“We need problem solvers, not bean-counters”

…so said our local inventor and entrepreneur, James Dyson, here in Wiltshire recently. And he wouldn’t get an argument from the traditional bean-counters in the accountancy profession either – they have long since identified that where they can ‘add value’ is in solving challenges for companies.

It is of course widely recognised that the ‘first world’ has moved on from production and manufacturing to a ‘knowledge-based’ economy, so that’s the environment for which we in schools need to equip our students. But the term ‘knowledge-based’ can be misleading – it’s not just about knowledge, it’s about applying the knowledge in innovative ways, as Dyson suggests.

So this really is not the time for schools to be narrowing their focus, or concentrating only on what’s needed to get into a particular career or soley on what one of my school Governors, a former Head and Reporting Inspector, calls ‘sacred knowledge or the knowledge which our forefathers feel it is important for us to know’. Instead we should be concentrating more on what he refers to as ‘powerful knowledge’ which is the basis of real learning, progress, insight and original thought.

It’s time to broaden what we do, and to encourage students to make connections between everything they ‘know’. The strategic compass of St Mary’s Calne is set on providing exactly this breadth of activity and knowledge under an initiative that we refer to as ‘Connected teaching & learning”, which is all about creating time and space for pupils and staff to make real and meaningful connections. The ability to make new and interesting connections from assimilated knowledge is the basis for innovation.

Mary Beard made a related point in the Times recently, in connection with the ongoing Government changes to the curriculum, saying “There’s a danger that the debate becomes: are you going to choose IT or two dead languages? Are you going to have music or maths. We need both”. If we do not encourage a breadth of exposure to a whole range of different areas of ‘knowledge’ we are going to lose these different perspectives and, potentially, the insight that they can bring to the challenges we face today and the future challenges that we don’t yet know about. Professor Beard’s own work on ancient societies has had much to teach us about how we are approaching a whole range of political problems today.

While the highest academic achievement is of course vital, we are building on this to place great value on other forms of achievement too – whether in music, art, drama, sport or community service. This is where a boarding school has an inherent advantage, in my view – there is just so much more opportunity to build these activities into the longer day that our students spend with us. And of course in a single-sex environment we can make sure that this range of opportunity is available to girls in a way that is still not always the case in other schools.

Breadth of education for girls also means broadening our minds and opening our eyes to what women can do and indeed what women have achieved in the past but which has been left out of our traditional curriculum. I love this example from a girl in my home state in Maryland who uses her initiative and research skills to challenge her teacher’s idea that there were no women explorers. She wrote to her teacher in January 2014:

Remember when I asked why there are no girls on the explorer project and you answered that not many women explored. I found a list of women who explored and when:

Harriet Chalmers Adams 1875-1937,   Dominick Arduin 1960-2004
Ann Bancroft 1955-  ,   Jeanne Bare 1740-1807
Jean Batten 1909-1982,   Gertrude Bell 1868-1926
Isabella Bird 1831-1904,   Nancy Bird-Walton 1915-2009
Nellie Bly 1864-1922,   Louise Boyd 1887-1972
Susan Butcher 1954-2006,   Laura Dekker 1995-
Amelia Earhart 1897-1937,   Isabelle Eberhardt 1877-1904
Osa Johnson 1894-1953,   Ida Pfeiffer 1797-1858
Hester Stanhope 1776-1839,   Alexadrine Tinne 1835-1869

and many more….

I want you to know I did not do this to prove you wrong. I wanted to do this because many women have done many things that would get more recognition if a man did it and that is wrong. You know that I know that but the world does not know that and they need to know that women can do anything men can do”.

Powerful knowledge indeed!

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