Everyone could climb a tree


-Source: Pinterest

This is a well-known quote since a long time ago, however, it seems that such judgment is still going strong in our current education setting simply because there is an unspoken rule that higher education is not for everyone, let alone Flexible Learning. As per FLANZ’s slogan – Making ako accessible for all – allowing everyone access to learning and teaching opportunities. A great example is illustrated in Associate Professor Kwong Nui Sim’s recent piece, “it seems like being a native speaker or not is always highlighted in daily learning and teaching circumstances/conversations, especially when using Normal English.” In this context, a non-native student may be put off completing their studies if their Normal English is repeatedly being negatively highlighted, even if they have brilliant ideas to be explored.

A flexible, resilient pedagogy finds the overlap between what is sustainable for teachers and what is best for students as not everyone fits into the current education setting. Being flexible in learning and teaching is an active acquisition process for us to meet the diverse and often unique needs of our education community. Helping students find a path to purpose is one of the noblest aspects of teaching. By catering to every wish and whim, we ought to teach our students that their interests should always be top priority in their learning journey. This is especially true when the mind opens to a new idea, never returning to its original size – that itself is flexible learning. Yet our current education setting may not be ready for this. For instance, in the current education setting, while promoting equality and accessibility, it is up to individual students to declare if they are either disabled (e.g., colour-blind) or require support (e.g., dyslexia); otherwise, the ecosystem is not designed for them.

To be blunt, it appears that it is the environment that is disabling and not our students who are disabled or require support. To create an adaptable education setting that works for every student, we have to start with re-establishing our classroom. A room does not make a classroom; students, teachers and a love of learning are what make a classroom. What is missing in our current education setting is the cultivation of learning for individuals, such as the mechanisms/tools that allow the fish to swim up the tree rather than forcing it to climb (i.e., achieve learning outcomes) with others, enhancing the tree with its natural abilities (i.e., diversity in learning). After all, flexible learning is about being clear of a goal but being flexible about the process of achieving it. This is particularly relevant in today’s world where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is evolving. Because of AI and other factors (e.g., pedagogically improved methods of assessing students), most traditional written assignments are no longer relevant as a form of assessment and many higher education institutions have been re-designing assignments/assessments. Again, as Kwong Nui said, “the notion of ‘being adaptable’ in flexible learning […] when learning is creation not consumption and knowledge is not something a learner absorbs but creates as time passes.” Similarly, if flexible learning is truly embraced, every student could ‘create’ learning and knowledge in their own way. This is significant when the core of flexible learning is to travel the distance from head to heart: a dyslexic student may not be good at reading/writing, but they could be excellent thinkers/analysts if a mechanism/tool (e.g., AI) is available for them.

In short, education is to enhance the ability to learn by experiences, to be flexible and to adapt to a changing environment. Everyone is a genius if there is no judgment of a fish by its natural ability to climb a tree. A key lesson for educators could be noted based on previous arguments presented – everyone could climb a tree if they are given an equitable opportunity. With that, we could embrace the beauty of truly flexible learning.


Author: Peter Linford

Peter didn’t grow up thinking that he couldn’t climb a tree, his teachers told him that he would never climb a tree. Dyslexia didn’t exist when Peter was at school – the kids that couldn’t read or write very well were slow (stupid). High school was particularly tough with frequent bullying. However, Peter did excel in maths, science and sport. Peter started his working life as an engineer but left the family business to become a financial adviser. In 2007 he moved, with his family, to New Zealand – learning to sail in Christchurch. Sailing became a new passion and then a new career path. As the learn-to-sail manager at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Peter worked through two Americas Cup cycles and under Peter’s management the sailing school became the largest in NZ. Peter is now a professional Skipper and creates online teaching material for sailing and professional development. Peter has learnt to find a way or make one and is a firm believer in that ‘there is no such thing as a bad student, just a bad teacher’.