Not long ago, someone recommended that I watch ‘Minimalism’ on Netflix. Ordinarily, I’m usually pretty keen to watch some historical fiction with plenty of intrigue and a bit of battle action but, of course, there are times when we use television to enlighten rather than escape…

This was one of those times. 

While there were things in this documentary I have already been thinking about, there were some things I didn’t know or haven’t yet put into practice. I wrote not long ago about innovation not being about more stuff but fixing the destruction more stuff has created. After watching ‘Minimalism’, I realise the problem is probably far worse and more entrenched than I first thought. The false conception that we ‘need, need, need’ and the obscene amount of money spent on stuff is absurd. Fast fashion, disposable this and that, advertising that directly targets and exploits children, stocktake sales where people would climb over their own grandmother to get a new shiny red toaster…ok, I could go on and on.

But it’s got me thinking. The minimalist approach isn’t about doing away with everything – it’s not renouncing modern life and heading for the hills to meditate. It’s this idea that everything has a purpose. It’s about distinguishing between ’want’ and real, actual ‘need’. Most of the time it’s actually want. I know I’ve been guilty of believing I want the new turbo charged power scrubber after a few minutes of infomercial telly, only to wake up out of the trance and realise that no, I don’t actually want this contraption at all and it will probably wind up in the shed with all the other abandoned bits and pieces that make for a unique sculptural landscape.

Anyway, enough rambling. What has this got to do with education? I was thinking this is exactly the approach we want in education. In other blogs, I’ve highlighted the ‘less is more’ approach and that education is often a mindless collection of bits and pieces strewn together by box-ticking bureaucrats. Where is purpose in all of this? Isn’t it more important that a person’s (and more importantly a child’s) learning is driven from the inside out? From a place of curiosity, interest, passion, purpose… From something real?

We might think, ‘Oh, that’s all a bit too hard, isn’t it?’ ‘We can’t personalise education like that, can we?’ ‘We need something standard, so we can test and measure, don’t we?’ I say while it might seem like a huge shift in thinking, it’s the way forward. Surely with a world of information at our fingertips, we can foster an environment that links learning to purpose without too much hassle?

Education has become a very noisy marketplace. We need to tone it done and take a minimalist approach. Ask some questions first to see what the student wants to do with this journey. What do they actually need? What is the purpose of the learning? Where do they want the learning to take them?

And only when these questions have been answered does real learning start. Not before.

Leanne Roulston – Head of Education, BRG Learning and Development