Our Education Senior Vice Presidents share their musings on hot topics and their thoughts on what our schools have been up to.
TECHNOLOGY AND TOLERANCE
With 2019 being the Year of Tolerance, it’s been great to see so many schools get involved and one in particular is leveraging digital innovation to its full advantage, combining the best of technology and humanity.
Since Matthew Lecuyer, Principal & CEO of GEMS Winchester School — Oud Metha (WSD) recently introduced using Padlet [an application to create online bulletin boards] to share and encourage acts of kindness and tolerance at home, the WSD family community have been participating in posting acts of tolerance and kindness that they have been doing or observing around them at home to show what school values look like at home. The students, parents and staff have collaborated to create a digital space to post acts of kindness, care, tolerance and respect for diversity, to contribute to GEMS Education’s goal to record 15,000 acts of kindness by December.
The result through Padlet is truly inspiring; it restores everyone’s faith in the goodness that still exists in homes and families. It also inspires others with ideas of how to be kind and respectful. There are clips of older children helping younger siblings with homework, children holding doors open for adults, comforting other members of the family, and undertaking simple household tasks like washing the dishes or tidying rooms. To recognise and encourage posting, house points are being awarded to the students who share their acts of kindness/ tolerance. Mr. Lecuyer and his staff have been ‘blown away’ by the number and range of posts! Congratulations WSD! A great idea that others can copy and use!
— Peter Derby-Crook, Senior Vice President – Education
EMBRACING A NEW, EXCITING ROLE
It has been my pleasure to have been working with the GEMS Indian Curriculum Schools since the beginning of 2019. All 15 of these schools across the UAE are unique and have their own ethos, vision and sense of identity, while all upholding the GEMS Core Values.
The schools benefit from the leadership of highly committed Principals, whose work is coordinated and led by the three experienced Vice Presidents: Michael Guzder, Darryl Bloud and Nargish Khambatta. My role, which is a new one, is to work across the schools, supporting Principals in particular areas agreed with the Vice Presidents and helping to share best practice and strategies across the cluster. I am also pleased to have a governance role with the GEMS schools in India itself.
So, what have my first few weeks held? Firstly, it has been meeting the Principals and getting to know the schools through taking part in events as diverse as graduations, sports meets, science fairs, musical shows, Republic Day celebrations and much more. The life of a school is not just academic, so these types of events are essential in getting to know the school communities and what makes them tick.
Secondly, I have enjoyed working with Principals on strategies for student achievement, particularly those children and young people who need extra support and have been working on reviewing programmes and training members of staff in this area.
— Jodh Singh Dhesi, Head of Performance and Standards – Indian Schools
THE CHANGING NOTION OF WHAT A GOOD EDUCATION IS
The world around us is changing, and technologies like AI are requiring that we rethink what it means to be educated. You may not realise it, but with every Google search, algorithms are using a form of AI to help you find what you are seeking. Computers are augmenting our cognition.
The implications for education are significant and the nature of what it means to be educated is changing. The best-educated people used to be considered some of the most knowledgeable, but this is no longer the case.
Imagine a quiz night 30 years ago. The best educated table, as measured by formal educational qualifications, would be favoured to win. But today if you pitted a table of adult graduates from the best universities against a table of GEMS middle school students armed with their iPhones, who do you think would win? Keep in mind that currently the interface between us and AI (inputting questions to your iPhone) is relatively slow but this will only get faster in the coming years.
Knowledge, and by extension curriculum content, is playing a different role in education today than it has in the past. Ask yourself, whatever your position at GEMS Education, whether you earned your job based upon criteria that could be measured through a standardised test. Some things related to your work could certainly have been quantified, but I suspect a large part of why you have the job you have is related to your ability to work with others, creatively problem solve, and communicate effectively. How much did the formal elements of your K-12 schooling help you to develop these skills? This is the direction of travel for our GEMS schools, but this generation of students will require us think more broadly about what a good education is more than our profession has in the past.
— James MacDonald, Senior Vice President – Education (US & IB Curriculum Schools)
SHAPING THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION
I was heartened this month to read an article entitled, The Unlikely Champion for Testing Kids Around the World on Empathy and Creativity by Andreas Schleicher of OECD and PISA fame. Long the bastion of assessment in only the core subjects, he has recognised the urgent need for reform.
I read this soon after the news that Singapore, long seen as the exemplar in PISA results and the ranking of children by test scores, is leading the way in abolishing school exam rankings, stating that “learning is not competition”.
Tom Fletcher, a former UK Ambassador and visiting professor at NYUAD launched a new global education report this week stating, “The world’s children are being failed by antiquated education systems”. Are we about to witness the global collapse of school exam rankings, league tables, rigid assessments and inspection frameworks driven by attainment and progress data? Singapore has concluded that these measures might give a nation a global pole position, but they don’t provide a healthy platform for the development of skills learners need to be engaged, productive and happy citizens in the 21st Century.
In this, the Year of Tolerance, it is entirely appropriate to take stock of our visionary founding leader as we consider the future of education in the United Arab Emirates and the global skills we need to be developing in the next generation: the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates, was a leader well ahead of his time, not least because he understood the value of tolerance, endeavour and human capacity. On the wealth of the nation he stated: “Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value.” He understood the real spirit behind progress: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.”
It is in this spirit that visionary education leaders need to shape the future for our schools. In a world of artificial intelligence, it has never been more important to ensure that we re-establish the value of subjects and activities which develop the ‘human spirit’, the ‘real spirit’ as defined by Sheikh Zayed. It is vital that the balance of our overall school curricula provide our youngsters with a breadth of development well beyond the cognitive and problemsolving skills needed to cope in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At GEMS Education we are doing just that: within our GEMS Wellington family of schools, for example, we are breaking new ground in the use of technology whilst simultaneously enhancing all our interpersonal development, global skills and co-curricular programmes.
Bravo, Singapore, for placing the needs of its citizens and the true values education offers ahead of a global ranking; bravo Andreas Schleicher and Tom Fletcher, for questioning the status quo and recognising the value of holistic education. This is the true spirit of innovation in education and at GEMS Education we will continue to do what we believe is best for children, putting their current and future needs at the heart of every decision we make. Sheikh Zayed would have expected nothing less.
— Brendan Law, Senior Vice President – Education (British Cluster Lead)