December 2, 2010

Education has been on my mind of late. I’ve been exposed to some different elements of our approach to education recently. The highlight of these was Mary Gordon’s fascinating talk at Trinity College about her ground breaking approach to teaching socially challenged primary school children called Roots of Empathy . The programme is a great testament to lateral thinking where the gathered pupils are introduced to an infant with its mother and asked to interpret what the baby is thinking. The baby can’t talk for itself so they are challenged to see themselves in the baby’s shoes. This programme has had outstanding success around the world and is currently being piloted in Ireland. Back at Trinity, we concluded with a subsequent round table discussion about the challenges of teaching within a curriculum orientated framework.

Harry Eyres touched on this last point recently. Our education systems are more and more driven towards grooming qualified individuals whose sole function is to generate income. Where is the place for culture, what about the empathy that Mary Gordon believes is essential to rounding off our more troubled youngsters? Surely this quality is just as important for our business leaders who have to set the tone for the organisations that they run.

On a more practical level, I met with Rosie Hand from DIT who is doing great work (with great input from Jonathan Forrest at Cybercom) about developing a third level syllabus that delivers graduates into the advertising sphere that are properly groomed to meet the communication needs of advertisers today. A tough ask to say the least in such a fast moving environment, but one Rosie is certainly committed to solving. We’re doing our bit to help.

Communication plays such an important role in education, if even at the most obvious point on how we impart our knowledge to others. It strikes me that our education system has become so convoluted that it needs a vision and simplification overhaul to breed our coming generations. Remember the Celtic Tiger wasn’t all bling and incompetence but in parts delivered sustainable areas of economic development, much of it fuelled by an educated and erudite workforce.

I had the privilege of meeting up with Mary Gordon the day after her talk with some of our friends from Ashoka. We had a fascinating and at times challenging discussion. One of Mary’s seven year old charges once highlighted to her: empathy itself is not enough, it has to be coupled with the courage and conviction to address issues and see them through. A simple practical example might be Claire’s great suggestion for toilet signs. If our politicians had communicated to us with similar refreshing empathy over the last few years, I have no doubt our country would be in a far better place.

Communication plays such an important part of our everyday lives: from news and views, to advertisers selling products, to grooming our leaders of the future. In many ways it’s the most important skill we have. Now there’s a challenge for us who make our living out of communicating!



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