#0028 Marc Loon from Kairos
The Civitas Team
12 Ideas About Interacting With Children, Combining Alternative and Traditional Educational Systems, The Shift to Online Teaching, and Nonviolent Communication
Marc Loon had a dream of starting a school back in 2009. His idea was to bring creative teachers, parents, and children together.
Back in 1996 during a teaching stint at a rural school in Rajasthan, India, Marc found a book on his headmaster’s bookshelf called “School Is Dead,” by Everett Reimer. The polemic against the conventional educational system was highly inspirational for Marc, and influential of his further journey into education. Significantly, even though the book was written in 1971, the fact that the global educational system has hardly changed despite the glaring flaws the book exposed influenced Marc to work towards creating a school of his own.
Many families expressed interest once Marc announced the intention to start a school in 2009, but most parents were scared to commit, and Kairos only had three children at his inception in 2011. Their reputation spread quickly through the word of mouth. Today, Kairos School of Inquiry in the Zoo Lake area of Johannesburg provides children with a learning community that boasts a unique, home-grown educational model that makes attending school both a meaningful and enjoyable journey.
Marc answered some questions for Civitas Network team member Ryan and talked about the nonviolent communication techniques, teacher-children relationships, and the importance and potential dangers with the use of digital technology with children.
Summary of the best ideas from the discussion:
- Instead of completely shifting to a radically alternative teaching system, schools should integrate the conventional and the new systems. After all, the traditional conventions will appear later in academic life. The transition through primary school can be a gradual process of adjustment from kindergarten to high school pressures, rather than a sudden shift “overnight” during the December holidays at the end of Grade R.
- Digital technology is a necessary and inevitable tool for effective learning in the modern world, but great caution is required because of the anti-social and anti-artistic side-effects and general addictiveness of digital screens. Don’t let technology manipulate you nor the students. (Read Neil Postman!)
- Imposed rules and punishments for children has an implicit violence to them; instead, negotiate agreements and consequences for breaking agreements for everyone in a school, adults included. (Read Marshall Rosenberg!)
- Playfulness is critical for an effective learning process. Encourage games and peer student interactions in order to steer the educational journey towards the desired outcomes.
Nonviolent communication for children
- The purpose of a primary school is to help children become clear-thinking and caring individuals, which requires a community of caring teachers and an overall ethos of deeply felt empathy.
- Teachers need to be conscious, empathic and respectful to the child, and they need to educate them to be the same towards themselves and each other.
- Teachers are also learners — they also need to practise what they teach children, and indeed this applies to all adults and all children in their lives. For example, teaching non-violence is not only when teachers and children are in a classroom setting, but the nature of the relationships between staff and between parents and teachers also have important educational value for the children’s learning process.
- Instead of imposing rules and punishments for children, agreements need to be made between children and teachers, and acts of accountability need to be offered if either party breaks an agreement. This achieves a deeply felt democratic ethos of equality. Granting children a clear voice in the class and school community, and while still achieving an atmosphere of discipline and respect in a classroom setting requires a degree of maturity in the teacher — and therefore the personal development of teachers are an intrinsic dimension to a healthy school.
- Another method of enhancing the empathy in a school is a peer mentoring program. There are various models of this, and the one used in Kairos is to pair older students with younger students for a term, inviting the older students to teach something of a formally academic nature to their charges. This mentor relationship is relevant to the social emotional development of the children’s current lives and also their future experiences in mentor-mentee relationships, such as in a business environment.
The use of technology
- “If used attentively, digital technology can enhance the learning process and encourage children to be interactive. However, there are also the addictive, anti-social and anti-artistic aspects of digital devices. That’s why I believe that screen time should be limited in primary school.” In the COVID-19 pandemic, Kairos incorporated much more digital technology than previously, but concerted effort was taken to emphasise whole, multifacted child and the multifaceted human relationship between teacher and children (in class and one-to-one interactions via Zoom and phone).
- Even in online education, human interaction is vital because we still need teachers to help the children to understand the value and relevance of the information.
- Schools should stay up-to-date with technological improvements, as they can significantly affect the curriculum and teaching systems.
On the educational approach
- For Kairos, which offers an alternative approach to education, it prefers not to advertise itself as non-mainstream because it is important to cater to all children and all parents, regardless of their backgrounds and educational beliefs.
- Instead of segregating from mainstream schooling, primary schools should combine alternative methods with the classic exams and multiple-choice systems, both of which will be necessary as a life skill in their future academic lives (even in their immediate future in high school).
- It is important to arrange a large enough school property to accommodate the increasing number of children & parents interested in your programme.
- “Starting a school in South Africa is extremely difficult. As a small primary school, your budget might be tight, and you might need to be more than merely a school. In time, you may need to expand yourself either into other services to teachers, to other schools, or to provide other services to the community.”