posted 1 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 2
Future Centres - Be'er Sheva
If you think a classical education was as simple as ‘reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic’, think again. In fact, thinking – teaching young people how to think and apply what they knew – was the ultimate goal of a classical education.
It was somewhat regimented, but the first four of the first 12 years of schooling were spent absorbing facts, laying the foundation for advanced study. In the middle grades students learnt to think through arguments. In the high-school years, students learnt to express themselves. This classical pattern was called the trivium, a concept taken from medieval schools consisting of grammar, logic and rhetoric.
In the elementary years, children were generally ready to absorb information. Rules of phonics and spelling; rules of grammar; poems; the stories of literature; descriptions of plants, animals and the human body; the facts of mathematics; and so on, occupied learning in these early years.
By middle school, students were less interested in finding out bare facts than in asking ‘Why?’ In classical education this was called the ‘logic stage’, a time when the learner pays attention to cause and effect; to the relationships between different fields of knowledge; to the way facts fit together into a logical framework. The student began to apply logic to all academic subjects – the logic of writing, of reading, of history, of maths, and of scientific method.
The final phase, the ‘rhetoric stage’, built on the first two. The student learnt to think, write and speak with force and originality. The classical formula continues to have an influence on modern education, but the three phases have largely blended throughout the school years. There are some advanced education movements that believe in completely different approaches which, for example, limit memorisation in the elementary years and let young students explore the world with their own curiosity.
Teachers of the future
Teachers in Be’er Sheva,
PISGA is an acronym for a Hebrew phrase translatable into ‘Centre for Teaching Staff Development’. There are more than 60 PISGA centers throughout
The centre established three missions for itself when it reinvented itself as a FC in 2004:
To develop teachers into educational explorers and entrepreneurs and to provide them with the skills required for the ‘future teacher’;
To revolutionise selected educational domains and the way they are taught at schools;
To create ‘future images’, translate these images into prototypes for an educational initiative, and test them in the local educational field.
Serendipity led to this development.
In the early years of the millennium, the PISGA Be’er Sheva was faced with a teaching environment where alternatives to the PISGA were beginning to emerge. Teachers were dissatisfied with the conventional approach to teacher development and Haya Avni, head of the Be’er Sheva PISGA, needed to explore new approaches and push the frontiers. She and her team agreed they would abandon the status quo. They needed a new challenge and they needed to find a unique new identity.
Two years earlier Dr. Ron Dvir, founder of Innovation Ecology, had given a short presentation to a group of educators on the ‘ecology of innovation’, mentioning briefly the concept of the FC. Avni remembered it later and asked him to visit her
Right place, right time
“We found a perfect strategic and personal match in Be’er Sheva,” Dvir says. At the same time, the city of
Be’er Sheva is considered by some archaeologists as one of the oldest human settlements in the world, going back to at least the second century BC. In history, Be’er Sheva was the foundation for Jewish settlement and it stands today as the basis for the rights of the Jewish people to the
Serendipity again lent a hand. A tension had been building in Israel between the standards of the central ministry and local initiatives: on the one side, the majority who settle for the status quo and accept the government programmes and on the other, the minority like those in Be’er Sheva who dare aim higher, think differently, brainstorm and aim for fascinating, sometimes risky, alternatives.
“They have to act cleverly because they are still part of the establishment. Therefore they have to act as internal change agents,” says Dvir.
There is now a special department in the Ministry of Education, which supports experiments in alternative educational approaches. The proposals grow from the bottom up and the ministry selects some projects for support, Be’er Sheva is among them. But the top-down nature of the establishment remains, making this an “up-down living system,” Dvir says. Sometimes there are conflicts between top-down regulations and bottom-up entrepreneurship, but solutions are usually found.
Dvir has been an evangelist for FCs since 1999. He puts forward the argument that “when properly designed and operated, various types of urban institutions, such as the city library; the regional museum; the town hall; the stock exchange; the central piazza; educational institutions; and even the local neighbourhood café, can be transformed into active and vibrant ‘innovation engines’ that impact their environment, engaging citizens and other stakeholders in educational, cultural and economic innovation activities” .
Basing his evangelism on the work of Leif Edvinsson, who conceptualised and pioneered the first FC in Sweden in the mid-90s, and inspired by the pioneering work of Edna Pasher in knowledge management (KM) in Israel, Dvir sees future centres as superior ‘engines of innovation’ in the public as well as the private sector.
Together with 10 European organisations, Dvir established a European Commission-funded research consortium, Open Futures, which explores the essence, operating principles and methods of FCs (www.open-futures.net).
One of the key partners, Hank Kune from the
Future centres catching on
These are not just claims. Dvir, with the Open Futures team, has discovered more than 30 FCs located in
PISGA FC projects
In its first two years the PISGA FC has initiated numerous projects focusing on the diverse fields and challenges of the city educational system, more than 500 stakeholders – teachers, supervisors, people from local industry, and representatives of the Be’er Sheva municipality parents and children. Here are a few of those projects:
Sustainable Education 2020
An initiative - supported by the commissionaire of future generation at the Knesset – is aimed at exploring and creating a ‘future image’ of sustainable education. Sixty students and additional stakeholders collaborate with three colleges for teacher development. They are:
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education – a taskforce of ICT leaders in the city schools, aiming at drawing a future image of smart integration of ICT into education, using an assessment tool to support the realisation of this vision;
The Educational Environment in the Future Kindergarten – involving a group of kindergarten staff, supported by professionals from disciplines such as interior design. It addresses the challenge of revolutionising the design of the future kindergarten, in order to provide the children with a better educational environment which is based on and communicates a clear educational philosophy. Ten future images, based on different perspectives (for example, democratic education, science, physiological development and parental perspectives) have been developed. Each of the kindergarten teachers who participated in the process adopted one of the future images and realised it in one space in her kindergarten.
While the quality of science education is critical to the strategic position of
What and how
The importance of these and other initiatives is not limited to what they are doing but how they are doing it.
Visits to nine other FCs led Dvir to identify 13 conceptual building blocks for the ecology of innovation in general, and FCs in particular: time; physical space; teams and leadership; tolerance of risk; strategy; virtual space; methodological space; KM; financial capital; diversity; attention to the future; open end challenge; and the unifying principle – conversations.
With those components in mind, the Be’er Sheva PISGA Center created a model with six main modules: community; conversations; future images; a laboratory; implementation space; and a knowledge and intelligence centre.
Creating and realising future images is one of the building blocks at PISGA. At the center, future images are created collaboratively by a multidisciplinary team addressing a specific domain and challenge. Teams communicate a desired future visually and then support an organisation or group to proactively seek this future.
The images are enhanced by artists using different artistic media, using the notion that ‘one picture is worth a thousand words’.
While the PISGA Future Center is primarily engaged in teacher development, it offers a powerful ally to Be’er Sheva and its desire to become an ‘education city’. And it no doubt produces teachers with innovative mindsets that follow them back to their classrooms.
Classrooms throughout the world have become dull process centres where children's creativity is being stamped out by government-mandated standards and ‘competency’ tests based on past and present but not future.What better way to change that than by adapting the FC approach and turning schools into exploration centres, places where children – together with their future-literate teachers – explore the world, emerging trends, relevant challenges, and develop and prototype new solutions and ways of doing things.
FCs were originally meant for business and economic purposes. But the Be’er Sheva project shows us that the approach can be just as effective for companies; museums; governments; professional and trade associations; educational institutions; and any other group charged with the responsibility of meeting the future.
In fact, this very report has inspired the Association of Knowledgework (www.kwork.org) to take its first steps towards transforming itself from a ‘talk network’ into an FC.
Jerry Ash is KM coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is author of the Ark Group’s Next Generation Knowledge Management series. To order any of the three volumes, contact Adam Scrimshire at email@example.com. Jerry Ash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on FCs, contact Ron Dvir at email@example.com or go to www.innovationecology.com.