Hope and Optimism

Although it may be hard to believe that we’re already half way through Term 2, I find the mid-point in the term a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt and what is important. Senior students are working hard preparing for and sitting their Semester 1 exams and their teachers are supporting them in their learning endeavours.

A professional learning day at the AICD WA Forum last week reminded me of the importance of hope and optimism. So much research points to the importance for students (and I presume, adults are no different) of having hope for the future and I believe that schools play a vital part in this.

Our school purpose is “to provide students with an excellent education where they connect meaningfully with their Jewish identity and embrace the opportunity to make a difference”. I feel strongly that a person believing they can make a difference in the world provides them with hope and optimism. It gives them a point in life. It helps us realise that what we are doing is worthwhile.

For me, making a difference is a huge part of what gives me hope for the future. Working in a community that values learning helps, as does spending time with children who I know are developing the skills, talents and personal characteristics that will enable them to make their own difference to the future, through what they learn at AVѧԺ. Our emphasis on our values makes sure that we are reinforcing what we believe is important – curiosity, excellence, integrity, courage and connectedness. Focusing on these values helps ensure that Carmel students are not only well educated, but that they understand the importance of the part they play in improving the future for all of us.

Teachers make a difference by inspiring students to learn. We encourage our students to take on challenges in their lives; we support them to take risks and fail; we help them develop their skills and understanding. We educate. The fabulous contributors on our Parents and Friends Committee make a difference by friend raising and fund raising, helping to spread the word about the School and what we offer, as well as enabling us to buy things that directly benefit students in both the Primary School and the High School. Our students make a difference every time they show kindness to someone; every time they courageously stand up for what they believe is right; every time they ask a curious question which sets the rest of the group thinking.

One of the sessions I particularly enjoyed at the forum last week involved hearing examples of how artificial intelligence (AI) is making a difference in impressive ways. It contrasted with much of the recent media coverage which suggests that AI is going to remove the opportunity for employment and make assessment in schools impossible and meaningless. I should point out that when I trained as a teacher a very long time ago, discussions were already being held about how computers would inevitably make teachers redundant within twenty years and when search engines became widely available to the general public, we were told that schools would no longer be able to make valid assessments of students’ work. Happily teachers are inventive people and their vital role in the education of our children continues.

Negative reports about AI were countered by some of the examples provided at the forum, including an algorithm which can predict whether someone is on the autism spectrum (and the severity of their symptoms) purely by examining their brain scans, suggesting that it could be used as an early detection of ASD. Brain scans were also being interpreted by AI and identifying Alzheimer’s disease six years before medical doctors are able to make a diagnosis. False positives in mammograms are significantly reduced when AI systems analysed them and this results in fewer unnecessary interventions for women. And in India, an AI facial recognition system has helped trace 3,000 missing children in less than a week. I would argue that there is reason for hope and that AI can assist in this.

As an optimist, I believe that hope is all-important. Some of the mental health issues that have surfaced in young people in recent years arise from a lack of hope, a lack of optimism and sometimes a lack of realisation that the future is exciting and that they will play a huge and worthwhile part in it. As adults, we can help by encouraging discussion of the future in a realistic but positive way and ensuring that our children hear examples that reinforce their agency; we need to help them realise that they personally can make a difference and that we have the confidence that they will do so.

Perhaps you can talk about some of the positive things you see for the future with your children this Shabbat and help reinforce a sense of optimism that will help strengthen their hope for the future.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach.

Julie Harris