A few days ago I spent an hour chatting with a friend about her 17-year-old son who is struggling with A levels. She wanted my advice, although if truth be told, I think she needed to tell her story to somebody much more than hear what I had to say. I have known her son for many years; he is a great lad with many gifts, notably as an artist. He scrambled through his GCSEs, with mostly middling sorts of grades. His mum wanted to speak with me because he struggled to organise his work and submit work to deadlines during his GCSE years; apparently, the problem is persisting now that he is studying A levels. Except in art, where he works with enthusiasm, the young man either submits only scraps of paper as homework or does not submit any at all. How is it that a young man studying subjects that he has chosen to do can appear so disinterested and can so struggle with managing his academic affairs?
Whilst it is true that one cannot diagnose a general malaise on the basis of a single case, my years of teaching in face to face schools have convinced me that there is one thing in particular that schools do very badly; they struggle to empower children to take ownership of their own learning. Fundamentally, school structures remove real power from children and young people to such an extent that large numbers of children come to see school learning as something that is done to them or for them but not necessarily (in an empowering sense) by them. With this mindset, teachers are there – so the student thinks – to ensure that they get through exams, and work is submitted because the teacher wants it. Learning is not a process owned by the student ultimately leading to maturity and self-awareness.
Fundamental to the way that NorthStarWorldwide works is a firm commitment to establish structures and patterns that provide children with opportunities to take ownership of their own learning – what subjects one studies, when in the week each lesson’s work is undertaken, even when to take holidays; these are all aspects of NSUK life that enable a student (with enormous support from parents) to learn skills that will enable them to move into further study with maturity and understanding.
Within a family setting, these radical approaches to learning can relatively easily be assimilated. The challenge for those of us working within a school context is to find ways to increasingly empower students so that they too, acquire these skills.