Principal of Farmhouse Montessori School, Sydney; teacher with over 20 years of experience across the globe; mountaineer; advisor to numerous schools on pedagogy and teaching; philanthropist; co-founder of educationinfluence.com, an initiative to connect teachers and educators across the world; LinkedIn Global Goodwill Ambassador for Australia, 2017 and nominee for Australian Author of the Year, 2017. We are talking about Gavin McCormack, the man who has been revolutionising education world over. Aaqilah and Sweta from the Knowledge Tribe caught up with him, amidst his busy travel schedule. Here’s part-1 of this interview.
Knowledge Tribe: So, you were in Thailand last week. Were you there on work?
Gavin McCormack: Yes, I was helping two Montessori schools in Chiang Mai set up their new curriculum. I am also advising them on how to run a school in terms of enrolment and structure, and on marketing.
KT: Gavin, you have taught across the globe. How would you compare your experience in Thailand with the rest of Asia, or with other parts of the world?
GM: Ok, let me tell you where I am coming from. I graduated in England, where I worked for five years as a teacher in a Pakistani school which had a lot of refugees. Then, I moved to France where I worked as an au pair, teaching one-year-old children. From there, I ended up in Australia where I worked in an Islamic school for 10 years. After this, I retrained as a Montessori teacher and now am the Principal of a Montessori school. I also run a teacher training centre in Kathmandu, Nepal and manage the structure of four schools in India and Nepal.
Now that you know my background, let me tell you what I think about world education. So, here’s what I think. I think that at the moment in the world, we need to make changes in order to save the planet which is in trouble. We know that global warming is a problem; there is pollution, there are famines, there is segregation of races, there is social conflict, there are also problems with rights and equality. Unfortunately, the fact is that the problem lies in education. The education prevalent in countries such as India, Bangladesh or Myanmar is what we call very ‘prescribed’; it is a very fact-based curriculum. Everyone learns facts in order to graduate. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for a country and those countries are ones with huge population. China and India have more than three billion people together, which is almost half of the world’s population. Now those children are learning but are not able to tackle the world problems because they are learning facts. They are not learning competencies and skills.
So, my problem is that the countries that are doing really well in education like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Australia, Switzerland, England, and so on, have a very small population for about 30-50 million. If you combine Sweden with Denmark, Finland, Australia and England, that’s still only a 100 million people, which is not even one-tenth of India’s population. So, although the countries such as these are doing really well, they are not going to change the world because they are too slow. So, in order to save the planet, we need to go to India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and we have to help put some structure and rigour into their education systems, so that they can make a difference.
KT: Describe the education system that you grew up with.
GM: Well, I mostly grew up in Northern England, where the education is not as good as the south. The south is very commercial, with London, Birmingham etc., while the north is very industrial, so all the money is in the south. I lived in a very rich area, so everybody around was rich and we were poor. Hence, I wanted to succeed and I knew that I have to fight my way to the top. I was not lazy and I didn’t want to be one of those people who complains about how hard their life is.
My education wasn’t that great; it was very directive and prescribed with fact-based lessons, but I had a couple of good teachers who inspired me to fly when I was given the chance to do so. So, I started to travel the world and began gathering a lot of experience. I lived in France, Spain, Korea, Australia and India. Whenever I travelled, I did so with an open mind and an open heart. So, I met people from different cultures, learned from them, ate what they ate and listened to their stories. I also learned a philosophy—the greatest education that you can get as a teacher is by travelling, because when you have travelled the world and you go into the classroom, you have amazing experiences and stories to share, that the children will be so inspired by you. When a child asks you about China, you can show them pictures of times when you were in China. When they want to learn about Islam, I can tell them stories about the time when I was in Saudi Arabia or show them a picture of me at the Great Mosque. This is when you become an inspirational teacher, because you have not just educated them academically but educated them globally. There is a difference there, so that is my angle; I am educated globally. Academically, I don’t have a Ph.D., I don’t have a master’s degree, but I am trained in Montessori, primary and early childhood education.
KT: Tell us what according to you, are the key life skills that need to be incorporated in a school’s curriculum.
GM: Well, there are two things. The first is to look at the outcome and question the intention when you are planning a lesson for children. Teachers must ask themselves why they are bothering to teach a particular topic to the students. For example, in history, instead of teaching the list of all the Prime Ministers of India, teach students about the mistakes that the leaders of the past have made, or look at those who have made some really influential decisions so that we can all learn from them. Such lessons impart valuable life skills that could make the world better, such as time management, compassion, inclusion, democracy and acceptance. Nobody in the world is going to clear a job interview by just memorising the names of the Prime Ministers. We need the children of today to go into the world as leaders. Does that make sense?
KT: Absolutely. So what has the response been like, to all of your efforts towards this?
GM: Well, usually, when I go to schools, observe the classes and meet their management to tell them that they need to make some changes in their education system, they usually ask why. When I explain why, they are usually very excited and can’t wait to start. Since the work I did at Iqra International School in Bengaluru, India—though it was only a three-day workshop—I have received nearly 150 requests from different schools across China, Thailand and India, asking me to come down for a teacher-training workshop with them. So, there is a demand for this movement, but there is a shortage of skill.
KT: You say that there is a demand for this movement. Could you elaborate on that?
GM: Yeah, of course. In fact, I would like to mention four things that illustrate this. Firstly, I put out a daily dose of educational pedagogy and practices to improve teaching, through my social media. Thousands of people benefit from this, and so can anyone out there. Second; people can get involved in my projects as volunteers, to help. All I need is for schools around the world to spread the word that there are children in Nepal who need a library. I help in collecting books and posting them to a fund raiser. Any of your readers can do the same.
Third is for all the teachers out there. You are a bridge between a child and a problem. All you have to do is let the child see the problem, analyse it and solve it, with you delivering the needs. That is my goal as well—to act as a bridge between schools and teachers around the world, enabling them to solve problems. Fourth is that my ultimate goal is educational equality for everybody around the world. I run a global teaching platform called educationinfluence.com. This is a great resolve for teachers around the world. There are five representatives in India and I have handpicked 196 of the best teachers around the world. So, teachers anywhere in the world can connect with the local representative or influencer, for free educational resources.
KT: So how do you go about training teachers so that they can educate children in the right way?
GM: I think that the only way to really tackle this is to talk to the people who are in-charge—the government, the education minister—so that they can make some administrative changes. I say this because a lot of schools are following curricula which are teaching them facts. When the government comes in to assess the schools and see what facts are been taught, changes will take place.
KT: Ok, so you have had many honours come your way, like being appointed the Global Goodwill Ambassador for Australia by LinkedIn and being nominated for the Australian Author of the Year in 2017. What opportunities have they brought you regarding your goals?
GM: I am a school principal, which is a wonderful job in Sydney and I am not going to leave that. Now that I have people following me online, I am becoming a public figure and people are listening to me. When I write something, people take it on, and I am making a difference. My aim is to continue to grow in terms of my network and to keep putting out good content. There are many teachers around the world who haven’t had formal training. For example, in India, you do not need formal training to run a childcare centre. In Nepal, it only takes a month for someone to become a teacher and there is only so much that one can learn in a month. So, the teaching could be very, very bad. The structure of early childcare is also very loose and that’s sad because those are the foundation years. That’s my ultimate goal—to provide good content which untrained teachers can copy, follow, read and learn. I guess that’s why I was nominated for Australian of the Year—because I am trying to make a difference.
KT: You mentioned how more and more people are listening to you, but how difficult was it to arrive at this position? Often, people like you, who are trying to bring reforms, tend to come across as preachy and get brushed aside. How do you come across in the right way to others?
GM: That’s a very interesting point. There are three strategies that I use…click herefor part-2.