Students and Individualism

PODCAST: Episode 23

Vivienne Jones – Embracing Technology in Education, Learning From Students, and Individualism

In episode 23 of the Future Minds podcast, we speak with a truly inspirational and experienced educator, Vivienne Jones. Our conversation dives deep into her passion for individualism and the importance of honoring that as a teacher.

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About Our Guest: Vivienne Jones

Vivienne Jones is the Executive Principal at Elkanah House and a former English teacher with a passion for education. Having spent the last 30 years in the industry, Vivienne has given her all to help develop the minds and lives of her students.

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Topics Discussed

  1. How COVID impacted her school.
  2. Why math and English are important.
  3. Embracing technology in different ways.
  4. Introducing coding as a subject at Elkanah House.
  5. Understanding how students learn differently.
  6. Why children need responsibility.
  7. The South African Education system.

Full Episode Transcription

Guest Introduction

Philip von Ziegler: In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Vivienne Jones. Vivienne is the Executive Principal at Elkanah House and a former English teacher with a passion for education. Having spent the last 30 years in the industry, Vivienne has given her all to help develop the minds and lives of her students.

In this episode, Vivienne and I discuss how COVID impacted her school, why maths and English is so important, why children need responsibility, the South African education system, and a range of other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Vivienne, and I’m sure you will, too. Without further ado, I bring you, Vivienne Jones. Vivienne, welcome.

Vivienne Jones: Good morning.

PvZ: Thank you for coming on. To start off maybe just give us a little bit about your background and who you are.

Vivienne Jones: Okay, well, as you said, Vivienne Jones. I’m currently Executive Principal at Elkanah House, which is an independent school. Education has been my life for the last 30-odd years, that’s what I’ve been doing. So I have a Masters’s degree in Education, which I did part-time. And yea, I have run a school. [laugh]

PvZ: Yea, and how did that career develop for you after your Masters? Where did you go and how did you work your way up to becoming the principal?

VJ: An absolutely traditional route, so teacher, deputy head, head. I’ve been head of two schools, primary schools, remedial primary school, and then a mainstream high school, and from there I was promoted into Executive Head. So 15 years I did in the trenches as a head, and I started as an English teacher.

PvZ: English teacher?

VJ: Yea.

PvZ: Yea, and would you say that your time spent as a teacher prepared you for the role that you’re in now?

VJ: Yes and no. [laugh] Yes and no. I think there’s a lot of things that prepare you. I think a lot of it has to do with personality. My studies, teaching, I taught overseas as well, which also brought another dimension. But no, I think when you’ve trained as a teacher you’re not ready to be a teacher either, so you learn, you learn along the way. But, yea, it prepares you up to a point.

PvZ: So one of the topics to get out the way, everyone’s talking about it and has been for the last year – the coronavirus and the impact that’s had on the education sector. How has COVID impacted you and your school?

VJ: Well, it’s impacted us from a point of view, not so much the education. Well, based on our matric results, not so much the education, but the school as a school. So all the social, sports, the cultural, all the hidden curriculum, I would say, that’s how it’s impacted. Even now that we’re back at school because we managed to go online quite easily. It’s a school that is well-resourced. Children have their own laptops, so we managed that. It wasn’t easy, but we managed it. So educationally, well, let’s say curriculum-wise, we got through and our markers were all there. Who knows long-term …

PvZ: What the social impact was?

VJ: What the social impact is, yea.

The Topic of Mental Health at School

PvZ: Well, at least I can imagine during a time like that, especially in that transitioning phase from primary school into high school, those first couple of years is socially difficult for a lot of students. And one of the things that’s become more and more of a topic of conversation the last couple of years has been mental health. How do you think about mental health at school? Because 10, 15 years ago, this wasn’t really something that teachers or educators had to consider.

VJ: There are two things. Our school, apart from the academics, fundamental to our school is what we call our tutor system, and that is basically to look after the children. And I think for parents, it’s wonderful because they worry about the teenage years.

So the way it works for us and I’ll have to give you some context before I say how this helped in COVID, is every teacher in the school has a tutor group. And that tutor group isn’t a full class, it’s usually about 15 children, and they look after them from when they come in. We start in Grade 7, from when they come in right until they leave in matric.

So relationally they become very strong. They learn about the child, they can see changes in behaviour, etc, etc. So we look after our children anyway, pre-COVID, that is very much fundamental. A happy child, a well-adjusted child, will learn. So it is very core to who we are. It literally runs as strong as our education in our school.

So come COVID, those tutors, although they couldn’t physically be with their kids, they checked in with them every day and they know them well enough. The relationship is very, very important. So it’s paramount to what we do. To try and do education in a vacuum, all you’re going to get is knowledge in, knowledge out.

What Elkanah Has Done to Embrace Technology

PvZ: Along with that, another thing that’s changed over the last decade or two is this idea that the traditional education system, that sort of sage on the stage Edwardian education model, is outdated. And with the rise of technology, we have to shift or we have to adjust. And you mentioned that Elkanah House is well-equipped technologically.

So what have you done to  embrace that digital revolution and pivot from the traditional model to a hybrid learning system where kids are incentivised and encouraged to make use of laptops and iPads and things of that nature?

VJ: Yea, look, when you say, what have we done, to me it doesn’t feel particularly revolutionary because we just kept up with it, ja. So every single child from Grade 4 has either an iPad or a laptop. They only get their laptops in Grade 9. So we’re all on the same platform, which does help.

We’ve got a strong infrastructure in the school and teachers have just started changing. It’s a difficult one, because we’ve got curriculum which is stuck [laugh] where it is, but now presenting it differently. Children handing in their assignments, doing their assignments differently. Thinking, do I have to just write this down? Are there other ways to do assessments? So all of that.

We’re also quite a creative school, so our design departments. At the moment we’re making a whole design space that’s going to have all the tools – a 3D printer and laser cutters and all of that at green screen.

But it’s going to be more than that, and we’re going to incentivise the children. They’ll get points for almost gamifying it, so they’ll get points if they can come up with ways to use this equipment and forego all the traditional stuff.

So it’s all still very experimental to us. And you’ve got to remember, it’s an interesting one because schools are run by old people, like me. So [laugh] it’s completely out of our depths. So our school is embracing it, and we’re trying to use it best we can, but we’re often led by the children.

PvZ: That’s interesting.

VJ: So they’ll come up with an idea and say, well, why can’t we do it like this? And luckily, our teachers are in that space that they’ll go, okay, yea. It doesn’t have to be traditional. So I don’t think it’s always led by the teachers. We enable the teachers by making sure we’ve got all the resources and obviously not every school has that. But it’s often led by the children, which is exciting.

The Importance of Teaching Responsibility

PvZ: Ja, that is, that’s incredible. So giving children that level of respect and equality, responsibility, that they can come forward with ideas and be heard, is quite unique.

VJ: Yea, and at the prep school level, although we don’t encourage technology for the very little ones, but we are doing design thinking. So the old-fashioned building blocks, basically, old-fashioned building blocks, problem-solving and big problem-solving toys, so you get the design thinking going. And obviously, that will eventually lead into the coding and the creativity.

Coding at School

PvZ: Yes, so you have you introduced coding at your school?

VJ: Yes.

PvZ: Okay, yea, I mean, this is something that I wish I had at school, but even ten years ago, this was pretty unique. You really didn’t find it in schools. So it’s nice to see schools embracing it and integrating it into their curriculum.

The Understanding of Different Learning Styles in Children

PvZ: So coming to one more thing, if we look back. Something that’s again been a topic of conversation many years, or the last couple of years, has been the way that students learn. I know that there are some people for and against the idea that different students learn in different ways, and therefore they need to be catered for in their specific individual, unique learning style. How do you feel about that?

VJ: I feel very strongly about it. Having been head of a remedial school, I could see daily. Children learn differently. In a mainstream school, it’s marrying the two, because we are stuck in the system whether we like it or not, and most of us don’t like it. There’s your curriculum, there’re your exams. Our universities want those exams, so you are stuck in that system.

But within that you’ve got children who all learn differently, but they also have different interests. And I think what’s happened to our education system, apart from the fact that the curriculum is restrictive, we’ve lost those schools that cater for different children. We’ve lost the art schools. We’ve lost the technical schools.

So sometimes it’s not even about learning differently. It’s saying, well, I can learn in this way if I’m interested. And I think that is where we are severely lacking in this country, is different types of school. Everybody wants to fix the system, but however you fix it, it’s still going to be one system, and one system is never going to suit everybody. What we need is a few different systems.

PvZ: It’s a really good point. I never thought of it that way, and you’re right, because you have different interests. And one of the ways that I thought about education because you only realise how drone-like you operate as a young child, student, whether it’s at varsity or school, well after you’ve left. And you reflect on the time at school where information that was given to you, you simply took it at face value. Many times that sort of deeper thinking or thinking from first principles wasn’t encouraged or even spoken about.

But reflecting back on it, I think that one of the definitions of successful education is to leave high school with a deep passion or interest in a specific subject. And then having all the foundational tools at your disposal, from a high-quality education, in order to pursue whatever that passion is.

Because with the Internet today, it doesn’t matter what it is. But if you’re passionate and deeply interested and curious about something, you can take that education further. And that may be a traditional tertiary institution, or it may be something online. But from a tertiary standpoint, we don’t have variety.

VJ: No, and a lot of stories put on the curriculum, it’s old-fashioned. It was the Industrial Revolution. But like you say, you can get that information anywhere. So say geography’s in there and people go, well, why should we do geography? It doesn’t matter that it’s geography, what matters is exposure, that you can research it, that you can critically think about it. That’s actually where the value lies. It doesn’t matter always what the subject is. It’s a matter of what you do with that subject.

Because you will do, I did subjects at university that I’d never done at school. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t done them at school. What mattered is I had the ability to engage with them, and that is what is important. So for me, it’s variety and it’s all of those skills that they need. Content, yea, you know …

PvZ: Yea, and although some may argue that a subject like geography, is it necessary in the curriculum? I think what geography does is there’s a specific subset of students in the class that really enjoy it. And it sparks that interest in a field which they otherwise wouldn’t have been interested in.

VJ: But every single person in this world could justify their subject!

PvZ: Yea, sure.

VJ: So why these subjects? And they’re there for a reason and I do think there should be other subjects as well. But as I say, if everybody fought for their subject, we would have 300 on the curriculum. But it’s how you engage with them, that for me is critical.

PvZ: So as a former English teacher, where does English reading, comprehension, language come in that education process? Why is it important to have a really solid language background? It’s obvious the answer, to many, but I think if you could take it a level deeper, maybe giving some insights from your personal experience.

VJ: Well, I think the main thing with English is, well, there are two main things, and one has become more critical, I think, recently. The first one is communication. It is about communication, and that’s words and how you use words, tone of words, all of those things. So you study all of that through English.

And in this day and age, communication, especially, so much is done through the written word, whether it’s texts or emails or what, a lot more than before without facial context, you have to know what you’re doing with words. So I think that’s become very, very important.

And I think also with English you learn about analysis. You analyse texts constantly. And we’re living in a world of fake news, so what do you do with that? You’ve got to teach children how to deal with all of that. So in actual fact, I think English has become more important than it was when I studied or even when I taught it. When I taught it was like you learn to write an essay and look how lovely this book is. Because I think nowadays it’s actually even more important, language and communication.

PvZ: I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think if you look at the two primary subjects, you’ve got maths and English. The one is sort of grounded in logic and develops that logical thinking framework. Where with English, as you say, communication’s important, but being able to critically think and include and exclude relevant and irrelevant information, is super valuable and super important today.

VJ: It is.

PvZ: So parents during this time in the last year, I can imagine keeping parents happy during this COVID time has been quite a challenge.

VJ: It’s been easier. [laugh] It’s been so much easier!

PvZ: Really? Really? That’s interesting.

VJ: Yea, yea, I think the parents … look, we did online school well. Children basically had their timetable. We didn’t deviate from the timetable. So parents were seeing their children sit down, doing the school day, and there was a lot of engagement from teachers.

Look, it was harder for the littlelies, because they can’t be on all day. But certainly from Grade 4 upwards, parents could actually see what their children were doing, see what they were paying for. And their children were engaged, so in some ways, it was a little bit easier. We didn’t have that parental pushback that we often have.

PvZ: Okay, well, one of the things …

VJ: But we had anxiety, there was that a lot of anxiety, but the pushback.

PvZ: Yea, okay, and this last year, I think that parents in lesser-resourced schools may have started to question whether or not school is worthwhile, given the rise of so many online education programs. Now, I think that online education has its place, but nothing replaces an educator, or a passionate, well-resourced, and well-educated educator. But unfortunately, we don’t have that across the spectrum in the country.

The Impact of COVID on Education

PvZ: What do you think the future looks like for South Africa, specifically in that subset of schools that don’t necessarily have the right resources? How do we include them going forward? Because with COVID, if you look at the loss of learning that’s taken place in the last year, that’s disproportionately impacted the underprivileged schools.

VJ: Yea, and it’s highlighted it hugely.

PvZ: It has, it has. So is there an immediate remedy in your mind, or is this a longer-term problem that we’re going to have to solve step-by-step?

VJ: Look, I think it is longer-term and they need to throw money at it. Throwing money at it is not going to change it. There are underprivileged schools that have done exceptionally well because they have good leadership and dedicated teachers.

So as far as I can see, it starts with the adults. Because if the adults in the room are behaving like adults, are giving their all, are committed, and are leading well. You can educate a child under a tree, you know what I’m saying? So, no, it’s not ideal, but you can do it. But I think there’s something fundamentally lacking in the leadership of schools and training of teachers. That’s where it starts.

PvZ: Yea, I guess driving training …

VJ: For years, we educated children without computers. Computers are a tool. They’re not a cure. They’re a tool and they enable things, but for years we educated children without them. So being under-resourced in the time of COVID, yea, it does. But if the time, when they are back in their classroom, is valuable and rich and real, children will catch up. But unfortunately, a lot of the schools aren’t well-staffed and aren’t well-led, because of training.

PvZ: Do you think it’s important to give teachers independence and the freedom to educate their students in the way that they see fit? Or do you think there’s more of a balance where teachers have to stay in line with the curriculum, stay in line with the school’s philosophy, and rein in some of that independence?

VJ: I think there needs to be independence, but not complete independence. I think there needs to be collaboration. This is what we’re teaching, this is what the outcomes are, etc, etc. How you get to that outcome based on your personality, your strengths, and the children you’ve got in front of you, that is what is important.

So I think everybody needs to go into the classroom knowing what the end goal is. How you get there … A good teacher should be able to evaluate. How you teach one class, the lesson may be different to how you teach exactly the same content in another class, because of who you’ve got in front of you. And that’s what I mean by well-trained teachers. The teacher should be able to do that.

What Separates the Head Student From Others

PvZ: That makes total sense. So I’ve got this question that I’ve actually never asked a guest before, and that comes to that nature versus nurture debate. When you’ve got a kid that’s an academic star, or social star at school or a sports star, inevitably a combination of those traits, that ends up being the head boy or the head girl of the school for whatever reason. You’ve got to have those social skills. You’ve got to have the academic competency or achievements in some other way, potentially some sporting accolades.

What makes for a good prefect or head boy or head girl at a school? How much of that lies with the student themselves, the home environment, and the approach taken at school, or the way that they’ve been educated? I know it’s a difficult question, but what separates the head boy from somebody else that’s lacking, for lack of a better term?

VJ: I would say it’s not always academic, it’s not always being the best at it. It’s leadership, what shines through, which at the risk of sounding like Simon Cowell, is a bit of an X-factor, and it’s being able to identify that. So you don’t have to have come from a privileged home and be, well, I’m talking about our school, I don’t know about other schools, and be the best at absolutely everything or be the top student, even. It’s a matter of leadership skills.

I know when we do prefect selection, we also select a team, so we don’t have a whole team full of A-type personalities. We sometimes have children who are quiet, but they’re workhorses. You know they’re going to be the backbone of this team.

So I think that also depends on the school and what you use your prefects for. We don’t use our prefects for discipline and lining up and everything. We give them a portfolio, and they run …

PvZ: Of responsibilities.

VJ: Yea, and they run responsibilities, and they run the student body. They don’t control them. They don’t discipline them at all, ever. I mean they would never tell you to tuck your shirt in or do up your tie. That just is not done. So it is about leadership and it’s about being part of the community, being part of a team.

PvZ: I guess so that leads me to the question, where there’s always a sort of a gray line between where a parent’s responsibilities start and stop, or where that stops and the teacher’s responsibility picks up. Specifically, as it relates to education, but you could argue discipline as well in a way. So how much responsibility lies with the teacher at the end of the day when it comes to not just educating a student, but helping that student grow up to be a young, responsible adult?

VJ: Well, I think you can’t separate, you shouldn’t separate the two. And regardless of what goes on at home, a teacher should still take on that responsibility. So you’re either working together with the parent, or you’re supplementing for the parent. So I do think there is a responsibility.

That’s what I said to you earlier, almost, about the tutor group. It’s about the whole child. You can’t just have that child as a learner in your class. It’s too one-dimensional. That child is not one-dimensional. So, yes, you have to be responsible for their manners, their upbringing, their discipline, their emotional welfare. And hopefully, you’re working in partnership with the parents, but not always.

You can’t walk away from it. You can’t say as a teacher, well, it’s not happening at home so I’m not going to bother. That’s my sense. You can’t look at the child as just a learner. You won’t get the best out of them. You can, but you won’t get the best out of them.

The Future of Education

PvZ: Yes, that makes total sense. So in South Africa, we’ve obviously got an infrastructure problem when it comes to the Internet when it comes to access to high-quality education tools. But hopefully going forward, technology and competition drives down the cost of these tools to a degree.

What in your mind does the next 5 to 10 years look like? A shorter question would be, 5 years from now, what’s the one thing that you see having changed the most in the way that we educate at schools?

VJ: I don’t know if I’ve got an answer to that, because you are saying in schools. I’m sitting in an independent school, so I could tell you were going to do this, this, and this, which bears no relation to 80% of the country. So that is a question I can’t answer.

PvZ: I totally understand that, and, well, …

VJ: I know what I’d like to see it, but …

PvZ: So where would you like to see it?

VJ: I would like to see all our schools in the country resourced properly. That’s not even well-resourced, resourced properly. Do we have toilets? Do we each have desks and chairs, and a qualified teacher at the front and learning materials? Even if a computer isn’t even in the room. I mean, we’d love that, but have we got the basics? And we haven’t got the basics yet in all our schools. We’ve got them in a lot of schools, but we haven’t got them in all the schools.

So for me, it’s so much more fundamental than just technology. In our school, yes, we’ll have advanced hugely in 5 years’ time if I think where we were 5 years ago. Nobody had laptops, now we’ve all got them. So we need to get the basics, the basics are missing.

PvZ: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, and I think, unfortunately, socio-economic issues in this country prohibit us from actually having those things because you can’t have nice things without them disappearing in some places, which is really unfortunate.

Speaking about the curriculum, what would you in the ideal world see change with regards to the current curriculum?

VJ: I think there should be an addition of more choice, there should be more choice. And things to develop skills, things like psychology and philosophy, just for their thinking skills. Things like financial management. There should be some more practical life skills in there.

I would like things not to be assessed as much, regardless of which curriculum you have. So like I said to you earlier, I could argue 300 subjects and why the children should be doing this, that and the other. I don’t know the answer to what the curriculum should be. What I know is how education is given and how you develop the child is what will stand them in good stead.

PvZ: Yea, and you make a good point about the way that it’s assessed because, at the end of the day, a percentage point isn’t necessarily a reflection of a child’s ability.

VJ: No, but unfortunately it’s where we’re sending them. We’re sending them off to colleges and universities that require that. So on the one hand, you have to get that child ready for that, whether you buy into it or not. Philosophically, you have to get them ready for that. But you also have to know that you’ve got them ready for the wider world as well.

PvZ: Yea, I guess at scale, that’s the only processible metric that universities can use to allow kids in and out of their institutions, which is difficult.

I look at Australia, for example, where you have the choice to enter a trade school or continue on with your normal education, and you can leave at an earlier age. And I personally know friends that have gone both routes and been extremely successful as a result. One decided to go and enter a trade from the age of I think it was 15 or 16. Apprenticed under somebody, started earning an income, and by the time he was 20, 21, was fully financially and personally independent, but that suited their personality.

VJ: Absolutely, yea.

PvZ: We don’t necessarily have that choice in this country. And I would argue that a country like ours, still developing, needs more people that are skilled in a variety of trades.

VJ: Absolutely, and we used to have those trade skills. I have no idea where they went to but come one day they were gone, and they are vital, vital. And for a lot of children could make school more pleasant because they’re not getting those facts in their heads and they’re really not interested. So their value as a human being is going to be higher. So, yea, there has to be more variety. We’ve somehow gone down to one system.

PvZ: Yes, yea, it is sad because I would argue that there’s definitely a large percentage of students that would benefit and be far more prepared for life had they had the ability to instead of incurring student debt or paying large tuition fees at a tertiary institution that’s very academically focused, had gone and apprenticed under somebody in an industry that they’re interested in, earned a small salary. At least they’re not going into debt, they’re learning skills. They’re connecting with people in the real world, they’re developing the types of social skills that they may need. And we just don’t have that choice anymore.

VJ: No, we don’t, and I think that’s where a lot of people are falling into a pit, because you leave school and you go, okay, I don’t really want to go to university, can’t go to university. Now what?

PvZ: Yea. Do you have kids?

VJ: No.

PvZ: No, okay, I was going to ask how you would educate your kids? But let’s go with that question.

VJ: Okay, so I’ll tell you, I’ve got two nephews who I meddle with all the time, and one had learning disabilities. He was actually at my school when I was at a remedial. So I’ve been very involved in their education. And they have taken two very different routes and their parents have educated them at different schools because they’re different children. Not just because of the learning disability, but because of the interests and the type of children they are. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact of, well, me in their ear!

And that’s another thing. Parents go, okay, we’ll send our children, and they both go to the same school. And although we’re in the same system, if I just think in our area where our school is, there are a few different schools. We’re all doing the same thing, but we have a very different personality at the schools. And our school won’t suit everybody, but the school down the road might, and likewise. So I also think this notion that we must all go to the same school, all three of you, your parents’ children must all go to the same. Why? Children are different.

PvZ: Seriously, that’s a really good point. I think it also puts a whole bunch of external and unnecessary pressures on one student or the other to compete, to compare.

VJ: So, yea, if I had children, I would send them to where I felt they were best suited and it would get the best out of them.

An Experienced Educator’s View on Homeschooling

PvZ: How do you feel about homeschooling?

VJ: I think there’s a place for it. It’s been very interesting us having gone online. We had people leave once we went back to school. We had the parents say, oh, no, online, my child enjoyed it, we’re going to stay. That lasted all of a month and they were all back.

I think it has a place and it is very [good] for some children who just do not get school. If school is excruciating for some children, there’s a place for it. But I think what happened for us is a lot of parents didn’t realise how much that relational side of teacher/student plays into the learning. And when they went on an online school and all of a sudden there’s no relational side. It’s a tutor you don’t really know, it didn’t work. So it depends once again on the child.

There’s a place for homeschooling, absolutely. I cannot buy into any one system because there are too many different children. So, yea, homeschooling, there’s a place for it. Does it suit everybody? No.

PvZ: Of course, of course. I think a lot of parents, as you say, may have considered it as a result of COVID. And homeschooling is a topic and has always been a topic of conversation in this country for the last year and a bit. Unfortunately, the burden on parents is quite intense, especially if you have to work full-time.

VJ: And it also depends on the age group of the child. Some children get on with it better than others.

Preparing Students for Their Future Careers

PvZ: So when it comes to tertiary education, how do you best prepare students to leave high school semi-knowing what they want to do? Because I found that was, with me at least, and many of my peers, we sort of left high school doing what either our teachers or parents told us we should be doing. Without any real organic and authentic input coming from who we are and what we were interested in. Do you play an active role in helping students navigate that?

VJ: Up to the point. I think it’s become more and more difficult for schools to do that as the world has become wider. You used to become a teacher, or a doctor, or whatever. Whereas now there’re jobs I don’t even know what half of them are! There’re so many more things that people can do.

So we’ll give guidance, we’ll do career fairs. We’ll have days where they go and do work experience, etc, etc. But it is more to do with, I think, it’s a more a parental thing, saying, what are you interested in? And investigating what kind of things can I do with this interest, or this skill, or these marks?

There’s so much that the children can do that we can guide them, but it’s hard. It’s become harder because there’s so much that they could be doing now. We do obviously play an active role, but I think a lot of that has to do with home as well.

PvZ: Yea, but I guess if you prepare students well enough throughout high school, you could reliably get to a point where you feel that you can leave that responsibility in the hands of the students, and from there they’re young adults.

VJ: Yea, look, I mean, they’re 18. Most of them know what they’re interested in, what they absolutely do not want to do.

PvZ: That’s a good thing starting point!

VJ: Like, I absolutely do not want to do this, that and the other, and I don’t want to study this, that and the other. So by a process of elimination, most of them are pretty clear. And what is also important is preparing them in such a way that they become courageous enough that if they make the wrong decision, they’ll change it.

PvZ: That’s a really good point because a lot of students stick through with the bad decision even if they don’t enjoy it.

VJ: Yea, so that for me is more of a preparation. Letting them understand that even in 10 years’ time if you want to change your career, you can change your career.

PvZ: And if you fail, you can go back up and you can change.

VJ: So I think that is probably more important as well.

Books That Influenced Vivienne

PvZ: Yea, and I guess to bring things to a close, there’s a couple of questions I’d like to ask guests. And the first one is, are there any books that you highly recommend? Books that have influenced your life either for parents or for students?

VJ: Okay, now you’re asking an English teacher! So you’re talking academic books? [laugh]

PvZ: Whether they’re academic, whether they are novels, anything that had an impact on your life? I mean, I’m sure that many books have had a significant impact, but is there anything that comes to mind?

VJ: If you’re talking an academic book, I suppose for me, and I suppose that’s what my whole philosophy has been this whole talk, is a book called A Mind of Their Own, by Mel Levine. An American writer, who talks about children as individuals and educating children with a mind of their own. It’s different to that mind. You’re sitting around the whole table, every mind will be different. Not only how it learns, but what it’s interested in, how it processes.

So I suppose for me, that was a reading that was an aha moment. Being in a school where you’ve got 30 children sitting in front of you, and you’re doing one-dimensional. So A Mind of Their Own, I would say.

PvZ: A Mind of Their Own, okay, and non-academic, a novel, a psychology book?

VJ: No, no, for me, my favorite novel is The Cider House Rules, John Irving.

PvZ: Oh, Cider House Rules. My girlfriend’s actually reading that at the moment.

VJ: Oh, really? It’s one of my favorites, wonderful characters. For no reason other than just wonderful, quirky characters who make their way in the world.

PvZ: Great, amazing. Okay, Vivienne, thank you so much for coming on.

VJ: A pleasure.

PvZ: And thank you for your time. I really appreciate it, and we hope to catch up soon.

VJ: Thank you.

PvZ: Great.

The Future Minds podcast is brought to you by Smartick. Smartick is an award-winning, intelligent, online mathematics and coding program for kids ages 4 – 14. Powered by sophisticated, adaptive AI, Smartick teaches kids math and coding from the comfort of home in as little as 15 minutes per day. For more information, visit smartick.com or download the app on tablet or iPad today.

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Sabrina graduated from the AAA School of Advertising with a B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications and prior to joining the Smartick Team she started her own digital marketing agency in 2014.
She is the founder and producer of Smartick's podcast called Future Minds with Phil.
In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys horseback riding, reading, and going to the gym. She also loves to travel!
Sabrina Jansen van Vuuren

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