Wishford Schools

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Compassion, ambition and curiosity: A toolkit for the future

Andrew Webster, Headmaster at The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells, on what it

takes to prepare children for a future we can't predict

Forest School at The Mead, Tunbridge Wells

Our Kindergarten children will graduate in 2036. What will the world be like? Which skills will they need for a job market yet to be realised and how will they care for an increasingly ageing population?

At The Mead we view the education of the next generation as so much more than a solid grounding in academics, sport and the performing arts. We’ve given ourselves the mission to educate their character for this unknown future and have highlighted the attributes of compassion, ambition and curiosity as the most important. Collectively, we call them The Mindset of a Meadite.

Now, more than ever, compassion needs to be the driving force of human development. In the digital age, increasingly it is becoming far too easy for children to opt out of the real world. Current online habits have created a culture of perfectionism, snapshot stereotypes and fake news which detach us from reality and our fellow man. Compassion, empathy, tolerance, understanding; our children need these in bucketloads if they are to navigate a far more complex world than when we were young. As The Mead’s halls and rooms have heard spoken many times through the years, treat others as you would wish to be treated. It is an ancient but irrefutable guide for living one’s life and is the key to finding those things which make us happiest: love, family, a sense of value and belonging.

When partnered with compassion, ambition can be a powerful ally. We are not talking here about the ruthless, cut throat, Wall Street version of the word but rather an ambition to adapt with a changing world, to embrace the fact that learning is a life long journey and we can improve in anything with belief and a little hard work. We strive to instil a positive Growth Mindset and an ambition to be the best version of yourself you can be - and a better version each day, together with an ambition to make the world a better place. If we, as teachers and parents, can light this fire, then our children and pupils will be prepped to deal with whatever the new age throws at them.

To complete the trio, curiosity is vital if we are to counter the inertia of a generation whom, by having all information at their fingertips, don’t want or need to know anything. I would highly recommend the Ted talk Kids Can Teach Themselves by Sugata Mitra, about his hole-in-the-wall project. Curious himself about the power of independent, collaborative learning fuelled by curiosity, he put a computer in a hole in the wall of a slum in New Delhi. He discovered that it took just eight minutes for inquisitiveness and resourcefulness to get a child understanding and using the controls and browsing the internet. In a development of the project, he took another computer to a small village near Lucknow where there was no English language teacher, and left it there for two months. When he returned the impoverished Urdu-speaking children had used the computer to teach themselves English. In broken English, the first thing they said to him when he returned was, “Can we have a faster processor and a better mouse?” The key to the success of this experiment was the burning motivation and curiosity of a group of children without information or education. The challenge for all of us is to recreate just a small portion of that curiosity in our children.

We’re currently embarking on a project of peppering these values throughout the daily experiences of our pupils. If we can wave goodbye to compassionate, ambitious and curious Meadites at the end of Year 6, we will see them off knowing they’re ready for the big wide world beyond and the adventures it has in store.

Andrew Webster

Headmaster, The Mead School