School systems were largely designed to prepare students for work in an industrial era. Segregation based on a notion of ‘ability’ and then standardization and industrialization of the educational process were the ways in which schools met the needs of the society.
Of course, the world has changed enormously. We live in an increasingly interconnected world with a globally transient work force. There is an increasing wealthy middle class, even in developing countries, which adds a new dimension to global competition. Our students no longer have to compete with their local counterparts, now they compete on a global stage. Houston probably knows this better than any city the world. But, have schools been able to adapt and transform to meet this new challenge?
At the British International School of Houston, we have clearly set our strategic direction to meet this challenge:
The British International School of Houston is a very successful school with very high standards and examination results at all levels. We must uphold and continually improve these since they provide the vital pathway to further educational opportunities for our students. At the same time, we must prepare our students with the contemporary skills, attributes and concepts that prepare them for their fast-changing, globally connected, technology-rich future.
Unfortunately too many state school systems around the world seem to be moving more and more towards standardized education and standardized testing. Policy makers and the media often point to international tests such as PISA and TIMMS as a measure of the quality of education. Professor Yong Zhao points out that to be truly competitive in a global market, it is entrepreneurial ability that leads to high GDP per capita. More importantly, when comparing the Global Entrepreneurial Monitor (GEM) with PISA scores for a country, there is an almost inverse relationship. In other words, it is not standardizing and industrializing education that will lead to future success, it is more about creating entrepreneurial activities, aspirations and attitudes in our students. It is not about standardizing education and testing, it’s about personalizing it. It’s about instilling in our students the contemporary skills, attributes and concepts that helps them be the successful future leaders our society will need.
To meet this challenge, the British International School of Houston has established a collaboration with an organization leading the way in innovation and education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT’s approach is unique because it is founded on the need for a hands-on approach to solving real world problems. It has also moved away from artificial silos of individual subject instruction to a thoroughly cross-functional approach to learning. By enhancing our teaching with this approach and with the expertise of MIT academics, we believe our students will learn how to capitalize on ideas and turn concepts into reality. Learning from exploration and experiment will also develop the grit needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment.
Dan Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind, makes the case that in the future, successful businesses will need more ‘right-brain thinkers’. He explains that ‘one of the trademarks of the Conceptual Age is the outsourcing of traditional white-collar jobs such as law, accounting, and engineering to less-expensive overseas workers, particularly in Asia’. But as he points out, ‘you can't outsource creativity. You can’t outsource design thinking; the ability to create something that has significance as well as usefulness’.
At the British International School of Houston we have responded to this need for creativity by offering a curriculum enhanced by The Juilliard School, one of the world’s most renowned performing arts conservatories. Not only does this inspire a love of music, drama and dance, it opens our students’ minds to the creative and cultural context of their education. It helps them practice transferable skills such as creativity and confidence in communication, which they can use beyond the academic aspects of their development.
Anyone who has visited our new campus in Katy will know that these are not just mere words for us. The 33-acre site now boasts the most pedagogically advanced school building in the world. Built entirely around learners and learning, it provides teachers with flexibility to adapt to the needs of all students. With maker-spaces, design-thinking labs and world-class performing arts facilities, it is purposefully designed to help students develop those skills so important for success in the 21st Century.
I believe that independent schools have a duty to look to the future; to find ways to truly prepare our students for the challenges they will undoubtedly face. Yes, we need them to do well in external exams since this gives them access to the finest universities around the world, but we also need to equip them with the contemporary skills, attributes and concepts that prepare them for their fast-changing, globally connected, technology-rich future. After all, we are educating the next generation of world leaders.
I believe all parents should ask schools, what are you doing to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st century?
“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer