John welch

John welch

Thursday, 24 August 2017 11:59

Finding Like Minded when Looking Back


For more than a decade Sir Ken Robinson has been recognised around the world as a visionary, advocating for creative approaches to learning in an environment that nurtures individual growth.

Reading his books and listening to his inspirational and entertaining talks on YouTube I hear echoes from talks we gave about Chiron College back in the 1970’s in Sydney.

We spoke against the traditional authoritarian system advocating for a new approach that nurtured individual aspirations and self–determination in a learning environment that was part of the real world not an isolated institution within it.

We weren’t alone.

Other innovative schools had started up around the same time. Each were quite unique but with common core values. In 1975 two Teachers College students did an assignment reviewing ‘alternative’ schools. They came to the conclusion that

“In practice, theories of alternative schools seem to work out as a broad basis for learning experiences…A great variety of material is being learnt-dictated by the interests of the students, and including topics taught in traditional style schools. Emphasis is placed on the individual's motivation. Students learn what they want to learn. The aim is to create an open free environment in which continuous learning by all persons involved may take place – open meaning flexible, and free meaning a climate that fosters creativity, spontaneity and a desire for learning. In the alternative school, the aim is not to have children learn what adults tell them, but to help the child to learn how to think for himself.”  read more

During this time the NSW Department of Education became interested in Chiron College because they’d observed that Chiron students who chose to continue their education at tertiary level continued to perform well which wasn’t always the  case with students from traditional schools. Curious to know why Sydney Teachers College sent some trainee teachers to Chiron for their practical sessions.

The Universities in Sydney were also interested and invited us to give talks on innovation in education.

Around Australia there are students, teachers and familes who were involved in alternate, progressive, innovative, experimental , … schools.

Their voices if heard would affirm

that many of the approaches proposed by advocates today



Saturday, 19 August 2017 15:31

I'd Like To

Jane Goodall2

A few years ago a friend mentioned that an eleven year old boy in primary school where she taught would like to learn Latin. I'd studied Classics at university and was happy to teach him but he lived in a town about 100km away. Simple solution the Internet! And it's all going very well sharing Documents in Google Drive and connecting on Hangout for a 40 minute session each week.

It reminded me of when I was 4, I told our landlady who lived next door  that I'd like to learn the piano but my parents couldn't afford to pay for lessons. She said she'd teach me! Almost 70 years later I'm still playing as well as composing and exploring new interests in computer generated music.

When I was 11 we were living in Mornington (VIC) where my dad played in the local brass band. One of the band members was an award winning water colour artist. I'd developed a fascination with artworks during our visits to relatives in Sydney. I used to wander off on my own to the NSW Art Gallery sitting, looking and imagining a world I'd never seen. So I told the band player artist I'd like to paint. He said he'd teach me! When I went to high school I said I'd like to do art, but was told I wasn't allowed as only girls did art. However my mother thought this was absurd given that most famous artists were male. So she confronted the headmaster and as it turned out another mother was presenting the same argument for her son. We won!

Being a working class kid I was all geared to get out of school by the age of 15. No one in the family had taken further education before. But thanks to a few wonderful teachers I found myself exploring and discovering a whole new world of ideas, especially in history and mathematics.

So I said to my parents I'd Like to go university. They said what you do with your life is your choice and we support you. However, they couldn't afford to pay the fees so the only way I could do that was to get a Commonwealth Scholarship. And I did!

I'd planned to major in Mathematics but I had also taken Ancient History along with Philosophy and Zoology (strange choices, I know; but fascinating) and again inspired by wonderful teachers I wanted to major in Ancient History. But to do that back then you had to study Ancient Greek and Latin. I hadn’t studied any foreign languages at school I didn’t qualify for entry to languages at university. Not one to give up on things easily I persisted to find a way. I gained special permission to enrol in Elementary Greek and Mr O.N.Kelly, the teacher, agreed to teach me Latin as well.

It was summer vocation when I started Latin. Mr Kelly posted to me copies of the text books he had written for Latin in Australian Schools. As I progressed through the exercises I'd post them to him and he would correct them and post them back, with his fee written at the bottom, calculated on the time it took him to mark them. The one shilling and sixpence he usually charged showed he was either a speed reader or very generous. I think the latter! For lessons on pronunciation I'd go to a public phone (we didn't have one at home) and ring him. I remember I used to say 'sort of' a lot until during one of our phone sessions he said : the statements you make are very clear and carefully thought out. So there's no need to say 'sort of'. And I stopped saying it, not because I was embarrassed but because his praise gave me confidence.

Aged 25, glad I hadn’t left school 10 years before, I became cofounder and principal of an innovative senior secondary school in Sydney where as Chiron Student 1975-76 Tim Gottersons,Barrister, Finance Lawyer and Banker, puts it:

"I believe my experience at Chiron gave me a great sense self control and personal strength. It opened my mind to endless opportunities and different ways of looking at issues. I have always thought that this gave me a huge head start on others who were educated within a more ridged and narrow system."

Which brings me back to now. I'm about the same age as Mr Kelly was when he taught me!

Having found these wonderful opportunities throughout my life I want to encourage young people to discover their individuality and make their choices saying confidently

“I’d Like To” 



Friday, 18 August 2017 15:48

Compliance or Engagement

It is our curiosity that awakens our desire to learn. The desire is the motivation. When nurtured it drives us to engage with others seeking to understand and through that process learn techniques for learning how-to-learn.

The end result builds self confidence, self esteem and the desire to achieve more and the ability to think independently.

In his book DRIVE : The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Daniel Pink identifies 3 elements of the true motivation

  • Autonomy - the desire to direct our own life
  • Mastery - the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose - the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

More positive and lasting outcomes result from ENGAGEMENT.

RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

But our system of education valuing conformity and control is holding back the realization of what engages and motivates young people today :  

  • Dropout Rates in Schools & Colleges

More and more young people are becoming disengaged from learning not because of lack of potential but because they find it personally repressive and for the most part irrelevant.

  • Conformity or Individuality

Governments continue to impose the conservative regulations that cause this problem and they do so ignoring the advice from business experts as well as forward thinking educationalists who are saying that education is not providing learning programs in ways that relate to living in today’s world.

  • Examination or Exploration

In developed countries students’ interest in exploration and understanding has diminished . The focus for many has turned to learning only what will be examined. Students need to be engaged in new ways. The new skills required today are better demonstrated through activity and productivity, not by examinations.


Time to develop a New Approach to Education for Young People

Friday, 18 August 2017 13:36

New Skills Now Needed


What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st Century? 

After extensive consultation with businesses Tony Wagner identified ‘seven survival skills’  to live a productive and quality life :

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

To compete in the new global economy, companies need their workers to think about how to continuously improve their products, processes, or services. Over and over, executives told me that the heart of critical thinking and problem solving is the ability to ask the right questions. As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.”

Ellen Kumata, managing partner at Cambria Associates, explained the extraordinary pressures on leaders today. “The challenge is this: How do you do things that haven’t been done before, where you have to rethink or think anew? It’s not incremental improvement any more. The markets are changing too fast.”

2. Collaboration and Leadership

Teamwork is no longer just about working with others in your building. Christie Pedra, CEO of Siemens, explained, “Technology has allowed for virtual teams. We have teams working on major infrastructure projects that are all over the U.S. On other projects, you’re working with people all around the world on solving a software problem. Every week they’re on a variety of conference calls; they’re doing Web casts; they’re doing net meetings.”

Mike Summers, vice president for Global Talent Management at Dell, said that his greatest concern was young people’s lack of leadership skills. “Kids just out of school have an amazing lack of preparedness in general leadership skills and collaborative skills,” he explained. “They lack the ability to influence.”

3. Agility and Adaptability

Clay Parker explained that anyone who works at BOC Edwards today “has to think, be flexible, change, and use a variety of tools to solve new problems. We change what we do all the time. I can guarantee the job I hire someone to do will change or may not exist in the future, so this is why adaptability and learning skills are more important than technical skills.”

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

Mark Chandler, senior vice president and general counsel at Cisco, was one of the strongest proponents of initiative: “I say to my employees, if you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing. If you try 10 things, and get eight of them right, you’re a hero. You’ll never be blamed for failing to reach a stretch goal, but you will be blamed for not trying. One of the problems of a large company is risk aversion. Our challenge is how to create an entrepreneurial culture in a larger organization.”

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication

Mike Summers of Dell said, “We are routinely surprised at the difficulty some young people have in communicating: verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills. They have difficulty being clear and concise; it’s hard for them to create focus, energy, and passion around the points they want to make. If you’re talking to an exec, the first thing you’ll get asked if you haven’t made it perfectly clear in the first 60 seconds of your presentation is, ‘What do you want me to take away from this meeting?’ They don’t know how to answer that question.”

Summers and other leaders from various companies were not necessarily complaining about young people’s poor grammar, punctuation, or spelling—the things we spend so much time teaching and testing in our schools. Although writing and speaking correctly are obviously important, the complaints I heard most frequently were about fuzzy thinking and young people not knowing how to write with a real voice.

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

Employees in the 21st century have to manage an astronomical amount of information daily. As Mike Summers told me, “There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t prepared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps.”

It’s not only the sheer quantity of information that represents a challenge, but also how rapidly the information is changing. Quick—how many planets are there? In the early 1990s, I heard then–Harvard University president Neil Rudenstine say in a speech that the half-life of knowledge in the humanities is 10 years, and in math and science, it’s only two or three years. I wonder what he would say it is today.

7. Curiosity and Imagination

Mike Summers told me, “People who’ve learned to ask great questions and have learned to be inquisitive are the ones who move the fastest in our environment because they solve the biggest problems in ways that have the most impact on innovation.”

Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, observes that with increasing abundance, people want unique products and services: “For businesses it’s no longer enough to create a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful.” Pink notes that developing young people’s capacities for imagination, creativity, and empathy will be increasingly important for maintaining the United States’ competitive advantage in the future.

Tony Wagner's Website

Are These Skills Being Learnt in Schools Today ?

Friday, 18 August 2017 10:39

"Nugget" Coombs On Education

On Saturday 1st September 1973 Dr H.C. "Nugget" Coombs, then consultant to Prime Minister Whitlam, gave a speech at the official opening of the new Birchgrove premises Chiron College had moved to from the City.

Thirty eight years later I came across a copy of the speech among his Papers in the Manuscript Collections of the National Library of Australia. Reading it reminded me of how enthusiastic we all were about offering a new approach to education to replace the existing authoritarian system.

Here are some passages from his speech :

"….today it is more exciting and rewarding to be involved in the education process whether as a student or teacher. There seems to be a new flexibility, a new prospect for innovation and an encouraging ferment of scepticism <among> the sacred cows of the traditional pedagogy. At such times significant change can occur. I genuinely hope that this school will be in the van of such change."

"In the past there has been a depressing uniformity imposed on the State educational system, frequently in the face of determination on the part of teachers to break away from that uniformity. The opportunities to experiment and develop a different philosophy of education …have been realised only to a negligible degree. Where there has been imagination, it has generally been stultified."

"The educationalists are rebelling against the tendency to see the school and the teacher as the channel through which experience shall be received - and therefore by which it shall be ordered, shaped and related to the world in general. Against this tendency it is right and proper for the young and those who care for them to rebel."

"The freedom to explore, the freedom to discover and the freedom to judge … is the fundamental right of every evolving creature at whatever stage of its life - and above all the right of the human child."

"I am greatly concerned with some aspects of contemporary school practice which tries to bring to the child experience of the arts - of theatre, music, painting and sculpture - through the filtering mechanism of the relationship between child and teacher. As observers, and even now practitioners and creators (and any child is a practitioner and creator in the arts), children should meet the arts face to face. If intermediaries are unavoidable, those intermediaries themselves should be artists - those who by their practice observed, can communicate the excitement involved in creative activity in the arts. In the arts above all one can learn only by doing."

Sadly, conservatism returned suppressing significant change. But many more voices are emerging again advocating for a new system of education in tune with the values expressed here!

These 'Old Ideas' are still 'New' ! Are we still just talking the talk?


Dr H. C. 'Nugget' Coombs was one of Australia's most outstanding and influential public servants, serving and advising seven prime ministers over a 30-year period. His many public appointments included Director of Rationing, Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction, Governor of the Reserve Bank, Chairman of the Australian Council for Aboriginal Affairs, Chairman of the Australia Council for the Arts, Chancellor of the Australian National University, Chairman of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Charismatic and energetic, Coombs had a profound influence behind the scenes in business and politics, dealing with prime ministers, officials and top business people. He worked hard to achieve a distinctive social, economic and cultural place for all Australians, particularly Aboriginal Australians 

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