“You should aim for lofty accomplishments” is a thought provoking article posted by Major Styles a few days back that really set me thinking. I usually write short comments almost immediately on the Major’s blog but this time I just didn’t know what to write! Not because I was empty headed but because my head runneth over with things to say. What the Major said was this:
“So you have to dedicate yourself to the process. Set the goal and do the work. Be focused and diligent. Ignore the detractors…your goal is a golden cup. You should should see your name in the history books of tomorrow. Go for something higher…something beyond the commonplace. Only then will you be interesting to others and, ultimately, gain the adoration you seek. Are you a warrior or a child? Decide right now. Pick up the staff of determination and fight, my lad!”
To pick up this theme I have three thoughts and examples connected to Everest, Dunkirk, and the Nepal Education System.
Prior to 1953 Mt Everest had never been summited. But in the 1920s everyone was talking about a couple of lunatics who had set a goal of doing what nobody on earth had done before: George Mallory and Ed Irvine were warriors, two young men in their mid 20s (yes, they were really that young!) who had more guts, determination, vision and achievement drive than all of the modern day youth in the western world combined. They failed, spectacularly so, losing their lives on the mountain. But their names live forever as probably the greatest mountaineers of all time. My own Himalayan expeditions pale into insignificance compared to them, but as I often gazed up a few thousand feet to the summit of Everest ….. I thought of them. They aimed high!
A couple of weeks back I went to see the new blockbuster movie Dunkirk. I’d hesitated for sometime over this …… my dad was there! I never got to know him well, I was only 11 when my parents separated, but I have latterly appreciated much more of who and what he was and I wrote about him here My Dad Wore a Red Jacket and a Big Black Hat
A Coldstream Guardsman, elite infantryman, a regiment steeped in history, but humiliated as part of the British Expeditionary Force out thought and out manoeuvred by Hitler and his Panzer Divisions. Retreat, retreat, retreat and arrival on the beaches of Dunkirk…… my dad was 21 years old. The movie gripped me for two hours, the noise of the Stuka dive bombers, the courage of the owners of the “little ships” all civilians struggling across the sea to rescue the troops, 400,000 of them face down in the sand praying that the Stuka wasn’t lined up on them. I sat through two hours fluctuating between awe of those young men and fu***ng rage at modern day left wing cultural marxists who live in a parallel universe. Sorry, my point is that Dunkirk was a failure, a failure of government strategy, military tactics, European cooperation. But a failure from which much higher achievement was born, led by Winston Churchill who aimed high; no collaboration with Nazi Germany, no treaty with Germany…… no bloody surrender!
To my mind this means that the idea of failure must be revised. Aim high and failure can incorporate and even lead to success, at many levels. Churchill seized on the success of the little ships, the courage of the men on the beaches to inspire a nation after failure. The story of Mallory and Irvine’s failure inspired mountaineers around the globe to aim high which to this day leads to more and more reaching the summit of Everest. In general, someone who aimed high and who has left a definite ideal implanted in the minds of thousands of others, and who has created a definite goal, cannot be said to have failed.
Which leads me on to my third example, very personal! It sort of goes like this:
Two Doctors walk into a bar in Kathmandu in 2007, and one says to the other “have you read this report about the dropout rate in Nepal’s primary schools, bloody awful.” For the rest of that weekend Dr C and I discussed with family, scribbled on sheets of paper and argued about the goal …….. before deciding that our mission in retirement was TO CHANGE NEPAL’S PRIMARY EDUCATION SYSTEM. We had no money, no organisation, no mandate and no influence. But, we cared and were angry about the shocking state of state schools even in the capital city, the low standards of teaching, the stinking infrastructure and finally, the complete neglect of the Ministry of Education. We were aiming high, very high, and stepping out of our comfort zones to tackle a problem in a field we had NO experience of.
Within 6 months we had registered a U.K.Charity, had a little funding, and a 10 year plan. Within 12 months we had adopted 5 schools in Kathmandu and were providing every child in each school with exercise books and textbooks. After 2 more years we ran a 2 weeks pilot teacher training programme for teachers and heads from 20 schools in Kathmandu using UK teachers as tutors. One year later we created our own teacher training academy in Kathmandu, staffed with young Nepalese nationals, all highly educated ex teachers, and all with MEd. We had a teacher training curriculum, a head teacher leadership programme, an in-school teacher coaching programme, a parent/community education awareness programme and a strategy for overall quality development of whole schools.
By the end of our 9th year we had trained 2000 teachers, developed 200 schools to a higher standard of quality, worked with dozens of local parent communities, researched a framework to define and measure education quality, and introduced values based education into many Kathmandu schools. Our team now comprised 8 Nepalese staff, all expert educationalists, all under the age of 30, and all female.
We had aimed high ………. but failed! The Nepal Ministry of Education wouldn’t talk to us, the District Education Officers wouldn’t talk to us, the bilateral donors UKAid and USaid wouldn’t talk to us ………. and the Nepal Primary Education System continued to fail the young children of Nepal. Ignorance, arrogance and corruption had beaten us, things we had no control over. Summary here Nepal’s Failed Education System
But …. here’s my point from earlier: “To my mind this means that the idea of failure must be revised. Aim high and failure can lead to success, at many levels. In general, someone who aimed high and who has left a definite ideal implanted in the minds of thousands of others, and who has created a definite goal, cannot be said to have failed.” Many people have pointed out the success of our work in terms of the legacy we leave behind us; eight experts, 2000 better teachers, and a mass of materials, frameworks, processes, tools and data showing how we improved education quality in 200 schools. All the Nepal government have to do is access the ideals we inserted in their country. Success.