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Challenges for 21st century schools

Rabbi James Kennard
02.08.2017

Blog image Aug 2017

 

The basic model of school education has changed little in 150 years; a teacher is assigned to a class and is responsible for developing their students’ learning.

 

Despite a pace of change unparalleled in human history, the nexus between teacher and student remains the best mechanism for both teaching and learning.

 

The challenge of our time is therefore not to replace this model, but to enhance and adapt it to best equip our young people for the world they will inhabit after school.

 

Yet the nature of that world, and how to prepare our students for it, is unknown.

 

Considering how much our way of working, and the way we access information and services has changed in the last twenty years, it is impossible to predict the skills and learning that will be required in another two decades’ time, let alone for the duration of our students’ working lives.

 

For this reason schools must incorporate into their curricula much more than knowing information; our students today need to understand how to access information, how to test the veracity of what sources tells them; and how to critically analyse, compare and learn from facts. Yet ‘knowing stuff’ is still essential; minds cannot be trained to analyse facts without an extensive foundation of knowledge on which to build understanding.

 

We know that collaboration, creativity and communication are essential skills in today’s, and presumably tomorrow’s, workplace. Therefore schools have to adapt the classroom environment to facilitate students working and developing ideas together.

 

Technology is both the reason for many of these developments and the means to harness them.

 

IPads and laptops enable students to research and create in different media; collaborative online tools facilitate sharing and working on projects with others who may be in the same class, on a different campus, or in another country.

 

Our challenge is to ensure our technology is up-to-date; and our teachers and students trained in best exploiting its potential, whilst ensuring at all times that technology is our servant and not our master.

 

The relationship between a student and the technology itself is evolving. In the early days of computing some children were encouraged to learn programming for themselves; after going out of fashion this skill has returned to schools (though it is now called ‘coding’). The users of tomorrow’s technology will also be trained to be its creators.

 

Technology is raising new questions that schools may not be answering now, but nevertheless must help our students prepare for the time when these issues will demand a response. What is meant by a ‘community’ which no longer need be defined by geographical proximity? How can we ensure a true marketplace of ideas when the internet directs its users into ever-narrower groups of like-minded thinkers? What is a work/life balance when technology renders meaningless the distinction between work and life?

 

The twenty first century also brings challenges for schools, especially in the independent sector, of a very different nature. As an increasing number of parents see themselves as consumers, and schools as just one of a number of service-providers with which they interact, it becomes ever more crucial to see the relationship between school and home as not just contractual, but a true partnership for the sake of a young person’s growth and learning.

 

And there is the perennial need to provide a quality of education that parents expect and deserve, without increasing further the burden of school fees, just as more technology and greater support for individual needs require ever more resources.

 

Some aspects of schools remain the same, as they should. Others change - sometimes slowly and sometimes with dizzying speed. Deciding what to change, and how, is the ultimate challenge for schools.

 

At Scopus, we are proud that our ethos and dedication to learning remain constant, but the manner in which we actualise those principles for each generation of students evolves and improves.

 

Rabbi James Kennard

Principal

 

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