Tips for teachers: It depends how you count ’em.

“It depends how you count ’em…” has been a constant refrain through the cultural education exchange visit in Finland this week. Whether it’s golf courses in Espoo (7 or 8), municipalities in Helsinki (4 or 14) or lakes in Finland (187,888 plus or minus), it all depends on how you count them. For phenomena you might think are pretty unequivocal (when is a golf course not a golf course?), it turns out that there is a lot more to a thing than meets the eye.

Walking along the coast line of the Tooivo Kuulas park this morning you can see why. One moment the lake looks like an impressively large pond; the next it stretches way off into the distance and it conjures up memories of Balaton Lake in Hungary; and soon enough you find out that it’s not a lake at all but just another link in the supply chain to the Baltic Sea.

It struck me that the same case could be said for student attainment. How can a country’s education system said to be performing well? Through its ratings on the PISA scale? Numbers of students who graduate into work on completion of their undergraduate study? Aggregated ratings on a mental health scale of well being? Like the lakes in Finland, it depends on how you count them. My top PISA rating may be nothing more than a drop in your Baltic Sea when it comes to evaluating the relevance those ratings have on students lives.

Whilst it’s temporarily startling that Espoo has a disputed number of golf courses in its territory, it is comforting to think that if we can’t count golf courses with confidence, we can confidently be a little less confident about the value of numbers when it comes to understanding the effects of cultural education on our children.

Don’t leave Space to the Professionals!

At last, Space, the final frontier between the knowing (the nudge nudge wink wink of the ironic inverted commas) and the unknowing has finally been breached.

In his work on MoonGolfing, Tim Wright sums up the next era of the space race: or rather the space trudge given many of us aren’t fit enough to race anywhere, never mind into space: Don’t leave Space to the Professionals!

The next era of the space trudge will be its democratisation; the time when any old Joe will be to take one small step for man, and an even smaller step for mankind.

By writing the professionals out of the picture, Tim Wright has joined a long line of illustrious contemporary thinkers whose premise is that any profession is too important to be left to the professionals: this includes teaching, artists, historians, and now thankfully, space invaders. Want your kids to have a decent education? Write the teachers out of it. Want to make art? Don’t employ an artist. Want to write history? Just make it up as you go along.

The end of professionalism in the space industry can only be a good thing in the end as it will mean governments will have to engage communities in deciding what kind of rocket they want on their doorstep. An Atlas 125 madam? Complete with twin powered nuclear explosive devices discreetly hidden under the bonnet? That’ll do nicely.

The private sector will no doubt be able to put a man into space for a fraction of the cost that those fat cats in the public sector earn. Whether they can bring that man back to Earth in one piece is another matter altogether and is but a trivial issue in the bigger vision of the democratisation of space.

No, there’s no doubt about it: leaving space to the professionals has resulted in the human race diverting millions upon millions of unnecessary dollars, rubles and rupees in activities which are as scientifically illuminating as landing a washing machine on a comet some trumpty doodle zillion mega aeon year lights away and then watching it bounce big into space, stuck on its spin rinse cycle.

The sooner the likes of you and me can make our mark on the overwhelming nothingness that is the universe, the better.

Coming Closer to Home: what it’s like to live upside down.

When we were kids we’d occasionally get perplexed about how people could live upside down in Australia and not fall off the planet.

Having two European guests, Anton and Srdjan,  take root in your home town, courtesy of a Youth in Action Grant, makes you realise that up-side-down-ness isn’t about gravity at all but much more about how you drink, eat, navigate local traffic and your own national identity within the wider European maelstrom of identities.

Hosting European guests has many pleasures to it – showing them your favourite pub topping the list of course – but the most entertaining one is looking at them looking at us and finding out that it’s a perpetual source of amusement for them.

The most obvious example is of course the fact that we Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, compared with most of the rest of the world. There are a lot of early visit gags about the lads sitting in the wrong car seat and pretending to drive with imaginary steering wheels and hammering imaginary brake pedals in pseudo emergency stops. No-one’s hurt though and there’s no damage down.

English beer is also a source of wonder and bemusement. Not only does it have no head to it but it also tastes of bread according to Anton.  Or is something that would be fed to the pigs in the summer, if you lived in Srdjan’s home town. The idea that we drink this stuff at all leaves the boys incredulous.

Things get more complicated when we talk about what constitutes typical English food. The road the boys live on is awash with Chinese, Greek, Turkish, Italian and Indian takeaways and when we point out that the most popular meal in the country is Tandoori Chicken, this too provokes a lot of head scratching, puzzled looks and eventual boredom when we discuss some of the consequences of being an ex-colonial power.

Perhaps our up-side-down-ness is something that we should recognise and enjoy more frequently. It would allow us to challenge all sorts of international orthodoxies like McDonalds, Starbucks and NATO for instance. We could cheerfully opt out of some of the tackier sides of modern day living with the reason that we’re an upside down kind of nation and still haven’t fallen off the planet despite the gravitational pull of the large multinational conglomerates.

There are lots of benefits to being funded by the EU: and realising that you live most of your life upside down is probably one of the best.

Finding Faith: 500+ Reasons to be Cheerful at All Our Futures, Rio De Janeiro, October 2013

Reason 51 – 52: finding faith.

The significance of faith schools in Brazil demands you take a closer look at the very notion of faith itself than you might feel comfortable with in the confines of the familiar secular set up we have in the UK. But whether you agree with the principle of faith schools or not, there’s no getting away from it: education demands that the educator starts from a position of faith in the first place.

Whether this be the acts of faith that presupposes that young people will benefit from the actions of well meaning adults; that the teaching of knowledge, skills and wisdom can be learnt in a predictable way within the confines of a regulated and structured system of activities; or the belief that education has to be a force for the greater good all the time: these are all acts of faith that we as educators subscribe to in any educational venture.

We feel this regularly and intensely on the first day of any course or intake of new students: the day is marked with a surge of optimism, of possibility and of great things about to be achieved. Without these faith symbols, the actions of the educator are merely empty vessels of meaning; habits devoid of substance, intent or purpose.

And Brazil – with its social, economic and ecological challenges – is arguably one of the best places in the world to come and see how faith in education is being played out in the streets, the favelas and the mountains.

We’re especially looking forward to working with Colegio Santa Marcelina in October and seeing how they marry their world of faith, the world of the streets in their educational acts of faith. More at http://www.marcelinas.com.br/riodejaneiro/index.asp

More here too: http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

More on our travel partners here: http://www.govie.co.uk/events/

Calling Small Business in St. Lucia: Website Design and Development for E-Commerce

We’re delighted to announce that following support from the Ministry of Commerce and Business Development in St. Lucia, Aspire will be providing a five-day training programme in Website Development to be held at the GAMA Learning Institute located at L’Anse Road, Castries, St. Lucia.

The course will provide learners with a step by step guide that will enable them to get online cheaply and easily, with minimal cost and provide impressive, trustable websites that will enable you to trade on-line securely, confidently and with style. They should be tutored through WordPress: a free, open source content management system that enables them to build your own customisable, updateable websites. Using professional templates, they will, by the end of the programme, be able to set up the appropriate website for their online shop, venue, restaurant, creative enterprise, church, school, charity or any sort of business.

Small business owners will develop the capacity to create and maintain their own E-Commerce website using a software package that will enable them to update their website as necessary. It will also facilitate online transactions or payments.

All eligible businesses are encouraged to register early as limited spots are available. For further information, feel free to contact me at nick@aspire-trust.org

Welcoming young volunteers from Europe interested in Arts, Culture and Battleships

Aspire has received accreditation from the European Union to host young volunteers from Europe to come and work with us over the next two years on a range of community arts projects and productions.

The volunteers will take part in the development of a live site-specific performance inspired by and based upon the silent film Battleship Potemkin that Aspire is producing with the director and composer, Patrick Dineen. In particular they will be involved in the creation of a Russian-style choir who will provide the chorus for the performance.

The Trust has recruited two volunteers – Srdjan Grubacki from Zrenjanin in Serbia and Rezeda Muchtarullina from Russia – to take part in the project.

We are thrilled to have been awarded accredited EVS status as it will mean that we will be able to expand our network of cultural projects further across Europe and build on the cultural regeneration work we have been undertaking in the Balkans since 2009.

The EU’s Youth in Action Programme is managed in the UK by the British Council. The Programme helps young people to become active citizens and better equipped for the world of work, promotes solidarity, social cohesion an co-operation within Europe and neighbouring countries.

Head of EU Programmes at the British Council Ruth Sinclair-Jones said: “Youth in Action aims to prepare young people for life and work in our global society.International volunteering helps to build trust and understanding between people in different countries, as well as enabling local communities and organisations to benefit from the volunteers’ work. It broadens young peoples’ horizons and equips them with the skills and understanding they need to become global citizens.”

All Our Futures: International Educational Study Visit to Liverpool in partnership with the British Council Bulgaria and Aspire-India

All Our Futures is Aspire’s annual conference for international head teachers took place in Liverpool between 11 and 14 June 2013. The event aimed to introduce pedagogical practices which are being applied at various levels in English schools by providing participants with exclusive, intense immersive experiences in schools and do generate unique, high quality insights into teaching and learning.

All Our Futures was produced in partnership with both the British Council, Bulgaria and our sister company, Aspire-India based in Bhubaneswar, Orisha: and so have welcomed Head teachers from the Indian subcontinent and introduced them to our schools in Liverpool, Wirral and Knowsley.

Further details of our programme in March with Bulgarian Head teachers and the British Council, Bulgaria are here:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151543038237812.1073741827.657337811&type=1

More on the June conference as it happened here:

https://www.facebook.com/nick.owen.3781/media_set?set=a.10151732950132028.1073741829.686222027&type=3

and here:

Connecting up with yourself again: what would your older you say to your younger you?

We’ve met up for the third time in as many years, the old school class of 1968 – 75 from Rickmansworth GS, and again have come away with the usual mix of feelings – sobered that we may not all be able do this again given the place we’ve reached in our lives, cheered by the ongoing companionship, struck by the distances we’ve travelled over the last 40 years, thoughtful that we’ve kept in touch and made it back here with so many different stories to tell, overawed by it all: and struck by the main land change of the ever present M25, always there in the background, somewhere around the corner, ahead of you, up ahead, over you, a constant hum of traffic and reminder of the flow around us, in us, through us. Even on the school rugby fields you can see that ever present glistening line of traffic streaming through the countryside, something that was impossible upto 1975.

And yet paradoxically, nothing has happened in the last 40 years – change has been superficial, our bodies are temporary in any event, and the changes we marvel at are just a manifestation of the traffic, the river, the flow. Money, family, relationships: the challenges are constant, just how to keep afloat is a question that’s always been there, and always will be. We ask ourselves, what would the older you say to the younger you if you bumped into yourself 40 years ago? and the answers are surprisingly simple: be confident, don’t worry, it’ll all be alright.

So you spend some money, have some laughs, drink too much, share a few memories – and keep the planning to a tentative minimum. It doesn’t need a lot more – we’re all part of the traffic, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, but all traffic together, going in our own directions but still happy to share pit stops, caveats, advice on oncoming diversions, warnings of impending heavy weather. And advice on where to find the sunshine too.

Theresa May: clearly a woman who has never stood in a queue at Heathrow.

So, Mrs May, you want to forge trade links with Never Never Land and build another runway on a site which will soon stretch from Swindon to Basildon.

Good for you. Trouble is Mrs May, the xenophobia and hostility of your party and its apparatchiks to anyone born south of Dover or east of Essex means that trying to forge these links is an increasingly difficult struggle.

Have you ever stood in a passport queue at Heathrow, trying to get into the country along with over 500 other visitors when there are just two passport controllers at the desk who are working their hardest but who are clearly at the end of their rota duty and want to get back to the staff canteen as fast as they can? Have you ever spent the mind numbingly underground trip from shopping mall 83 at  Heathrow to shopping mall 2042 in Tottenham Court Road?

Rhetorical question I know. Of course you’ve done neither, and probably haven’t the foggiest idea of how to go about either of these processes. Fact is Mrs May, for all your rhetoric about forging the greatest partnership of the 21st century, your party’s beliefs and value systems are firmly stuck in the 15th when the catch phrase ‘you’re not from ‘round ‘ere are you?’ could be said to visitors just seconds before they were disemboweled in a congratulatory fit of English nationalism.

Mrs May, if you really want to forge those partnerships then throw open the doors to this country and stop it becoming a haven of miserabilist, scared and paranoid shopkeepers.