We should look at education as a way of the world telling us stories, says renowned children’s and young adult author Morris Gleitzman.
“By understanding stories, looking beyond the information, we help to nurture one of the most important abilities as an individual and as a community – and that’s the capacity for empathy,” he says.
“When kids see a picture or read fiction, they can connect in a very human way to another person’s circumstances.
“They ask: What would that feel like? What would I do now? What would I be hoping to happen?
“We should encourage them to approach the ‘real world’ with a similar set of investigative questions,” Gleitzman says.
“Children are not aware of what lies ahead of them. Even those of us who are happy and have stable lives will encounter problems and we have to deal with those problems.
“To me, ‘thinking outside the box’ means being imaginative, being creative, knowing how to approach a problem and finding new ways to think about it. It means we sometimes do or think things that are not traditional, obvious, logical or literal.”
Not only does asking the right questions nurture understanding and empathy but it also encourages creativity across different areas of a child’s interest.
“There are so many types of creativity. It’s not just about writing, drawing, design or a beautiful artwork.
Gleitzman, who recently judged a competition for 6-12 year-olds conducted by nbn to name their first satellite, believes technology offers boundless opportunities for young people around Australia.
“For us to be as creative as possible as a species, we need as much raw material as possible,” he says.
“Traditionally, that raw material has been brought to us through books, through reading, meeting other people and by life experience and has tended to favour kids in urban areas.
“But technology broadens our experience and our opportunities. It makes information available and allows us to connect in a way that hasn’t been possible previously.”
He is especially excited for the opportunity the nbn gives children, schools and families in rural and regional Australia – such as 6-year-old Bailey Brooks who won the nbn competition.
“It is so significant that 400,000 families and schools will be connected to high speed broadband within the next year.”
He says it will expand their experience, the opportunities available to them and present them with more stories and more questions to ask.
Gleitzman says that by Bailey and her classmates naming the satellite Sky Muster, they have realised the role that technology can play in their own future.
"I love the notion of Sky Muster - as a type of inter-gallactic blue heeler herding them into our personal paddocks.
“Children know that life is not about sitting back and waiting for things to be done. Every school student can potentially take the reins of our world and make it what they want it to be.
“I just loved the idea of Bailey sitting on the porch of her home in the bush, staring up at the stars at a time in her life when everything is possible, and creatively imagining her future,” he says.
He believes it is encouraging kids don’t assume that new technology is beyond them, but acknowledges that children and their parents must also know how to look after themselves online.
Gleitzman says a big part of this is knowing which questions to ask so children are not passive consumers of what they see online.
“It’s good for them to learn to assess what is credible and what is not.”
He believes there is a self-security dimension in children learning what to do and what not to do, that can help build their judgement and confidence as well as enrich their knowledge.
“The internet is a bit like travelling,” he explains.
“Like all travel, there are potential dangers involved in exploring new territory.”
But it doesn’t mean you don’t go there.