How to best shape the shapers of young minds

28 Jun 2018

Dr Anne Looney addresses the crowd at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Dr Anne Looney, the dean of education at DCU, made an extremely compelling case at Inspirefest 2018 about how the role of teachers is both vital and overlooked in the quest to build a more innovative society in the future.

Our society has undergone some drastic changes in recent years. The advent of the computer and the proliferation of the internet has already sent ripples of change through our world, and emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain promise to bring about an even greater transformation.

In many ways, these technologies provide our world with a make-or-break opportunity. Either we will be swallowed up by our own ambitious endeavours, or they will catapult us into the next phase of existence.

There are a lot of things we need to have in the figurative toolbox when approaching this challenge and one of them is, unquestionably, innovation. The society of the future needs to be one in which the level of innovation rises to meet the unique demands of the new world we’ve created. According to Dr Anne Looney, the dean of education at Dublin City University (DCU), there is a cohort of people who are both vital and occasionally overlooked as a resource in driving innovation: teachers.

Teachers in Ireland tend to be among the best and brightest in the second-level education system. Unlike other jurisdictions, admission into teacher training is highly competitive and the demand for these courses, Looney explained, is only rising. So, from the outset, they are highly motivated and a highly intelligent group.

In addition to this, however, Looney pointed out a fact that most of us will immediately and intuitively understand to be true: teachers are, after parents, the most influential figures in children’s lives, and therefore are “the most important resource we have in creating and sustaining cultures of innovation”. This influence is not only mighty but generally longstanding, as most of the teachers who have only just emerged from training programmes will be teaching until 2050.

Teachers are the ones shaping young minds and, therefore, are the ones helping to form the architects of our future. So, the importance of ensuring that teachers are in turn trained in such a way as to be “innovators, adventurers and seekers” – in other words, paragons of our loftiest ambitions for society – cannot be overstated.

For the people at DCU, one key element to ensuring these traits are fostered is making sure that teachers don’t merely leapfrog between educational institutions. So, DCU has endeavoured on a “departure from teacher education” in a new programme that sees would-be educators spend the summers before they take up their roles in schools working in tech companies, start-ups, NGOs and more, something Looney said has never been done before.

Exposing them to different career experiences and different ideas will, DCU imagines, help them become broader-minded and more creative. So far, Looney said, the results have been “extremely positive”, so much so that it is attracting rapt global interest.

To hear Looney’s address in full, check out the video above from Inspirefest 2018.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic