Exploring the four corners of a boy's mind

Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “The goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things.” He pioneered the movement that recognised the intrinsic connection between knowledge acquisition and cognitive development in children. He believed in nurturing creativity and imagination to encourage independent thinking and self-exploration, and importantly in providing activities appropriate to age-defined developmental stages.

Further exploration of cognitive, developmental and social psychology reveals equally insightful sentiments. “Learning is more effective when it is an active process rather than a passive process,” an observation made by Kurt Lewin or “Knowing is a process, not a product,” from Jerome Bruner. Or perhaps the most thought provoking comes from Francoise Dolto who said, “We prepare children for a life about whose course we know nothing.”

Individual differences aside, the 20th century insights of these influencers are clearly astute when considered in an educational context today. Whilst their sentiments may appear void of any definitive or single answer, in each of their observations the ability of a learner to question is clearly fundamental.

It’s this educational philosophy that sits at the core of Brisbane Boys’ College (BBC). Whether it’s boys learning in the classroom or on the sports field, or staff developing curriculum or a new initiative, asking the correct question is vital.

Much like Piaget, the school views learning alongside childhood development with its approach contextualised by a simple guiding philosophy – ‘All About the Boy’.

According to BBC Headmaster Mr Graeme McDonald providing innovative and interactive learning environments and stimulating challenges is vital to producing more independent and self-fulfilled thinkers.

“Knowledge based learning is no longer enough. We need to teach boys how to think. Not only how to solve problems but how to recognise them in the first place. This is something we do every day at BBC. We teach our boys to question the status quo and solve problems to make the world a better place,” says Graeme.

“We want our boys to make a difference; not just when they leave school, but now at Brisbane Boys’ College.”

School initiatives such as the Biology Student Scientist Partnership program, which sees students work alongside researchers at the University of Queensland; service trips to Cambodia where boys have traveled to the village of Kok Thnot to assist in building schools; and robotics students competing on the world stage in China, are just some examples of the active learning taking place at the College.

According to Graeme these types of activities inspire boys to work hard and to want to learn.

“There’s no such thing as too many opportunities; providing a broad range of educational opportunities enables boys to explore their particular passion and purpose in life and that’s what we’re all about,” says Graeme. 

In much the same way as the school encourages students to develop their minds to be forward thinking, it continually questions what is required to educate and develop boys for the world in which they’ll live and this is fundamental to ongoing innovation.

“If we are to educate boys and produce men who have the confidence and capability to change the world, we need to make sure we continually address and respond to questions such as how do we celebrate boys being boys; how do we meet boys’ needs and interests so that they engage enthusiastically in their learning; how do we address the gender gap between boys and girls and ensure the education process is working effectively for boys?”

The answer to these questions? Graeme goes back to the school’s guiding philosophy.

“Our focus is boys – everything must be about the boy.” Acknowledging this sometimes means accepting that “the boys teach us as much as we teach them.” 

In an environment where it’s almost impossible to prescribe the future, the school is clearly focused on developing new capabilities and attributes which will enable boys to find their place in the world so they can contribute meaningfully to new and emerging fields and economies.

In Piaget’s later work, he expressed concerns about the state of the world’s learners when he questioned, “Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known?”  The answer to this question at Brisbane Boys’ College is very clearly, “We don’t just teach boys to answer the question correctly, we teach them to ask the correct question.”