Education challenges are “complex”, not merely “complicated”

I love my new “job”: social entrepreneur, edupreneur or BLEAKS (blended-learning-engineer-and-knowledge-scaffolder).  I am still deciding which to put on my new “business” card…

I love it because it gives me license to address real-world, enmeshed, un-neat challenges.  The wise folks who understand this species of challenge recommend that one uses probe-sense-respond when engaging with these “wicked problems”.



I was born to do this type of work.  It is my mission, in fact.

Sadly, government departments do not typically acknowledge these types of challenges (the pervasive “complex” ones).  The leaders of many service-delivery “arms” appear to prefer the “complicated” variety; the ones for which “best-practice” exists.  The ones where some expert can be retained to “produce” the answer (usually a new “framework”).

The imperfect (some would say messed-up) world we live in does not play along.  Just consider the De Doorns labour unrest, Marikana shootings, Eastern Cape (mis)education  for local examples.

The inability to ask the right questions is due to a lack of competence and/or character on the part of too many senior public sector leaders.  The cognitive complexity of “complex” situations makes the competence hurdle high enough to start with.  But when you add in the character demand (are you courageous enough to do the right thing?) it gets highly unlikely that most public figure leaders can, or will dare to, utter the right questions to be pondered by those around them.

So the wrong questions get posed.  Particularly in government tender requests.  That’s why I stopped responding to RFPs (requests for proposal) years ago, in my old life as a management consultant.

Getting work was hard enough (I had a ~1% success rate on RFPs).  Completing the work (the 1% that was “won”) was even more challenging; when during the project as new insights came to light, I attempted to question the original (RFP) scope, clouds would gather on the horizon…

It was often close to soul destroying.  Staying true to ones ethical and professional commitments was hard.  Very hard, indeed.

But now I’m free.  I work on what I believe in.  Improvement in science & maths learning for underserved learners is supposed to be important, indeed pivotal.  I can now combine my 25-year “motley career” as a scientist, consultant, change activist and educator in a tornado of focused and joyful energy.

I can now address complex social changes that truly matter.  I allow myself to respectfully probe-sense-respond.  The effects are already promising.  The bright glimmers of reproducible, robust, relevant solutions emerging to the poorly “specificable” challenges,  actually make me leap from bed in the morning.

But I can’t wait to have the first “packaged blue-print” of possible operating models for “technology-enabled-learning” in my pocket.  Then even skeptical funders will reach for their pocket-books and not deflect my proposals with “It’s too early stage for us.  Approach a philanthropist or family for soft-funding”.

Sadly even high-profile funders seem to be caught in the “complicated” problem-solving mind-set.  At least the few I’ve met in South Africa (so far).