Day four — “safe chaos” in Utrecht

UniC (pronounced as “YOU-nick”) is the name of the school we visited on Thursday. It is a secondary school providing “HAVO” (general level) and “VWO” level (pre-university) level studies. In the diverse education system of the Netherlands, it is considered a very innovative school. We spent time observing classes and interacted with its teachers and students and could see how the innovative concepts we learned in the last few days are applied to make it a really dynamic and happy environment for students and teachers. The essence is to provide the students with the motivation to learn: Students can only learn if they want to learn.

It was quite a scene to see so many students engaged in self-directed group learning all the time, with the teachers sidelined to play a more supportive role, a rather different scene from what is typically considered feasible (or comfortable) in Hong Kong. The UniC campus appeared to be in constant state of flux, with its students coming and going and doing different things all over the place, but then the school provides a haven of “safe chaos” which is thought to be way better than the “dangerous order” enforced in the traditional classroom. Dangerous, I believe, due to the inability of the traditional methods to respond to the real needs of the students and thus a failing system.

And then there was an extremely fruitful conversation with Jan de Lange, an expert in the development of children’s minds towards logical reasoning, creative problem solving and out-of-the box thinking. There were a few basic things that we learned, like the difference between a talent and a gift and how we like to help children discover their hidden talents. We also learned about the critical role played by parents, and how parents can use toys to encourage their kids to exercise their innovative brains which hopefully will help preserve their talents beyond the “regressive” years that starts from age of 6. There were also the more “strategic” insights on how stubborn system can be “infiltrated” or changed indirectly through working with teachers and parents (or perhaps other stakeholders). Also, we can perhaps become more innovate if we consider the students’ needs independent from the system.

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