As a leading educational institution, it was hardly surprising that the United World College of the Atlantic constantly ‘reflected’ on the learning and education at the school. Indeed, this concept of ‘reflection’ or ‘metacognition’ has been exactly the aim of our new ‘Approaches to Learning’ (ATL) courses that closely resemble what I was taught during my ‘Learning to Learn’ lessons in Hong Kong, a few years back. However, it was quite a surprise for me to learn that as part of the schools’ new ‘Atlantic College Mission Initiative’, entire weeks would be taken out of term time in order to be dedicated to certain academic enrichment programs.
In this case, the 4 days from Sunday the 26th to Wednesday the 29th, were dedicated to exploring the various ways we learn, how education can be enhanced and to what extend various factors affect our perception of the world. Drawing on the knowledge of a large number of experts in their respective fields, we the students, broke into smaller groups to discuss these issues on a more practical basis and its application to the Atlantic College community. The conference was well attended with the Principals of the UWC in Norway and the UWC in Hong Kong as well as visitors from the International Baccalaureate offices.
However, the highlight for me was the speech by the founder of the initiative, John Abott, who devoted nearly 3 hours to discussing the human capacity to learn and how this can best be exploited and unlocked. Drawing together a multitude of education theories and concepts, he explored with us ideas such as Flow (something that is so engaging that you don’t get tired going it), Internal Drive (interest that comes from one being the best motivator) and Mentorship (how assimilation is often ineffective but where copying a mentor and improving on it is highly effective). I look forward to reading ‘Over-schooled and Under-educated’, John Abott’s book, in the near future.
Other memorable presentations and discussions included a very detailed consideration of Islamic and Western perceptions by Dr Caroline Ellwood. In this, we explored the perceptions of each party from different angles, considered things as basic as what the terms ‘Islam’ and ‘West’ mean, as well as looking at more specific and contentious topics of women, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the concept of intervention. For someone that follows the news quite closely, it was a refreshing, albeit a little frustrating, experience to explore the topics in depth without a definitive conclusion.
The other event that was particularly striking for me was the discussion of indigenous knowledge in education which occurred in two different forums. First, there was the opening presentation by Professor Anders Breidiid who considered the case-study of South Africa. In a subsequent sign-up event, the situation in the Marshall Islands was considered in a discussion led by Peter Sutoris (AC graduate of 2007, currently studying in Dartmouth University in the USA). Both talked about the need to include or exclude local knowledge and how this could be achieved in light of western aid intervention (Marshall Islands) and the international future students need to be prepared for (both case studies). I found this particularly applicable both because in Atlantic College, a balance needs to be struck between our personal study background and integrating with 340 other students, and because of the United World Schools project involving local education solutions in rural Cambodia.
All things considered, the Education and Geography of Thought Conference 2010 was a resounding success, giving us students a new perspective and allowing us to understand not just what we are made to do, but also why we are made to do what we do. That is the true value of an education, knowing WHAT to do but also understanding WHY you do it.