It was such a privilege (and a little nerve-wracking!) to join George the Poet on stage at BBC’s Radio Theatre in London recently. George is an incredible rapper, poet and podcast host, so I was honoured to join him for a live BBC Sounds show exploring the relationship between music and education.
I first met George at a Big Change gathering – where experts from many different sectors came together to reimagine education for the 21st Century.
George’s story is truly inspirational and it was wonderful to learn more about how rap music shaped his education – from a Grime MC to studying Sociology at Cambridge. As George mentioned on stage, we need to find different ways to teach, learn and create. Music is such a valuable way to make this happen while preventing social exclusion and making education more accessible for every student from every background.
The evening was filled with fascinating conversations and poetry performances from a great line-up of guests including neuroscientists, psychiatrists, activists, DJs and a Master from Cambridge University. If you missed the original broadcast, you can watch or listen to the programme here.
Although everyone on stage and in the audience came with such varied life experiences, there were so many similarities in our thoughts about how we can reimagine education.
I was joined on the panel by two incredible women: Temi Mwale, a trained lawyer who founded the 4Front Project to empower vulnerable young people and Sonita Alleyne, the first person of colour to become a Master of an Oxbridge College and the first women to become the Master of Jesus College, Cambridge.
As you can imagine, the panel made for a dynamic and informative discussion - fuelled by a real desire to transform the current education system. I learned so much from each of the panellists and it was great to share both my personal experiences and our learnings from Big Change.
I spoke about my strong belief abut the need to redefine success and it was touching when an audience member shared his thoughts on this too. He said: “It’s important for people to know that it’s nice to be a baker and a plumber too.” Every child has different abilities and talents and we need to help them to realise their potential and encourage them to follow their passions – whether that be art, music, a trade, engineering or for that matter, a doctor, lawyer or teacher.
I spoke about our mission at Big Change to set young people up to thrive in life and not just exams. Indeed, a survey we worked on this YouGov recently found that 87 per cent of teachers want school to prepare children to make a positive difference to society, but only 36 per cent think this is actually happening.
Temi Mwale, strongly believes that education needs to develop active citizenship in students and teach them how to engage with society. Sonita Alleyne, eagerly added that we need to make education relevant for everyone. I also found myself nodding along enthusiastically when Sonita discussed the need to teach entrepreneurial and financial skills.
Another topic that we discussed was the need to embed emotional and therapeutic support into the curriculum. In a world of constant change, we need to help young people find more resilience. Rates of depression and anxiety in young people are rising higher and higher so we need to address this issue at its core and at a systematic level. We spoke about how competition and comparison is often the basis of anxiety and depression. With this in mind, how do we encourage an environment at school where the talents of all young people are celebrated?
At the end of the day, education needs to be about empowerment. As Sonita said: “I want education to power people’s journeys through life.” This is exactly what we’ve been working on at Big Change over the past nine years, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear our vision echoed through the entire auditorium.
I can’t thank George enough for inviting me on the show and I hope you find the discussion and performances as thought provoking as I did. If we want to reimagine education, we all need to join the conversation so I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below - and out into the world too.