My best teacher was TV

I’ve been absent for a while. I decided that I shouldn’t be blogging just for the sake of it and in the world of information overload, it would be better to be absent rather that contrive something to write about each week.

I’ve been busy working on my business, taking it in a slightly different direction, working things out, trying things out, making changes –it’s a constant learning process. In the last few days, I’ve read some interesting articles on education, what is the point and purpose of it and do the current models work in the 21st century. I’ve read significant chunks of Seth Godin’s education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, which is well worth a read if you operate in the education space, have children or are vested in making the world a better place. It got me thinking about my formal education and whether it had prepared me for life today. Seth Godin also gets you to acknowledge a teacher that mattered and whilst I do have those, there was no one name that stuck out. I looked back at how I learnt, whether the content of the curriculum was a good fit, the benefits of my education and the shortcomings a formal education, which focuses on grades, has on being entrepreneurial and creating business success.

I reached the conclusion that my best ‘teacher’ was TV — it inspired, motivated, entertained, expanded my knowledge, never made demands and let me come to it. I grew up in Hackney in the 1980s with an older sister and my mum and dad, later came my two younger brothers and my paternal grandmother. I went to the local school, preceded by my sister who was two years ahead of me, I read books from school and joined the local library and read avidly. I was a good student, I did my homework without being asked, was engaged with learning and sucked up knowledge from wherever I could. One of the major sources for me was the TV –lots of it and from an early age. When I was growing up there were 3 channels and then 4 and they weren’t on 24/7. Sunday TV was generally boring –politics and religion and dedicated kids TV was for a few hours a day with favourites like Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher. If there were Asian people on TV, we watched it –from Madhur Jaffrey cookery programmes, The Jewel in the Crown to the epic Mahabharata.

As I got a little older I had my routine of watching TV straight after school for a bit, then it was off to the mosque 5-7pm and then a bit more TV mixed with dinner and homework. There was only one TV in the house in the living room and so we generally watched together. With only 4 channels there wasn’t much choice but I still managed to watch many programmes regularly including: Eastenders, Brookside, Hartbeat, Rainbow, Thundercats, Smurfs, Beverly Hills 90210, Blockbusters, Desmond’s, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Crossroads, Howard’s Way, Bergerac, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Top of The Pops, Gladiators, Catchphrase, The Price is Right, The Clothes Show, Holiday, Strike it Lucky, Grange Hill, Neighbours, Home & Away, Twin Peaks, ER, Sex and the City, Ally McBeal, Dallas, Dynasty, Hart to Hart, Wish Me Luck, X-Files, LA Law, Tomorrow’s World, The Bill, Biker Grove, Degrassi Junior High, Playschool, Sesame Street, You and Me, Dawson’s Creek, the Crystal Maze, Blind Date, Terrahawks, the Krypton Factor, Dempsey and Makepeace… and many more that would take up a whole page. I didn’t even understand it all when I watched it, for example, I was only 10 or 11 when Twin Peaks was aired, but TV opened up a whole new world that wasn’t accessible to me. They weren’t ‘educational’ programmes per se, but for me they were educational. I was exposed to things that I never would have been exposed to –the good, the bad, the ugly. It made me question things, appreciate another point of view, have something to talk about in school the next day or look up something further, get interested in history, get clearer about my own opinions, gain a new opinion.

Last night, once again, it was whilst watching TV that I gained clarity over something that I was mulling over. It was by chance I ended up watching The Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1 where Nobel Laureate, Sir Paul Nurse, was speaking about the importance of science in the world today –how it could help problems we are facing such as food shortages, climate change, healthcare and the economy (a transcript of the full lecture is available here). Although I felt some of the arguments he made a bit reductionist, it was an inspired and thought-provoking lecture and a brief pang of regret passed through me about not pursuing science beyond A Level Biology.

Learning and education don’t need to happen in a prescribed way –my education is formed of many things including the traditional model of school and university, but also shaped by those TV programmes I watched many years ago. When I was younger, I had limited resources and couldn’t be fussy about where knowledge came from and it would have been less rounded if I had relied on school and the people I knew at the time. I am certainly not saying TV is a panacea but at the same time we mustn’t form elitist views about what constitutes education. It is only with open-mindedness that we will design an education fit for the 21st century.

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