Friday, December 23, 2005
Ideas of Ernesto Sirolli
'Ripples on the Zambezi'
A few years ago I heard Ernesto Sirolli give a presentation at a Reading Conference and was so impressed with what he said I bought his book ‘Ripples on the Zambezi’.
Sirolli an Italian born Australian Enterprise Facilitator is now based in the USA and the title of his book related to an failed ‘expert’ development in Africa. This crop development falied because the 'experts' didn’t listen to local knowledge resulting in the crop being trampled by hippopotamuses, who after trampling it, disappeared into the Zambezi, leaving only ripples. This analogy sums up Ernesto’s opinion of imposed ‘expert’ answers ‘delivered’ without an appreciation of the culture and ideas of local people.
As a result of his experience Ernesto has a passionate disbelief in bureaucracy and believes strongly in a 'person centred approach' to development and education. Ernesto believes that when ‘passion is the starting point skills can be learnt, doors can be unlocked, and dream can become reality.’ The governments, he says, can only influence through providing infrastructure and that the facilitator is a person who helps ‘transform the dream to reality’ only by using a ‘person centred approach.’ His message is that, ‘we have to respect other cultures, we have to wait to be invited, we have to listen with an open mind, and we have to leave behind our assumptions of superiority.’
The challenge is always to maximize individuals to their full potential and if this can be done Ernesto believes there would be ‘a revolution of Copernican magnitude,’ and that such fulfilled people would become in turn ‘good citizens’.
This philosophy requires not ‘experts’ to plan, or control people lives, but instead by building the ‘ideal society’ through respecting the unique needs and abilities of the people involved.
In education this is student centred learning and to be achieved it is more about ‘removing obstacles’ imposed by 'experts' and then by creating the conditions so that all students can take a growing responsibity for their own lives.
Ernesto has developed a great distaste for authority and manipulative people and his advice instead is to go with the energy and imagination of people.This is based on a universal need of people to want to become something, to enjoy their work and to gain self respect by ‘performing beautifully.’ The facilitator’s role is to help people acquire the skills to transform passion into rewarding work.
In this role, Ernesto writes, it is important not to be seen as an ‘expert’ or power figure – it is about being an advocate for other people’s ideas and dependency is to be avoided at all costs.
Facilitators who succeed have ‘no expectations, no plans, and no performance outcomes. They tread gently, they force nothing, and they hardly leave a footprint on the sand. Things happen by magic – but it is not magic.’
‘Things happen because they have faith in people because they are positive about their work and serene in their manner. They carry it out. They love to see others succeed.’ The success of any community must be based on the energy, imagination and skill of its people in pursuit of excellence; and a community that values the contribution of every single person.
The Government's role is to support such growth by being proactive (‘top down’) and responsive (‘bottom up’).The role of the planner is, ‘to plan for freedom, to plan to make things possible, to plan for flexibility and reconsidering, ; planning to be surprised’. Too often planners destroy initiative causing dependency when what is required is to draw on the passions and talents of others. A great facilitator ‘obliges the ‘clients’ to stop being a spectator, an infant, a passive sickly individual waiting to be cured.’
All this has tremendous implications for our education system. ‘Students need to be trusted to take responsibity for their own learning. The real issue of schooling should be that students, ‘are eager to learn and that they should be given the opportunity’ to do so.
Student’s, Ernesto writes, need to determine their own curriculum and be able to learn from whoever has the knowledge. Education in an in itself - self education. Students need to select what is of interest and relevant to themselves.
Ernesto sees education as a self determining and ‘not about achieving the impossible dreams of the planners and bureaucrats.’ Formal schooling should help every student to ‘shape their own learning pathway’
Ernesto’s philosophy is all about ‘tapping into the wisdom at the grassroots level’ so as to ‘regenerate the creative spirit of the young’.
Over the years all that the imposed curriculums ‘experts’ have left are but ‘ripples on the Zambezi’. It is now time for us to have our own conversations to uncover what we really believe in. The Governments's role is to create the right conditions, to remove the obstacles that they have put in our way, to support our creativity, and to allow us to share with others the good ideas that will emerge.
In this I am with Ernesto.