Do you recognise the device in-the-above photograph? Yes? No? Let me remove the guessing game. It is the water sprinkler fitted to most systems installed in many buildings or schools that use heat-activated sprinkler systems. The glass vial of red liquid is set to break at a given temperature, releasing water that then douse the flames. It only breaks at a set temperature so that the building where it is fitted is never subjected to sprinkling water at any given moment (I exclude sabotage of the device). It brings an element of forecasting to the system. It is predicted to fail when a very specific heat range is exceeded. We call this predictable failure.
At the base of this post is a picture of the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, found in Greece. The building of the bridge presented Engineers with unbelievable challenges. The major ones were:
- The sea-bed consists of sand that is like mash-potato, unable to hold the massive tonnage of the super structure;
- The bridge sits in an earthquake prone area and had to be able to withstand this eventuality;
- The bridge connects two land masses. These land masses create a natural wind channel. The bridge had to be able to withstand high winds;
- The bridge connects two land masses that are actively moving away from each other.
How Engineers overcame each of these four major challenges make interesting reading. To address points Two and Three, a system of pistons were used to counteract high winds and keep the road deck stable. Should an earthquake strike, the same pistons have a failure mechanism that will "break" when subjected to such force an accommodate the earthquake shakes and minimising the damage to the road deck due to lateral movement. The deck is not sitting directly on the four major support structures. It is master class design.
What strikes me about the extent to which solutions were sought to apparent insurmountable challenges, is that Engineers never doubted the bridge could be built. And build it they did, completing the project in 2004. And it is not lost on me that these bright minds must have attended a school in their formative years. They must also have shared their thinking in class and I am sure had some mad-cap ideas. I'm sure teachers and their classmates listened to them, then either discouraged such thinking or encouraged them to explore the realms of possibility. I am also sure such responses spurred them on to pursue further study to test the boundaries of their thinking.
In two weeks time, our schools will start analysing their 1st term results. Detailed statistics for every learner will be generated and a mass of graphs used to depict performance levels. And many will start predicting failure but unlike the glass vial in a sprinkler system, that will fail at a given temperature under specific circumstances an extinguish a potentially destructive fire, our predictions of failure are not that certain.
I worry that we often use results of learners in Term One and write our children off for the rest of the year. We classify them because they failed promotion and progression requirements in the first three months and predict they will fail Nine months from now. We then place these children into special programmes; subject them to testing for alternative placement or simply stop teaching them properly. And so we secure their failure.
They don't deserve such treatment. They deserve more; they deserve that we respond to their very specific challenges and address these in creative ways. If we can overcome environmental challenges and build super structures like the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, we can do the same when shaping young minds.