The need for educators

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Written by Robin Hoyle on 21 February 2017

I’m prompted to write this piece by two seemingly unconnected events. One was extremely sad and one simply infuriating.
On February 7, aged 68, health statistician Hans Rosling died of pancreatic cancer. You may never have heard of him but his research in population, data and the transmission of disease is not only ground breaking, but despite the significant academic rigour he brought to his studies, accessible by all.

This accessibility is important. Although a data guy and a person who promoted research, numbers and information as the basis for policy, he was – above all else – an educator of the highest skill and standing. His explanation of statistics and the insights he was able to draw from spreadsheets and tables was mind-expanding. He did not teach those who saw him speak what to think, he taught them how to think. So much more valuable. One good thing: despite his early death, is that we can still enjoy his enthusiasm, capability as an inspiring presenter and real grasp of communication via the Internet.

As I was reviewing some of Hans Rosling’s videos and thinking about what the world had lost, a tweet popped up in my timeline. It came from a respected individual in the world of L&D, one who had recently been honoured with a prestigious award designed to recognise someone who has ‘made a significant and lasting contribution to the learning profession.’ 

It read: “People believed in alchemy because they didn’t understand chemistry: people believed in education because they didn’t understand learning”.
When ever so gently challenged about this generalisation, the tweeter added: “After all, alchemists got some things right.” This is a statement so staggering in its idiocy that it puts the earlier tweet into perspective.  

Having a go at schools, teachers and education is very popular among some of those engaged in L&D. The teacher-bashing bandwagon is over populated with people from our industry.

Now I know it is very modish and neo-liberal to diss teachers. Blaming those working at the coal face of education for the faults of politicians and policy makers has a long and (ig)noble tradition. But this, it seems to me, went further. It suggested that education was nonsense, a fake ‘science’ pursued by the ignorant. It equated the developments and breakthroughs in andragogy and pedagogy with charlatans who tried to manufacture gold from base metals and tried to con people to invest their savings in the fakest of all fake sciences.

This too has a long tradition. Having a go at schools, teachers and education is very popular among some of those engaged in L&D. The teacher-bashing bandwagon is over populated with people from our industry. Most vociferous are those whose understanding of how people learn is significantly less than the standard required by those successfully completing the first term of a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. 

When I was involved in recruiting and managing L&D teams, those with teaching qualifications were often those with the greatest grasp of how learning could be facilitated. When we discussed performance improvement projects, the former teachers got it. They came up with creative, empowering approaches. They trusted employees and colleagues with sense making and establishing meaning. They quickly gave control and helped those who were not yet ready to manage their own learning to achieve the confidence that enabled them to do so.

Many had left education, not because they were poor educators, but because successive policy frameworks had left them unable to educate in the ways they believed would work. The problem was not education. It was ignorance.

Hans Rosling was an educator and proud to be known as one. He recognised that education was not simply filling empty vessels with information.  He knew education was about enabling people to think based on facts, evidence and research. Like Nelson Mandela, who famously said “Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world” Rosling knew that wisdom came from understanding and that understanding came from education. He also recognised that wisdom was in short supply.

Rosling knew that education couldn’t be bland and needed to engage. If that meant adopting an ‘edutainment’ style in his public performances, he did. We all know that his ‘show’ was based on real learning, real understanding and a deep and abiding interesting in facts rather than being swayed by fashionable and unfounded opinion.

At this time in our global experience, we need more Hans Roslings and fewer fact-free tweeters. This is blatantly obvious not just in L&D, but we can start to influence in our own sphere. Let’s all start the fight back against blithering ignorance wherever it is encountered.


About the author
Robin Hoyle has spent three decades as a strategic L&D leader, trainer and consultant. He is author of two books: Informal Learning in Organizations: how to create a continuous learning culture and Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement. He is currently the MD and Senior Consultant at Learnworks Ltd.

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