In order to prepare students for the real world, we increasingly need to equip them with critical thinking and agile learning skills. Alongside, they need an entrepreneurial and global mindset to thrive in a time of intense disruption and accelerated change.
The debate about exactly which real world skills will be needed has traditionally been led by business and universities, but it is critical that we start to focus much earlier on what is really needed.
We need to reimagine our upper schools and make them more agile in anticipating and adapting to this world.
My vision of a reimagined “high school” for the future, which prepares children for what is to come, is a place that combines a top university, a spiritual space, a creative laboratory, and a marketplace.
Universities of excellence build their educational model around the power of the tutorial. Schools and colleges modelled on this approach highlight academic rigour and encourage and inculcate the skills of enquiry, discourse and presentation in small group settings. This testing of hypotheses against opposing views allows students to voice opinions, something that is often constrained in a normal classroom setting.
The tutorial approach, built around the old Socratic principle of discourse, mirrors the rough and tumble “marketplace of ideas” of the real world much more closely and sharpens young minds to think about how best to marshal and articulate an argument. It also embeds a collegial respect for others’ points of view and the benefits of working together.
“The benefits of the tutorial method are evident in students’ growing confidence, capability, and willingness to stand up for their convictions.”
The tutorial method is well-known at universities such as Harvard and Cambridge, but almost unheard of in upper schools where the emphasis is usually on preparing a body of content for standardised exams such as GCSEs and A-levels. The benefit of teaching 14- to 18-year-olds in this manner – and not waiting until university – is evident in their growing confidence, capability, and willingness to stand up for their convictions, all of which are critical skills in life.
A spiritual space
What role does a spiritual space play in the reimagined school of the future? What typically comes to mind is exactly what we should be aiming to cultivate – a sense of peace, individual accountability and responsibility, and shared humanity, where treating others as you would wish to be treated, with mutual respect, is encouraged as a guiding principle.
The school of the future should be a model of holistic care where a student’s wellbeing is nurtured, and the atomized, individualistic fending-for-yourself ethos is tempered. We need to overtly acknowledge that pastoral care is integral to creating a well-rounded learning environment fit for the world of tomorrow.
At our college, personal tutors have around 10 students for whom they care, and the students are free to speak about any topic from academic to personal to administrative issues. We build in time for quiet reflection, and we offer a zen-like credo for going about our work together focused around turning up, trying hard, being kind and smiling.
The school of the future must pay attention to the whole student and aim to create a sense of purpose, peace and value that can act as a counterbalance to the rigour and competitiveness of a single-minded pursuit of academic excellence.
Intellectual curiosity and creativity will be critical to success in the future and are currently two of the most in-demand attributes for employers.
The reimagined school of the future should push the boundaries and consciously take an innovative approach to everything, including the curriculum.
To fully unleash this approach, the teacher is recast as a facilitator or curator, sharing information rather than imparting knowledge. This is not a relinquishing of responsibility for teaching, but a recognition that innovation and creativity flourish best in a shared, egalitarian environment.
“This willingness to build a creativity ‘hothouse’ or marketplace of ideas generates genuine excitement.”
With so many international students, we take the approach of encouraging students to share information about what is happening in their own countries. For instance, in economics class students are challenged to think about how their country’s government has handled the pandemic, how measures taken compare to other countries, and hen locate this within the wider context of global inequality.
This willingness to create a creativity “hothouse” or marketplace of ideas generates genuine excitement because students know more than they think they do and being given the freedom to create brings this innate knowledge to the fore.
It is by juxtaposing the traditional with the deliberately innovative and creative that a reimagined school can be forged.
Reimagined schools simply must connect better and more directly with the world of work. Increasingly the marketplace demands that, as well as being intellectually rigorous and creative, students need to be enterprising and commercial.
In the future, students will need to understand the primacy of the competitive marketplace and be fearless in putting their skills to the test.
“Reimagined schools simply must connect more directly with the world of work.”
The school of the future will not take this imperative lightly and will move to balance academic with commercial training. For some time now, it has been evident that not all students need to follow a purely academic pathway – but the alternative vision tended to be a separate trade-orientated apprenticeship programme. The academic and practical orientations seldom mixed. Schools of the future will redress this imbalance by offering a third way where academic subjects mix naturally with commercially savvy instruction.
The school of the future
This mix of university thinking, spiritual space, creative laboratory and marketplace draws together the four educational strands we feel are most important in preparing students to thrive.