Darina Garland is Co-Founder and Director of Suklaa Media & Education, an education consultancy based in the UK.
Suklaa works in partnership with schools on creative projects as well as with the professional development of teachers. Suklaa also founded and runs Oppi Festival for global learning.
Are schools teaching the skills students need?
I think some people are doing an amazing job, but I’d have to say that no, across the board I don’t think so.
There’s a lot more we could be doing to help prepare young people for the world we live in. Things like holistic thinking, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.
Teaching to the test sometimes disables young people from having the confidence and the responsibility for driving their own learning and thinking. We could do a lot more in our school systems.
What are the skills we need to be teaching our children?
Critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation - a lot of the things you may associate with entrepreneurism.
Those would be the main things I think are missing, but also social and emotional skills, social justice and service, and global thinking. I think providing young people with a sense of global identity so they feel responsible and enabled to help solve problems would be wonderful.
What is the role of the teacher?
The role of the teacher essentially, and in the best case is an inspirer. Like a great mentor to lead learning journeys, to learn alongside classes and spark interest in knowledge and skills. To help make education fun and the best it can be.
What are your views on PISA?
Personally I think PISA is far too narrow as an assessment system. Suklaa is really interested in bringing different key stakeholders together and those voices are actually missing from that assessment system.
The three year cycle of PISA puts unnecessary pressure on countries to teach the test, and as a result they sort of panic because the PISA result are deemed to be so important. It misses a lot of skills in great education like social and emotional things - it’s just not a full picture at all. The voices of parents, educators and young people should be in the mix.
What would be the most exciting learning environment?
A space that enables flexibility, so often when we run workshops in CPD, we tend to just go into classroom spaces and strip everything out like the furniture.
Suklaa makes sure we move around the space a lot more. We did a project with schools in Essex which was titled Blue Sky Classrooms, and that was all about not just having one space which is for creative learning, but having a classroom that was really flexible. So what we did was work to the same budget as a standard renovation for a classroom. It was less than £10,000 for all the furniture and the kit.
The furniture was all really foldable and people could carry and stack the chairs away. All of the tables were movable and could be set in multiple positions. We had whiteboard paint on the walls so kids could draw and think on the walls. There were projectors that could go multiple ways so there were no fronts of the class. There was no teacher’s desk which is quite controversial, but it worked really well.
We trialled that with one classroom in a school, and they then rolled it out across the school and actually in other schools as well. It meant that in every space the teacher took the children into the class and said: ‘this is what we are doing today,’ and the young people decided how to set up the space. It worked really well. More schools that can take on that initiative rather than just having a super interactive classroom, because it’s really simple.
What role do you think government should play in education?
A big part of Suklaa’s belief and thinking is that there isn’t enough joined up thinking, so the key stakeholders in education are not consulted.
The young people’s voice isn’t there enough. The teachers’, educators’ or school leaders’ voice isn’t there enough. The government should prioritize education in every country. It’s building the future. I think they should support the expertise within the system and develop initiatives in a long-term thinking way in partnership with those key stakeholder groups.
What was your favourite moment in your own education?
One of my earliest memories in my formal education was in primary school.
We had this one student teacher, and one day she asked us all to talk about our interests, what are favourite animal was, what we did outside of school, etc. As she was leaving on her last day she actually presented each one of us with this little animal made out of plasticine - the stuff you can bake, the colored clay. Mine was a cat that had running shoes on, because that’s what I was into at the time. It blew my mind - it was such a small gesture, but she obviously went through a lot of trouble to personalize the learning for us.
Personalized learning wasn’t something that I knew about or even thought about, but it really stuck with me.
Thinking about other exemplary moments for me that made me love learning, and certain teachers was that moment when they looked at you as an individual. They took the time to get to know you. When I visit schools, and when we participate with schools, the best teachers know their students and care about them, and that passion is all over it.
The next 100 years
The next 100 years of Finnish education should… build on all the wonderful successes that Finland has already established.
The sense of respect and value in your teachers, people and young people, learning through play, outdoor time, long holidays, lack of standardized testing.
I think that Finland should build on learning from abroad as well. Not staying still. Looking externally as well as internally. Learning from the best education systems from around the world and collaborating with those learning systems, to have a global outlook.