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Past, Present and Future

Ignoring all the excitement of an inspection week, because we are not allowed to discuss the process (ever) or the outcomes (for the time being), I’ll focus instead on the messages I have been sharing with the pupils this week in our assembly programme, in a series of slides I’ve called ‘Past, Present and Future’. 

I started with a simple fact about the global population in 1750, which was the whole of human existence to that point.  There were about one billion people on the planet at that time and only 3% of them lived in cities.  I added a couple of pastoral scenes from the time, including a Thomas Gainsborough landscape, just for the aesthetic; but I sense this may have been a step too far for my early morning audience. 

I moved on to describe items, events and people from more recent history, i.e. during the time I’ve been on the planet, that do not feature too much at the moment.  There is a mobile phone the size of a brick from the late 1980s, a VHS video recorder, an image of the game of Pong that mesmerised our family one Christmas when I was about twelve or thirteen, a coal miner, a picture of Concorde and one of Tony Blair outside 10 Downing Street, with the observation that it may be some time in the future, or perhaps even longer, before a Labour prime minister returns to power.  I know Gordon Brown came after Blair, but he’s not quite as photogenic! 

The pictures about the present feature Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, Boris Johnson – each in their own way having a bad hair day – along with some rather less cheerful images of the coronavirus, a nuclear bomb exploding and the bush fires in Australia.  The point is that leaders will come and go with varying degrees of impact, the virus remains an as-yet-unquantifiable threat, and the twin spectres of nuclear and climate annihilation could yet create a genuine existential crisis for our species.  This is not to frighten the children, but rather to encourage them to pay attention to the world around them and learn how to assess the risks they will face in the years ahead, with a view to developing a proper sense of perspective about where the real importance lies. 

For a view of the future, I made the point that the global population will be 9 billion by 2050, by when 60% of people will be living in cities.  There are, of course, lots of benefits to urban life, but I thought it might make more of an impact if I highlighted issues about congestion and pollution from Tokyo, Abuja, New Delhi and Moscow. 

I then posed a series of questions that the children of the future may ask their parents or teachers.  What was a taxi driver?  What was a driving test?  What was a truck driver?  The pictures show a series of driverless vehicles, some in prototype and some already being tested on roads around the world.  The advent of 5G, regardless of the issues about who is supplying it, makes it inevitable that we will remove human error as a cause of so many accidents, with the current global annual death toll on the roads at about 1.25 million – the equivalent of about ten jumbo jet crashes a day. 

I shared the joke about one man and his dog running the factory of the future*, before finishing by showing the pupils the diagram from our strategic plan that shows the type of education we are seeking to deliver at Radnor House in the next few years, in an attempt to future-proof the children for all the unknown variables they may face in the next few decades.  I finished with a draft version of what may end up being called the Radnor Values Wheel, though we ought to be able to find something a bit more catchy in due course.  If we can underpin our plan with the constant reinforcement of our core values, it looks to me that we will be on to something worthwhile here. 

You can see the presentation by clicking on the 'Past, present, future' link below. 

* a joke delivered by Sir John Jones at a recent talk I attended: the factory of the future will be staffed by one man and a dog.  The man’s job will be to feed the dog and the dog’s job will be to stop the man from touching anything! 

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