Open Thinkering


Tag: UAE

Keith Belshaw’s contribution to the #purposed debate

Keith BelshawMy father currently lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. He taught PE and Maths, and was Deputy Head in schools in the North East of England until he left for the UAE in 2009. He’s returning in July 2011.

In this (unsolicited) 500-word contribution to the Purpos/ed debate, Keith Belshaw uses his multi-faceted experiences as an educator, traveller, father and grandfather to question whether the institutions within which he’s spent his working life continue to be relevant in their current form.

Please do comment and ask questions below; I shall encourage him to respond to each directly. 🙂

Purpos/ed “Education in the 21st Century”
Why? What? How? Where? Who?

Keith Belshaw

It is easy on this platform to forget that the majority of readers have gone through the tried and tested “traditional” route of “being educated”. By this I mean school followed by college/university and into a chosen profession, trade or job. For the majority, their outcomes -when viewed from the perspective of what is valued educationally by present day society – have been successful. There will have been real life experiences that have shaped outlook on life, morals and values. There will have been role models who have shown how things are done effectively. There will have been opportunities for learning co-operatively, experiencing cultural diversity and sensibilities in the “global village”. The different “intelligences” which we are given and learn will be factors in the way our relationships are formed – and with whom to a large extent. As this “growth” – intellectual and physical – matures over time, relationships built on the bedrock of mutual empathy, respect and healthy conflict resolution prosper. BUT…

…what is absolutely necessary in the 21st Century are adults who are critical thinkers, reflective problem solvers, who adapt and refine strategies and processes for the common good that is society. Above all, adults must pass on all these meta-cognitive skills that I have mentioned to the next generation, through extensive interaction with those children, and where positive modeling is evident.

School is now an outdated institution! The influences within can be harmful to the positive development of young children. Certainly, many parents will echo that viewpoint! Therefore, what skills and what knowledge will a youngster need before being let loose on the information technological overload that is “out there”?

With whom will they choose to learn? With their good friends! How will they learn? Looking at my grandchildren as they use software – I think we are missing a major opportunity for educational growth if games for all ages, which are motivational, intellectually stimulating, competitive, available and affordable  are not developed soon.

There needs to be ongoing assessment based on agreed rubric that covers all aspects of human development. This can be done at various “hubs” – centres which provide purely arts, or technologies, or mathematics and science, or sport. They should be able to be accessed 24 hours a day to suit the individual. The “hub” will have nationally agreed benchmarks that allow students to move from level to level in various aspects. Being able to study, investigate and explore when the motivation takes learners will be key to success. Universities will eventually be on-line and open to all, being the ultimate certificate providers at every level. So who learns? Everyone! No-one stops learning – learning is life-long! The system needs overhaul to afford opportunities for learners to opt in – opt out – and then opt back in again. We need to make education totally flexible, relevant, readily available with support – and FREE!

A civilized country is measured by the number of educated people in it’s population!

What I learned about education whilst in the UAE

Photos from my trip to the UAE

I’ve reflected before on my difficulty in answering the question, “So… what do you do?”. From that post, however, the answer I’m increasingly keen on giving is:

  • I tell stories about how learning can be.

Invariably, given my predilections, this involves the use of technology. No matter where I go in Europe, in Turkey or the Middle East, there are three barriers that educators see as almost insurmountable:

  1. I don’t have the time – I’m working flat-out as it is!
  2. The curriculum doesn’t allow it.
  3. We haven’t got the hardware/software/internet connection speed.

My responses to these?

  1. Whilst there may a learning curve involved, you will invariably save time by making learning more available to students.
  2. I ask them what the curriculum prescribes. More often than not it’s based on a false assumption – or, more dangerously, a textbook.
  3. There has to be a reason for the school/local authority to upgrade the hardware/software/internet connection speed. Are you providing them with that reason?

And this is where the storytelling comes in. Because I’m not actually that interested in the technology itself. I’m interested in students reaching their potential, social justice and transforming education so it has some semblance of relevance by the time my son ends up in secondary school (2018 if you’re wondering).

So I came across the same issues when I visited the two schools my Dad works in near Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. But what I came across there was the willingness of teachers to learn. They really wanted to improve and get better – so much so that they availed themselves of every opportunity to ask me questions, quiz me about practicalities, and pick my brains.

I didn’t present anything groundbreaking or revolutionary whilst I was in the UAE. In fact, it was pretty tame stuff. What I did do, however, was tell a story. And that’s a whole lot more powerful than pointing educators toward a rag-tag bunch of loosely-related technologies we refer to as ‘Web 2.0’… :-p

Slides and presentation video available here. 🙂

Things I Learned This Week – #12

Image CC BY-SA Ismail.alghussein

Another week, another country – I’m beginning to feel like Chris Guillebeau! I spent 24 hours in the UK after last week’s EUROCLIO workshop in Turkey, then headed to the UAE to see what the Specialist Schools & Academies Trust (SSAT) are doing out here. My Dad works for them as a Maths consultant. I’ve learned lots about Arabic customs and have committed more faux-pas than I can count. Still, everyone’s very friendly, approachable and everyone speaks English really well. Better than me in fact… :-p

I presented at both the schools my Dad works on the topic of Education 2.0, trying to explain how technology fits in with an overall shift in education. It seemed to go down pretty well and lots of people had questions. I’ll upload my slides and the video of me speaking when I return back to the UK. 😀


  • Google Calendar Labs now has a feature called Smart Rescheduler that allows you to quickly find the best meeting time for all participants.
  • Got a multi-touch Mac? Want to be able to ‘middle-click’? Try this!
  • Google Apps now has a marketplace. Here’s Lifehacker’s Top 10 additional apps to try – some free, some paid-for.

Productivity & Inspiration

Education & Academic

  • I’m calling shenanigans on promises by all the main UK political parties to offer ‘pupil premiums’ to support poorer pupils. I would be surprised if anyone who’s worked in a UK school was taken in by this in the run-up to a General Election.
  • George Siemens has posted his TEDxNYED presentation entitled Collapsing to Connections. I’m hoping the video will be ready soon!
  • Will Richardson posted this week about a teacher who’s been experimenting in using social media with his classes. Going beyond the textbook that sort of things. Parents weren’t happy: “Our students don’t need to be part of a classroom experiment…” I echo Will’s <sigh> and raise him a <frown>. 🙁
  • is a free, online art history ‘book’ with nifty visualization and timelines. Oh, and it looks like it will be *awesome* on the iPad… 🙂
  • Will Richardson throws another great short blog post by quoting Clay Shirky, “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” What is the problem to which schools are the answer?

Data, Design & Infographics

Global Map of Social Media – December 2009



Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power. (Anon.)

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life. (Wayne Dyer)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Plato)

The flower that follows the sun does so even on cloudy days. (Robert Leighton)

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind. (William James)