Osotu - On Key Competences and Skills

As I have mentioned before, Atlas didn’t attend formal education for the first three years of his life. He started at school on what the Spanish system called “Infantil” (akin to Pre-K/K in the US), and at that moment, we chose what we thought would be a good school for him. Long story short, after three years, we were firmly convinced that a) what they sold us when we first signed up Atlas in that school was not true and b) the real system and approach they use was 100% traditional and not very fitted for Atlas.

We then decided to change schools -had a few very dramatic hours after telling Atlas we were doing so 😅- and pick a new model that would be a better fit for him. After much research, we found Osotu, a private school near Barakaldo, following a very different learning model.

We instantly liked their educational approach and decided to make a double bet on Osotu: trust Atlas’s education them and do it in a moment when their financial sustainability was in question. He is now close to finishing his first year in Osotu, and we couldn’t be happier with the bet result.

Osotu, another way of learning is possible

Recently, I became aware of an opportunity to attend a training course for teachers that Osotu is running internally to reach new potential candidates. Not being a professional teacher, I first hesitated about whether it would make sense for me, but at the same time, I felt in my guts that there would be many connections and parallelisms with the responsibilities a person who leads technical teams has. Boy, was I right.

During the session, I constantly found points of view and principles that are valuable for any team member, especially if the raw material you work with is knowledge, as it happens in software development and startups. Here are some notes on the first session of the first module of this course.

Three Cs: Capacidades, Competencias, Corazón (Skill, Competences, Heart)

Osotu learning approach is mostly adapted from Mar Romera’s “three Cs” model that succintly could be described as a way to learn that is focused on the students and 3 particular aspects of them:

  • The innate skills they have.
  • The competences they develop through the learning process.
  • The catalyzer, passion, desire and a good disposition, provide to the previous two (the Heart)

There are a few key principles of this model that I found relevant:

  • It’s a model, not a methodology (translation for the tech readers: do Agile, not Scrum). The reason is the same as we see in technology: you can’t accommodate a diverse team in your very specific context with an off-the-self methodology that details who, how and when is fitted to do what. Eventually, those methodologies will become more constraining than inspiring.

  • It’s rooted in Social constructivism. Before Atlas was schooled I tried to learn more about the different theories of learning and came in contact with the work of Jean Piaget (most probably by his connection with the popular Montessori system) that basically says that education is not something that is given fully formed to you but on the contrary something you actively build yourself in a unique way by connecting the pieces that are presented to you.

    What I didn’t know was that Piaget’s work was extended to something called social constructivism by psychologist Lev Vygotsky that -one can guess significantly influenced by the soviet era- put the focus on how that building process is heavily influenced by your interactions with other students, their culture, and society at large. It sounds logic to me.

  • Transversal learning. The -seemingly obvious- idea is that the learning process hardly happens in a silo. Not being able to trace the influence of economics in history, philosophy in politics, or maths in music is a disservice to our kids and a byproduct of an industrial approach to education.

  • Diversity as an opportunity. This idea connects very well with the idea of learning through interactions with others, acknowledging our limitations in most aspects and honouring them with empathy and humility. We all are certainly unique BUT we are definetely not special.

Then the presentation turned into a section on skills and competences, and for a developer like me, two of those core tenants provided immediate parallelisms:

  • Skills == Hardware
  • Competences == Software

Both capabilities complement, support and make the other possible and useful.

Hardware is primarily rigid, constrained, and purpose-agnostic. Any hardware, as powerful as it may be, will have limitations, constraints, and characteristics that will make it especially suitable for some uses. Knowing and understanding those limitations and focusing on the characteristics at which it excels is vital to making good use of the hardware.

Sometimes, if we are creative enough, we may find that hardware that was designed with an initial usecase is perfect for another one, as we see now with GPU. Initially intended to compute the simple graphics on your know monitor, they are now incredibly expensive and bought by the tens of thousands to build AI models.

Students’ skills are not different.

We have innate abilities in some areas but hardly in all areas. How good were Einstein, Dirac or Bohr at playing football, making strategies or leading teams? Moreover, how pointless -and unfair- is it to look at students from that perspective? Demanding all the same things to all different people? The idea here is to focus on each person’s natural strengths while helping to improve our weaknesses.

Software is fluid. It is gooey. It devours everything. It’s usually purpose-specific but composed of many different pieces (languages, stacks, libraries, etc.) Developing software is complex and feels like a moving target, but when it works, boy, it’s good.

Good software leverages other tools to acquire new capabilities faster and more efficiently. Good software maximizes the hardware it’s run on (see the connection?). Good software is supported by abstract layers that can be rebuilt, improved, and transformed. Software is transversal by definition: it supports your countless hours in TikTok, the life support of astronauts in the ISS, and the distribution of very words that your inner voice is reading inside your head right now.

Students’ competences are not different.

If we do our work well, competences allow students to perform significant tasks and become a toolbox they can use in daily life to solve problems… and those problems are almost invariably transversal problems, creative problems, teamwork problems, efficiency problems, risk-taking problems.

I was thrilled to learn that one of the techniques that should be promoted in Osotu to develop these competences is the Socratic method because I’m a big fan. I couldn’t stop thinking about the very famous -at least for us developers- example of teaching binary to 9yo students and the natural interestingness it shows in students.

We wrapped up the session by watching this amazing video that shows how a great teacher conducts a class by leveraging the Socratic method and the inherent tendency we humans have to help AND critique:

The next session will be solely focused on the last ‘C’ Corazón (the Heart) and will, I think, deal with one of the more clearly neglected areas in education: passion, emotions, and desires.

Let’s see!