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Directs National Superintendents Roundtable, a learning organization of 100 school superintendents from 30 states.

Siemens – the bottling plant

Third-year apprentice Jaime Garcia from Spain and first-year apprentice Konstantin Prodanov from Romania offered a dazzling demonstration of a model bottling plant.

The graphic below outlines the steps in the bottling operation. It’s a complex process in which operators select the type of bottle to be filled and then the system takes over – selecting the right bottle, moving it along the conveyor belts, filling the bottle, capping the bottle, and checking for quality. The graphic is in English and a separate graphic set out to translate the graphic into German.

Garcia (right below) and Prodanov (left) reported that when they first programmed the system, nothing happened. It turned out that the program had been written to follow the German translation of the model, which, in the interest of efficiency, omitted a key step! The programming had to be rewritten.


But once rewritten, what an impressive “bottling plant” had been created – as the picture below demonstrates.


Prodanov came to Siemens without knowledge of German. He explained that his first weeks and months were difficult since instruction was in German, which he had to learn rapidly.  A highly confident Garcia reported no such problems. He is almost through the system and looking forward to taking and passing the final examination.

It must be noted that the students did not create this model bottling system. They inherited it from Siemens engineers and modified it to suit the tasks they wished to perform. They then added a lighting indicator system so that observers such as those from the Roundtable (or Angela Merkel or Ivanka Trump, who also passed this way) could get a clearer picture of developments in the bottling plant.

Siemens – Mechanical Systems

Joern Wittan (below) displaying six brand new robots recently arrived at Siemens (which will be set up by apprentices), described a system in which students might spend a week in school learning about computer-numerically-controlled systems, then spend the next two weeks working at Siemens on a sequence designed to provide students with practical experience on CNC systems.

Our first visit was to a team of students with an instructor learning how to program CNC machines (below). Much of our discussion at this session focused on the dramatic gender imbalance in the apprenticeship population – every one of the apprentices was male. Nationally, we were told, only about 3 percent of apprentices in the area of mechanical systems are female, despite efforts to encourage young girls to enter the field. In Germany, we were told, it is not a field typically attractive to young women.

Apprenticeships typically last for three years, with year-round education and training and the apprentices are both Siemens’ employees and learners at the same time. They are paid a stipend ranging from about 800 euro a month when they start, growing to about 1,000 euro as their training reaches an end, which is marked by passage of a test designed by a committee of employers, employees, and teachers.

The Siemens International Apprenticeship Program

In addition to the technical apprenticeships and dual-study opportunities available to students in Germany, Siemens also operates an International Tech Apprenticeship program which invites 30 young talents from around the world to apprentice at the Berlin headquarters.

We were able to meet and interact with some of the students in their second year of apprenticeship in the International program. An impressive Christofer Maria Calza from Spain (below) demonstrated what the students called one of their “Capstone” projects: a working model of an automotive assembly line.

Apprenticeship program participants work together in groups to complete the projects, allowing them to solve problems in a group setting and learn to collaborate, as they would on the job.

We met participants in their late teens and early 20’s, from as far away as South Africa and Egypt. These two young women, Hinda Martin Guessous and Elvira Benitez Pereiro, were from Spain.

Overview of Siemens Training

The delegates began their day with a much-anticipated visit to the Siemens Berlin headquarters, to get a chance to see its apprenticeship program up close.

The tech giant has an impressive commitment to training its next generation of employees, which, they explain, grows out of a strong German tradition of trade apprenticeship. Below, Ornella Turgetto, responsible for Siemens training worldwide, describes how the company invests 182 million euro a year in Germany, and 234 million globally. Today, it among the largest providers of professional education for high school graduates in the world.

Ornella Turgetto speaks to the Superintendents Roundtable about the Siemens apprenticeship program.

Turgetto and Lauren von Steuben (below) laid out the company’s philosophy of technical training, which is guided by the German concept of “handlungskompetenz.” Loosely translated, the word means the ability to transfer what you’ve learned from one system to a new technical system; for instance, once you’ve learned how to program features of how and  assembly line for automobiles functions, you should be able transfer those skills and knowledge to programming a complex factory bottling milk or soft drinks.

Students split their time in the classroom and on the machines, learning in a hands-on atmosphere before taking their apprenticeship to the factory. Apprentices are paid throughout their three year apprenticeship. After graduation, they are under contract to work for Siemens for a period of 2-3 years.

Superintendent Noel Schmidt from Minnesota visits the apprenticeship training program at Sieman’s Berlin Headquarters.

Siemens sees its vocational education system as resting on three pillars: theory – classroom training in regular vocational education schools; training (at Siemens itself); and on-the-job training.  It typically works with students who have spent 10 years in school, at the age of 15 or 16, and offers this tri-partite program in which apprentices spend perhaps three days in training at Siemens and two days back at their vocational school studying typical high school subjects.

Students in the apprenticeship program study theory in the classroom setting.

Siemens focuses on advanced technical skills, soft skills, digitalization, “adaptive expertise” – handlungkompetenz, and fundamental technical know-how. Its programs concentrate on information technology (cloud computing, data bases, information security and the like), mechatronics  (embedded systems, development of software and applications) and engineering.  It trains 10,900 apprenticeships globally, with most of the in Germany.

Students in the apprenticeship program learn to use a CNC machine in a practical training setting.

The Berlin training center is one of 20 in Germany and it annually trains about 950 apprentices. Of some 3,500 recognized occupations in Germany, Siemens trains in just 10 technical and business professions. Chambers of Commerce throughout Germany offer some 500,000 apprenticeship opportunities for small- and medium-sized corporations, partnering with nearly 450,000 companies.

First Full Day in Berlin

After a good night’s sleep, the delegates piled into a tour bus to view the sites, and dig into the history of this unique city, the seat of government of Prussia and Germany for 500 years under the Hohenzollern dynasty, a reign that ended when Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate following Germany’s defeat in World War I.

As was driven home to us by our outstanding guide Walter, Berlin is a city that is constantly navigating how to deal with its own complex history. This is apparent in how Berlin memorializes its history in buildings, and what it chooses to memorialize at all.

The city’s rich history embodies Prussian and German military dominance in the 19th century, the chaotic rise of Nazism and the savage barbarism of the regime during World War II, and life in a Berlin, divided between the victorious allies and the Soviet Union after World War, locked within the Soviet Zone of a similarly divided nation.

Here we are again, all of us together this time, visiting the Brandenburg Gate, erected shortly after 1800 to give the Hohenzollern family a fitting entrance to the Prussian capital from the state of Brandenburg. Then it was on to the Reichstag — the site of the German parliament and a notorious building in the rise of the Nazis to power. Brought into a coalition government by President von Hindenberg (a hero of World War I) with just about a quarter of the vote in January 1933, another election was scheduled for March in the weak Weimar Republic. In February, just a month before the election, arsonists destroyed the building. Hitler and his propaganda machine immediately blamed on Socialists and Communists. The following day von Hindenberg issues what is known as the “Reichstag Fire Decree,”  which suspended individual rights and due process of law, permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charges, dissolve political organizations, and to suppress publications. The decree was a key step in the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship as Germany became a police state.

Next up a powerful memorial to the Holocaust. It’s a moving and disorienting piece of environmental art that encourages the viewer to understand the bewilderment and isolation of life in a dictatorship. Some 2,700 stone benches of varying heights. They start as low benches and then, as the ground sinks, they loom larger and darker, before gradually becoming lower again. The memorial symbolizes the progress of Germany under Adolph Hitler as the small indignities the Jews of the Reich were subjected to in the 1930s deepened into the dark nightmare of the “Final Solution,” before the country again emerged into the community of civilized nations.

On our journey, we also found “stumbling stones” embedded in streets all over Berlin. These identify by name, date of birth, and date of seizure, all the known Jews consigned to the “Final Solution” and where they died (if known). The “stumbling stones” stand outside the addresses from which these unfortunate victims were seized.


Since the city was almost 200 kilometers inside the border of East Germany, Berlin was a small island of Western culture in an Eastern bloc country. The wall, which went up virtually overnight at the height of the cold war in 1961 and split the city, was designed by East German authorities to prevent their own citizens from setting foot in West Berlin – because once they did, the East Berliners were allowed to stay. The wall completely surrounded West Berlin.

Sections of the militarized “dead zone” in the middle of the city are still visible today. Here Kai Hiatt from the Roundtable staff and Susan Enfield of Highline Schools in Washington State stand before a section of the wall, with a military guard tower being them in the “death zone.” (The  “wall” was actually two walls separated by perhaps 100 yards; any one spotted in this “death zone” was liable to be shot on sight.}

Tomorrow, we look forward to a visit to the Seimens Training Academy, and the German Ministry of Education.


Arrival in Berlin

Although delegates arrived at different times and on different dates, they held one thing in common: exhaustion from a transAtlantic flight.

Our excellent guide Aidan Bartley rounded up one group of excited but exhausted Roundtable members at the Tegel Airport to transport them to the hotel. (Niote click on any picture to view it in full size.)

A quick Cook’s tour of historic parts of Berlin found the delegation viewing bullet holes in buildings and structures still standing after World War II, a moving sculpture of a mother grieving for the dead son she sent off to war in 1914, and the Brandenberg Gate.

Then it was back to the hotel for a quick dinner before looking for a pillow on which to lay our heads.

Summing Up

On the final morning, weary participants gathered in the library — the same room where Winston Churchill negotiated the Lend-Lease agreement with FDR’s emissary Harry Hopkins — to try to pull together the disparate strands from the three days. (Note: clicking on any picture throughout this blog will produce a full-size version of the picture.)

Groups A (primary education), B (secondary education), and C (higher education) presented excellent summaries. Brian Gallant, Chair (Member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick and former premier of the province) and Jon Yates, rapporteur (Policy Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, England) spoke for Group A. Group B was ably represented by chair Raaheela Ahmed (Prince George’s County Public Schools board member) and rapporteur Pamela Dow (Chief Reform Officer, Catch 22, a non-profit community development agency in London). Indira Samarasekera, (Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia) served as chair of Group C, supported by rapporteur Edward Brooks (Executive Director of the Oxford Character Project).

Participants listened intently, taking notes, paying close attention to what was being said, while adding commentary and introducing new insights. Below, Indira Samarasekera (University of British Columbia) brings focus to a discussion. To her right is Edward Brooks (Oxford Character Project), to her immediate left, in order, James Arroyo (Director of the Ditchley Foundation); Professor Stephen Toope, (Conference Chairman and Vice President of the University of Cambridge); John Stackhouse (Senior Vice President, Royal Bank of Canada); and Brian Gallant (former premier of New Brunswick).

Some discussion arose around the relative lack of attention to technology in education, with some feeling it was one of the great hopes of the future and others worried about privacy implications and the effectiveness of much of the technology that is on offer. An emollient solution suggested the need for authoritative vetting of emerging technologies. Below, the Roundtable’s James Harvey chimes in on technology. To his right are Ellizabeth Esty, (former Congresswoman from Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District) and Ethan Gudge (Sixth Form student, The Warriner School, Bloxham, England). To his left Tony Hawks (a professional comedian who serves as an ambassador for Britain’s National Literacy Trust) and Paul James (Chief Executive Officer, River Learning Trust, England).

In an intellectual tour de force the conference rapporteur, John Stackhouse, Senior Vice President, Royal Bank of Canada, outlined his plans for a summary report that would focus our discussion in terms of  traditional journalistic questions: Who? What? Where? Why? And When?

Who? Who is education for? It is for all. There are issues of who controls it — teachers, students, parents, or the people who pay for it. But there seems to be agreement that we need to invest more in students, while protecting education from increasing politicization. Leadership is essential. Perhaps a Ditchley Prize for outstanding educators is warranted — while we should give some consideration to a Bretton Woods-like international convocation to examine the “what” of education.

What? What would this Bretton Woods Conference do? It should set out to ensure confidence in the system by examining content, setting international standards, measure how well we are doing, and focus on the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Where? Schools and universities need a place. And places need schools and universities. We need more attention to digital and virtual transmission of knowledge, but education is primarily about relationships. Convening is important as we learn from the pull and tug of different opinions and debating issues. It would be useful to consider how to create an international system that takes education outside school walls and introduces new programs in, for example, retirement communities to offer increased learning opportunities to the elderly and perhaps inter-generational learning programs that introduced retirees to young children, to the benefit of both.

Why? The answer is clear, the challenge of change, and cited in every major report on education for decades. It is particularly critical today as we live on the hinge of history where machine learning and artificial intelligence promise to transform the world. We are not adequately addressing the issue of the relationship between education and technology.

When? There is a real issue that we are conducting schools and universities around an agricultural calendar. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses ) have their challenges, but offer some promise for the future. We should be examining not only new locations but new options for the time in which education and training are offered to young and old alike.With that, the attendees agreed that they might have done more about the rise of education around the world, outside North America and Great Britain, while paying more attention to diversity in all its dimensions. But they adjourned for a group picture on the Ditchley steps with a sense that education and access to schooling for more and more people had been essential to the long history of humanity’s progress, and a hope that the summary statement might outline a blueprint for how to look to the future with confidence.

A Black Tie Dinner

Dinner at Ditchley means dressing up. Although tuxedos and formal dresses were not de rigeur, we were encouraged to dress to the nines and most of us did.

I threatened to show up in jeans, but Anne would not have it. Here we are, the two of us, Anne looking resplendent in a beautiful gown and me pretending I dress for dinner like this every evening.

The dinner and reception were a wonderful affair. Wine flowed. Conversation sparkled. And the service was impeccable. A grand time was had by all. Some others at the affair included, below (l to r): Lord David Willetts, executive chairman, the Resolution Foundation; Esther Mead, Ditchley Foundation staff; and Paul James, CEO of River Learning Trust, England.

We were delighted to meet also a group of new friends from Canada (l to r): Professor Maryse Lassonde, President, Higher Education Council, Quebec;  Mohamed Lachemi, President, Ryerson University; and Indira Samarasekera, Liu Instute for Global Studies, University of British Columbia. The man in spectacles to the left of Maryse and behind her is James Arroyo, director of the Ditchley Foundation.

Amidst such spectacular surroundings it was not difficult to have a wonderful time. But the hard work of making sense of the fountain of good ideas we had heard over a day and a half still lay before us.

A little history and a bit of scandal

It is nearly impossible to overstate how impressive the Ditchley home is. Ditchley’s history dates back to the 16th century when Sir Henry Lee, first owner of the Ditchley Estate, became one of the major courtiers of Queen Elizabeth I. The home is practically a degree-granting institution in history and art in its own right. Lee commissioned what is known as the “Ditchley Elizabeth,” now hanging in London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1592, when she visited the estate. The picture shows Elizabeth’s feet firmly planted on Oxfordshire soil with the thunder and lightening of Spanish Armada (1588) behind her and the bright sunlit future of England stretching ahead:

The grounds, located in Oxfordshire, were once the site of a Roman villa and served as a royal hunting grounds for the Stuart dynasty that succeeded Elizabeth and her Tudor predecessors. The picture below shows several antlers on the wall; each is mounted as trophy with a brass plaque below celebrating the hunt, sort a royal conference championship banner, if you will. Each plaque celebrates where the stag was cornered, who was in on the hunt (including names such as the Prince of Wales or King James I ) and how the end came. Close inspection revealed that all of these antlers were dated between 1608 and 1623.

Ditchley also served as a weekend retreat for Winston Churchill during World War II. The Prime Minister’s official country home, Chequers, had a long driveway leading up to it, almost a road map during moonlit nights for German bombers during the London Blitz. When the moon was likely to be high, Churchill spent his working weekends at Ditchley. The room in which we met was where Churchill negotiated the Lend-Lease agreement with Harry Hopkins, FDR’s personal emissary. The picture below, from the Ditchley Foundation, shows Churchill on the Ditchley grounds during the war.

A Very English Scandal

There’s another Churchill connection with Ditchley. It’s a bit of an open secret at the home, but perhaps not so well known outside it. Blenheim Palace, home of the Duke of Marlborough, lies only a few miles from Ditchley. And symbols of Blenheim are prominent in the art throughout the house and in the “Blenheim Water” served to visitors. What’s the connection?

Two giant portraits offer a clue. The first is a portrait of King Charles II (1660-1685). Charles II was the son of Charles I, beheaded by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. The son, restored to the throne, in what is known of course as “The Restoration,” hunted down and executed the regicides who had killed his father. He actually had Cromwell’s corpse disinterred and beheaded.

Across the room one finds Barbara Villiers, one of a dozen mistresses to Charles. She bore him five royal bastards. Modern moralists have nothing on royal portrait painters who offer up Villiers with noticeable decolletage and a louche expression.

The Churchill connection? It seems Ms. Villiers believed turnabout was fair play and adopted some lovers in addition to the king. One was an impoverished young country gentleman named John Churchill. When she put him aside at the king’s request, she paid him off with a large fortune of 5,000 guineas. The value of this fortune, probably worth close to $1 million or more today, can be understood when one realizes that the cost of building Ditchley was estimated to be 2,000 guineas when it went up. (A guinea amounted to one pound sterling plus one shilling.)

Mr. Churchill went on to fame and fortune as the First Duke of Marlborough. The duke was renowned for leading victorious troops in the Battle of Blenheim (1704). Blenheim was a major victory ensuring the protection of Vienna during the War of Spanish Succession, a significant European conflict that ended in 1710. The Treaty of Utrecht reconciled the differences between France and Austria (and their allies) over who would govern Spanish territory. Below, a mounted John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, signs dispatches on the field at Blenheim.

A grateful nation rewarded Churchill with Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874. Winston was the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and the son of a gifted Conservative Party politician, Lord Randolph Henry Spenser Churchill and Jennie Jerome, an American. (Randolph Churchill as a third son could not inherit the dukedom.)

So there we have it. The amorous adventures of an ambitious young social climber, John Churchill, and a royal paramour, Barbara Villiers, link the English regicide and Restoration of the 17th century with a major European battle in the 18th, and to Winston Churchill, one of the great leaders of the 20th century, who used his time at Ditchley to cement the Atlantic Alliance — at a time when England faced its gravest peril since Elizabeth I turned back the Spanish Armada.

Digging in at Ditchley

The heavier lifting began on Day Two at Ditchley. The four-dozen participants were divided into three working groups: Group A worried about primary education; Group B, secondary education, and Group C had a challenging remit: preschool education, education for seniors, and out-of-school learning. I was assigned to Group B, shown assembling below.

Although more narrowly focused than the prior evening’s discussion of all things educational, the conversation about primary and secondary education of necessity covered a lot of ground too: preschool preparation, student mental health, content and curriculum, testing and assessment, the role of the traditional “trivium” (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) in a liberal arts education, along with choice and student trauma. The importance of teaching came in for a lot of attention and, late in the discussion, the significance of leadership at the school level arose as significant.

Three 90-minute sessions were allotted to Group B (and to Groups A & C) interspersed with short breaks for coffee and snacks (below).

A suggestion was made that we understand the connection between education theory and practice “through a glass darkly,” in the words of Corinthians as picked up by film maker Ingmar Bergman. Another was that one way to pull together this sprawling discussion would be to consider schooling within the journalist convention of “who, what, where, when, and why?”


Later in the day, we received a couple of free hours for a quick visit to Oxford. Oozing history from every pore, Oxford is a delight to the eye. Even on a brief visit, the sights are stunning, the history impressive.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin has been the official church of Oxford University since the year 1200:

Meanwhile, Balliol College, one of the oldest colleges in the university, was founded in 1236:

The Ashmolean, the first university museum in the world, was constructed starting in 1678 to house the “cabinet of curiosities” of Elias Ashmole. It has grown to be a stupendous collection of art and artifacts from antiquity to the present day, with impressive Greek, Roman and Egyptian collections, including a statue of Hercules subduing the Nemean Lion in the first of his twelve great labors.

It’s not every theater that’s as eye-catching as The Sheldonian, built in 1664 and designed by Christopher Wren, the architect who rebuilt London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral,  after the Great Fire of 1666.

Finally, The Bodleian Library system is the largest university library system in the world, housing more than 13 million volumes:

That’s a lot of food for thought and the mind on a quick tour of just a couple of hours.