‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’ (Freire, 2000, p.34)
Learning is a lifelong process of both a passive and active engagement with the empirical and ontological world. It is a transformative process leading to a permanent capacity change, a process which, if actively engaged with and directed towards premeditated goals throughout one’s life, can be called Education (personal enlightenment). From the cradle to the grave we learn with, from and because of others and the more we come to take control of these interactions the more effectively we come to learn about ourselves, others and the world in all its forms and strata. An individual’s capacity for a lifetime of learning (Education) is shaped by countless variables, encounters, mechanisms and structures, yet one system plays a significant role in liberating an individual from dependence to independence, an education.
Traditional transmission and ‘banking’ (Freire, 2000) approaches to education, and in turn a teaching and learning pedagogy which focus on the triumvirate of predefined knowledge, situationally applied understanding and domain specific skills is no longer an appropriate preparation of today’s adolescents for their place in our Brave New World (see for example Long, 1990; Field, 2000; Skidmore, 2003; Alheit, 2009 for a discussion of the role of education in today’s globalised society). Top down and grass roots change have and will continue to undoubtedly occur within the how of learning, teaching and education. Yet the how without the why lacks true direction. It is the question of why, and the purpose of an education, which still requires satisfactory address. An address not shaped by political and personal bias, but shaped by the hopes and ambitions we collectively have for humankind as it strides forward into an unknown future. An education can and must offer much more than a process of at best enculturation and at worst indoctrination. An education is an opportunity to liberate learners, furnishing them with the knowledge, understanding and skills, attributes and aptitudes to both master their learning lifelong and lifewide, enabling them to direct their personal Education ad infinitum.
We, the founders of Infinity School, as individuals actively involved in both our own Education and with the engineering and facilitation of the education of others, have come to recognise the following why’s of an education. Our applied philosophy is one which recognises that it is the duty of an education to,
- enable learners to know enough about themselves, others and the world to find out more and to build a cognitive and social network of understanding;
- enable learners to develop and practice a range of skills which they can develop, hone and synthesise across subject and context specific boundaries throughout their lives; and
- question, to be self motivated, self regulated and to be aware of how they, others and the world ‘works’.
An education must be about capacity building, engineering and facilitating an individual’s ability to recognise, enable and enhance their own agency. When an education is focused upon these goals then gender, race, background and socio-economic status should not hold an individual back. When an education provides the means to develop a lifelong-lifewide learning capacity through socialised-learning contexts where thought has been applied to how group interactions can be managed for the benefit of learners and learning then differences such as gender and race can become facilitators of learning rather than potential shackles on liberation. When an education is authentic, collaborative and learner-centric, transcending the fallacy of narrow and arbitrary ‘subject’ bound learning an individual is inducted into the ‘real’ rather than the ‘old world’. Infinity School’s purpose will be to provide such an education.
To enable the above Infinity School will provide an education which will actively foster amongst its learners a learning orientation (see Watkins et al., 2002), a willingness to learn (see Skidmore, 2003, p.15), and the attributes that could enable a capacity to engage with learning lifelong (Yaxlee, 1929) and lifewide (Ekholm and Hard, 2000, p.18; Alheit, 2009, p.117). Such an education would provide the route towards empowering all learners with cognitive and social tools that enable them to do more than just pass exams but to actively and positively interact with an undetermined future (see Costa, 1991; Broadfoot, 1996, p.23; Costa and Liebman, 1997; Skidmore, 2003, p.14; Watkins et al., 2007, p.18; Costa and Kallick, 2009). In addition an Infinity School education will practice the tenets of effective learning. Without experiencing a culture of effective learning how would an individual come to recognise and master their own effective lifelong-lifewide learning?
It is Infinity School’s fundamental belief that the most effective learning results from an active process of engagement with learning (Ireson, 2008, p.6) in order to achieve premeditated goals (Resnich, 1987). Illeris (2007) suggests that this active process is stimulated by the interactions between three dimensions of learning, content, incentive and environment, a theory supported by Claxton (1999), Watkins et al. (2002) and Ireson (2008). When such an interaction process is placed within a social context, such as the classroom or wider societal contexts, a further tri-directional relationship is activated between rules, tools and community, all of which shapes the activation, objectives and nature of learning (Engestrom, 1987, 2009). At the heart of this active learning process is an acceptance of the enabling role of social factors, a central truth of constructivist, social-constructivist and particularly social-constructionist philosophies championed by Piaget (1923), Vygotsky (1978) and Burr (1999).
Learning, facilitated as a social process, such as that to be established within Infinity School, is explored throughout the literature relating to effective learning (see Lave and Wenger, 1991; Watkins, 2005), cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) and collaborative group learning (Gratton, 2015). The literature, drawn from diverse academic fields, highlights the varying cognitive, social, psychological and societal benefits of socialised learning, in particular learning which is collaborative in nature. Ding and Flynn (2000) highlight the relationship between an individual’s engagement with collaborative learning processes and the development of some of their more general cognitive skills, in particular, ‘intersubjectivity, planning, communication and inhibition.’ (p.3). Panitz (2011) furthers this, citing 67 benefits of collaboration including, improved learning and achievement, improved skills, improved engagement and responsibility and improved relationships. Bruffee (1993) believes that collaborative learning processes encourage learner autonomy through a development of ‘the craft of interdependence.’ (p.1). The development of this attribute promotes a shift from cognitive self-interest to mutual interest, the development of positive learning and social relationships between students and an increased openness to being influenced by and influencing others (Johnson and Johnson, 2008, p.12). Evidence also suggests that due to the way in which collaboration requires the use of dialogue, in problem solving and social mediation (Vygotsky, 1978; Mercer, 2002), verbal task regulation is stimulated (Biemiller et al., 1998, p.204), effective learning encouraged (Alexander, 2006, p.9; Kutnick, 2010, p.192) and personal identities developed (Bakhtin, 1981; Renshaw, 2004, p.1), helping to form socially adept individuals. From this it could be concluded that a learner may become increasingly more able to control their Education due to an education structured to engineer and facilitate socialised-learning as described above.
Applying the above to an education raises numerous implications for schools leadership, pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. Collectively we the founders of Infinity School have contributed to the global debate concerning these central tenets of an education through our writing, ongoing research, involvement in teacher training, academia and through our daily applied practice as teachers and school leaders. Our collective goal has been to re-orientate existing structures and systems of schooling towards an education which truly enables learning for a lifelong-lifewide Education. Collectively we have developed, promoted and will seek to enculture through the structures and systems of Infinity School, a Collaborative Leadership Model, Collaborative Group Learning processes, a Collaborative Group Learning Pedagogy, an Authentic and Collaborative Curriculum and the practices of Authentic Assessment.
The post modern knowledge society and the rapidly changing world we find ourselves part of requires much more from today’s learners, their teachers and existing systems of formal education. An education must recognise this change and orientate itself towards educating today’s adolescents with a capacity to engage with our rapidly changing world, directing their own Education throughout their evolving lives ad infinitum. Ultimately education should seek to build an individual’s capacity to both actively and positively engage with and shape the world around them, enabling them to create their own reality; the defining element of one’s liberation as a human. Infinity School’s purpose is to achieve this, the most central of the roles of an education, by drawing upon research based practice and upon recognised best practice from global systems of education including those of Expeditionary Learning, Challenge Based Learning and the International Baccalaureate.