MONIQUE FLICKINGER, Superintendent, AMERICAN COMMUNITY SCHOOL OF ABU DHABI
How did you motivate staff and students during the transition to remote learning after the pandemic struck?
At the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, we seized the opportunities the global pandemic presented, making sure teachers and students were prepared with tools to successfully shift online to remote learning. We knew we had to be nimble by supporting teachers with up-to-date technology and digital training and ensuring every student had a device to access their learning. In return, we saw a leap forward in education and innovation.
When 85 per cent of your students are in the top academic quartile among international peers, they have mastered the content. Being able to unleash their creativity online and develop their passions in a digital space becomes the priority. We enhanced technology programs to inspire students to become innovators and creators. Elementary students accessed robotics, coding, podcasting, and more in the new Innovation Lab. Middle School Technology became the most subscribed elective and recently won an International Schools Award. And in High School, we expanded class offerings in computer science.
Connecting regularly with teachers, students and parents through surveys and virtual meetings has been crucial to our success in navigating remote learning. Staying connected has motivated everyone to move forward together.
In a few years, ACS will move to a new, state-of-the-art campus that will reflect the future of education and provide students with the best technology and learning opportunities necessary to successfully navigate a post-pandemic world.
How would you define a successful teacher in a post-pandemic world?
Brad Flickinger, ACS MS Technology Teacher and ES Innovation Lab Creator, AMERICAN COMMUNITY SCHOOL OF ABU DHABI
“The most successful teachers in the post-pandemic world must be nimble and willing to change direction in a moment’s notice. Whatever it takes to connect with our students, even if that means throwing out the past and learning anew, there is no going back. There is only forward. It is the dawn of a new and exciting day in education when we combine the new things teaching during a pandemic has taught us with in-person personal connections with our students. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.”
Jennifer Ricks , Ed.D. ACS Director of Learning, AMERICAN COMMUNITY SCHOOL OF ABU DHABI
“In the past year, the best teachers displayed flexibility, a growth mindset, and grace. Flexibility allowed them to respond, often daily to changing instructional settings. A growth mindset showed their willingness to always keep learning, try new things, and excel. And finally, grace allowed them to be kind to themselves and others when the situation might not go as planned.”
DR PAUL RICHARDS, Superintendent, American School Of Dubai
As the head of one of the premier education institutions in the UAE and the region that sets the yardstick on trends, what in your view will be the future classroom look like?
I believe, from a technical standpoint, classrooms will now become media centres, both with the ability to access digital resources and tools, and also with more ease than we have been able to in the past. Classrooms will also become broadcasting centres, so it’s not just what we take in, but what we send out, broadcasting what is happening in the class to either students who aren’t there or broadcasting to the world. To support this concept, we outfitted classrooms with cameras, geared up teachers with headphones, purchased promising software licences such as Nearpod, and importantly, we dramatically increased our internet bandwidth.
What are the changes in regular training programmes you foresee for your staff keeping the pandemic and similar situations and challenges in mind?
I feel the biggest potential for change is the relationship between the teacher and the student. I think the pandemic has shifted the focus away from the teacher as the centre of attention, and put more ownership of learning on to the student. For example, students are getting a lot more autonomy to complete their assignments, more self-direction opportunities, and more control over their time. My own son, for instance, enjoys distance learning as he feels he is able to budget his time efficiently, deciding when and how to get the work done, which then leaves him more time to pursue other learning pursuits. He has thrived with the added autonomy. I believe this moment is an inflection point for schools. I believe that schools of the future will need to adapt and meet the mission of the student, rather than schools selling its own mission to the public. So students will say, here is what I would like out of my schooling. Can you as a school help me deliver on my personal mission? Students will demand what they need, and schools will have to accommodate in order to survive.
There is a lot of stress being put by faculty on developing emotional intelligence within the student and peer community in colleges. Does this apply to schools as well, and how do you plan to inculcate the same among your wards?
The American School of Dubai (ASD) is known for its strong commitment to the social and emotional (SEL) development of its children. We look at SEL like developing a muscle, so it needs to start at the earliest of ages, and over time you can build that muscle and emotional intelligence. It’s a key function of our mission. What we are now doing at ASD is starting to develop instruments to measure SEL skills and disposition. For example, measuring key aspects of our Student Profile: self-awareness, resiliency, and empathy.
Emotional intelligence will be as or more important than just IQ, since much of the world’s knowledge is now accessible through technology. Also, to provide maximum employment opportunities for our students in the future, we use a term called Adaptability Quotient, or AQ, which is essentially about getting students ready for a job that may not even exist yet, so when that job is created, the student, now an adult, is able to adapt and take on the job. It’s no longer so much about knowledge anymore, it’s about skills and dispositions, qualities that are uniquely human.
SANGITA CHIMA, Principal, AMITY SCHOOL DUBAI
Amity School is one of the select premier educational institutes to partner with the Dubai Expo. What’s on the cards and what does the institution seek to achieve for its students through this partnership?
We are delighted to give our dynamic young learners the opportunity to learn and grow through our partnership with Expo 2020. The Amity School Community will facilitate the ticketed entry, reservations and transport for all students and staff, giving them the opportunity to visit the pavilions. This is an astounding and future-driven opportunity for students to be exposed to new ideas through a mesmerising experience of discovery that will create an impact and remain a memorable experience for years to come.
How would you define inclusive learning and what is Amity doing in this field?
Inclusion is a sublime and seamless acceptance of diversity in learning by the entire school community. We are champions of inclusion and our learning spaces are designed specially as inclusive spaces. At Amity we focus on every child’s individual IEP goals. Patience with an emphasis on relationships provides the right conditions for an inclusive classroom environment. We feel that it is important to know each learner, believe in their ability to face challenges and draw out a step-by-step learning trajectory so that all students see growth. Breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, altering curriculum, instructional and assessments methods and engaging with parents as partners ensure a warm, safe and conducive environment.
MICHAEL LUMMEL, Principal, GERMAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
How critical a role does digitalisation play in allowing students at your school as well as the institution itself to be future-secure? How is German International School going about this task?
The German International School Dubai provides an outstanding and inspiring learning environment. This includes our digitalisation strategy. All students are equipped with iPads. We are implementing our iPad classes with an innovative evidence-based approach. We are sharing a strong vision. Digitalisation helps to individualise learning and to encourage problem-solving and creative approaches with a cooperative spirit. Implementing digitalisation, we need to be a learning school, in which all members are learners, including teachers and school management.
How do you read the future of the education system for UAE schools?
The UAE is blessed with a great variety of excellent schools. And we are proud to be one of them as an Excellent German School Abroad. In the future, the UAE educational system will open up more. Schools will learn to perceive the UAE and the world as its classroom. Schools will be reaching out to universities and innovative firms to inspire their students to become innovators. The Expo 2020 will be a unique opportunity to head into that direction.
What does the Inclusion Action Team at German International seek to achieve?
Let me explain what our Inclusion Action Teams seek to achieve by the help of one example of a SEND (special educational needs) student at the German International School Dubai: She accesses our barrier-free school easily with her wheelchair, participates almost independently in class, follows the regular curriculum with slight modifications and joins sports lessons with her individual talents. And her classmates have this what’s-the-big-deal attitude about inclusion. Inclusion is lots of passion and work in the background by our SEND Team. We give our students all the support they need that inclusion feels natural in class.
ATAULLAH PARKER, Principal, INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF CREATIVE SCIENCE, NAD AL SHEBA (PART OF BEAM)
How would you best define the value of an Islamic education and what is the role of Creative Science Schools in Dubai in this regard?
In the UAE, we are fortunate to live in a country whose leadership strategies underpin its education system, to reflect the society it wants to create. While the world was scrambling in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak, the UAE’s leadership worked relentlessly with educational and academic institutions in the country to apply a distance learning approach as a seamless alternative to regular schooling.
At Beam, when it comes to the scope of education, we believe an Islamic education offers students solid foundations and values upon which they can build their lives.
Islam places a high value on education. Over time, education has become an important channel in shaping a universal and cohesive social order.
The Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) highlighted the importance of several daily habits that were instilled in Muslim generations and are practised across the world today by people of diverse cultures and religions.
Such practices include understanding the importance of hygiene, being truthful, and being respectful, particularly towards one’s parents and grandparents.
An Islamic religious education can also significantly enhance students’ righteous behaviour and provide them with a sound moral compass. Students learn valuable lessons in obedience to parents and teachers, politeness, and humility to all, and helping one another without an ulterior motive. Parents and educators must encourage the learnings of Islam and good moral behaviour for students to prioritise these learnings and apply them in their daily life.
How important are ethical and aesthetic virtues to the education system sculpted by Creative Science Schools?
We promote the learnings gleaned from a guidebook that we call the Integrated Virtues Curriculum and that specifically provides an overview of the values and virtues that underpin the school’s curriculum. Being integrative in nature, these virtues help provide depth, context and real-life application for students rather than just theoretical knowledge. These include both ethical and aesthetic virtues. While the former is necessary to enable students to empathise in situations that require ethical responses, the aesthetic virtues look into deeper connections with the physical world and spiritual world.
It is important that students can link their physical experiences with spiritual growth. This is important when reflecting on the natural world and studying art and science especially. The most important of these sciences however is the constant reflection on the virtues of the heart, that is the compass with which our students should be directing their lives.
MARGARET HAYNES, Principal, LIWA INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL AL MUSHRIF (LISM)
Liwa International School Al Mushrif prides itself in doing things differently. Could you shed some light on initiatives that pushed the envelope?
Despite the massive impact of Covid-19 on everyone and everything, LISM was well placed to meet the demands and manage the impact on our learners and families. As a new school, we designed our curriculum to meet the needs of young people now offering a holistic approach without the use of textbooks. Digital approaches to learning were already central to what we do and that helped make the transition a lot smoother; it also ensured that we had many excellent platforms and apps to use with which our learners were familiar and gave us a strong foundation to further develop the impact of technology on learning.
The LIWA Cares initiative, working in partnership with our sister schools in Al Ain, gave us the opportunity to provide support sessions to children, parents and teachers on topics ranging from coping with stress to helping our children learn at home as well as calligraphy and cooking. This really helped us to keep our sense of community and partnership over the past year.
How prepared is LISM in meeting the demands of Generation Alpha?
Our C21 curriculum has, at its heart, technology-driven learning coupled with the development of the whole child. Our aim is to ensure that this technology-savvy generation develops genuine digital literacy alongside the social and emotional skills everyone needs to succeed and be happy in today’s globalised world. Independence and genuine resilience are characteristics we strive to foster in all.
How are you prepping your staff to deal with students in a post-Covid world?
Throughout this period, our staff have been in constant contact with students providing social and emotional support as well as academics. We have engaged students in homeroom, check-ins and social sessions, as well as specific sessions on dealing with the issues and feelings the pandemic has raised, to meet our students’ emotional needs and keep social connections firmly established. Our teachers and support staff still know their students really well and will provide the tailored support they need when they return to campus.
More information on the school can be found at Lism.ae
DR JAY TESTON, Principal, NIBRAS INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PART OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP
With schoolchildren today being digital natives, how is Nibras revising its education structure to meet this requirement?
At Nibras International School, our students have grown to be true digital natives. The way and speed in which they access and demonstrate learning using multiple platforms is remarkable. We’ve encouraged and supported such type of learning through our different modes of instruction and have even ensured that our school values have been modified to be digitally relevant. As Nibras students navigate digitally, they are challenged to demonstrate how to be tolerant, organised, respectful, caring, and honest in their digital surroundings.
As the head of one of the premier education institutes in the UAE, how do you seek to inspire your staff in imparting education differently?
New knowledge is constantly being generated by students who are thirsty for learning. This is how the new leadership at Nibras International School sees its students, and I’ve had a conversation with the staff on how we too, need to redevelop this thirst for knowledge and become learners again. We have to approach teaching and learning through the eyes of our students, and experience this all together.
What are your takeaways from Covid-19 and 2020, how will the education landscape change in the UAE in the next five years?
The Covid pandemic and the move to online learning in 2020 forced education in the UAE to be highly personalised. Students have learned to be self-reliant in demonstrating their learning and highly creative so that they can find ways to collaborate with their peers regardless of the distance between them. These are skill sets that would be hard to measure, but will have a significant effect on the UAE’s future. These conditions have forever changed the education landscape and the personalised approach should be further developed.
JASON KING, Principal, REGENT INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PART OF FORTES HOLDINGS
How have you rallied the faculty at Regent and keep their morale high during 2020 and going into 2021?
Prioritising staff well-being as well as that of our students and parents during this time has been crucial to ensure sustaining the high quality of learning, teaching and continued students’ outstanding progress and attainment. Communication has been and is the key, being clear, transparent and consistent. No one, students, staff or parents should feel alone. At the heart of our approach is our embrace of Positive Education. We all understand that our children will face many daunting challenges in the future and that academic excellence alone will not be sufficient to ensure their success or happiness. The pandemic and its impact have highlighted this.
We have endeavoured to cultivate a sense of purpose, character strengths, positive emotions and supportive relationships to enable all of our school community to become happier, healthier, more resilient and successful individuals during this challenging time and going forward. In short, Regent’s community together as one family with support for each other’s wellbeing and happiness is equipped for life’s challenges in 2021 and beyond.
How do you see the education landscape changing this decade keeping all that transpired in 2020 in mind?
During the pandemic despite the increase and use of digitised learning platforms, people are still the key in the next decade. We just have to look at different ways of working to continue to use technology to enhance our education processes with the global changes. The game and end goal have not changed. As educators we still need to empower our young people to become innovative thinkers, creative problem-solvers, socially confident and inspired learners. At Regent, we are committed to every child achieving their dreams and ambitions. We are a school that is genuinely restless in our pursuit of excellence and the phrase Inspiring Minds. Building Character is a live, real achievement and not merely a strap line.
To ensure that we are at the cutting edge of educational change, at Regent, powered by our unique Signature Programmes, we are a character-building and ambitiously innovative school with an inspirational, engaging, and dynamic learning environment at the core. Our education delivery is highly ambitious and innovative using a project-based learning combined with our STEAM programme; augmented by a next-generation AI learning platform to enable self-paced problem solving; an inspirational creative and performing arts programme; and a rich variety of extracurricular activities to excite, inspire and challenge our curious and open-minded students with a desire to learn. Regent’s immersive AR/VR programme makes learning truly transformational and enjoyable enabling students to experience and visualise science, art, history, culture, and academics like never before.
DR NEIL HOPKIN, Executive Principal, SUNMARKE SCHOOL, PART OF FORTES HOLDINGS
As a prominent institution that sets education benchmarks in the UAE, how successful has Sunmarke’s Active Minds Programme been in promoting social interaction among students and peers?
The Active Minds programme at Sunmarke School has proven to be an empowering step in the children’s journey of learning and understanding. Based on the latest psychological research, we have shown that it enables students to develop and leverage precise communicative, collaborative and cooperative skills while focused on specific tasks and projects. We all know that these are real-world and lifelong skills, but our Active Minds programme allows us to foster and nurture these skills at a very early age, giving our students a competitive advantage in their future university and work experiences.
Sunmarke prides itself on doing things differently. Could you shed some light on your initiatives?
This approach to innovation is reflected in our initiatives, such as our Signature Programmes, including our mini-MBA, our world-renowned Positive Education programme and most recently a world-class STEAM curriculum and facilities that set the benchmark globally for this most sought-after skillset. Drawing on leading experts globally and with inspiration from MIT and the UK STEAM programmes, we have created an unbeatable learning experience for our students from primary age upwards. Sunmarke’s next generation Artificial Intelligence online learning platform augments learning through self-paced problem-solving while our immersive AR/VR programme truly transforms student experience in visualising science, art, history and culture like never before.
As the head of Sunmarke, how do you envisage the future classroom?
This is just one aspect of our future- ready approach to teaching and learning. Our classrooms are highly digitally enabled and our teachers and students use the very latest technological innovations, including AI, which has enabled us to stay ahead of the curve during this period of online learning that students are experiencing. Whatever time it takes for the world to recover from Covid-19 our students will have developed a uniquely agile approach to the use of technology to continue and enhance their learning journey.
BEN ROTHWELL, Assistant Head, VICTORY HEIGHTS PRIMARY SCHOOL
As the head of a prominent UAE-based educational institute, what are your prime takeaways from the year of Covid?
That adaptability and being an organisation that has an agile operating model are critical to success in the modern world. The ability to adapt to circumstances quickly, without compromising our ethos and beliefs, while empowering employees across the company to make decisions, have been hallmarks of our approach to the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have not always got things right the first time, but where we have made mistakes - or rather, where our approach has been suboptimal, we have quickly iterated and improved.
Lifelong learning is a trait many aspire to but few achieve. Victory Heights stresses on its importance through its Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI) programme. Can you elaborate on this strategy?
The ELLI programme is an effective method for assessing and implementing Guy Claxton’s Learning Power, a research-informed approach to identifying the seven key learning dimensions that underline 17 habits and behaviours of learners.
At Victory Heights, we use ELLI as a toolkit to teach children these learning dimensions - we believe that Learning is learnable. ELLI uses languages and characters that are familiar with young children, to distill learning power into an easy-to-understand framework - for example we teach about ‘Changing and Learning’ (aka a growth mindset) through the Chameleon, who is able to change his colour to adapt to his environment.
Generation Alpha is turning out to be a handful with a whole new learning metric. How are you tackling this new generation of schoolchildren while imparting education?
Generation Alpha (those born post-2010) are the most materially endowed generation ever to have lived, extremely technologically savvy, born into the iPad era. They are often described as digital natives, yet it would be remiss to confuse consumption with meaningful creation. It is therefore imperative that schools use technology effectively, and move away from technology as a pacifier.
WAYNE HOWSEN , Principal, THE AQUILA SCHOOL, PART OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP
How is partnering with Dubai Expo helping and supporting the students at The Aquila School?
In our school we continue to be excited about the unique learning opportunities that Expo will provide our pupils and we can’t wait to visit the exhibition when it opens. Our school will focus on the Expo theme of Mobility, and the entire school will engage in activities that are connected to this theme.
As the head of one of the premier schools in Dubai, how do you see the future of education being tweaked in the country?
Nothing can replicate the value of face-to-face learning in school, interacting with each other and having immediate feedback from a teacher. However, we acknowledge that technology will have an increasing role to play in connecting pupils with others within and beyond the school.
How is the Strategic Governance Group at Aquila helping mould school policy for the long term?
The Strategic Governance Group at Aquila acts as a critical friend to the school, holding us accountable and challenging us to provide the very best outcomes for every child in our care.
GRAEME SCOTT, School Director, FAIRGREEN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
How is your institution preparing its students for jobs of the future?
“Great teachers who love learning, care deeply for their students and build positive relationships with them are absolutely critical to the flourishing of our young people. But what our students learn needs to be re-examined in light of the pace of global change. There needs to be a strong match between what they learn and the needs of global society. Issues such as global migration, climate change, hunger and poverty, and now of course virus transmission are often covered superficially or even not at all, yet they are real issues that we are struggling to understand and resolve.
"Our students have boundless energy, passion and drive; we just need to ensure that what they learn is relevant and meaningful. It can sometimes be impossible to predict these global changes, so instead of just changing the knowledge that we teach students (traditionally content has been added without taking anything away, leading to unmanageable volumes of content students are expected to memorise) we need to slim down and update this knowledge. We also need to focus more on equipping our students with key attributes such as adaptability, planning, self-management, creativity, and problem identification and solving. This will ensure they are well prepared for the unknowns that lie ahead, as well as supporting their success in those jobs that will still exist.”
BILL DEBRUGGE, School Director, DUNECREST AMERICAN SCHOOL
How is Dunecrest managing the changing dynamics of imparting education in a post-pandemic world?
The urgency of the Covid-19 crisis demanded overnight innovations and adaptations in education. Although this has been a difficult period for schools, there are a number of changes to how we deliver education that we should retain.
To begin, Covid -19 has pushed a more harmonious relationship with technology. Teachers have come to understand that on-line learning has a different cadence to the classroom. Where a group activity would have taken place in person, a cooking assignment or garden investigation is now required. As a project-based learning school, we have been delighted to see others now embracing real-world problems as a way to succeed in both environments.
Educators have also come to understand the wealth of experts that are available via zoom. During a recent lesson on velocity, students at Dunecrest had the good fortune of having a zoom call with a NASA scientist to discuss rocket propulsion! The possibilities are limitless!
Finally, the pandemic has underscored the importance that community plays in education. During this period, students and teachers have really come to cherish our campus as a beacon of support and positivity.
Wellbeing has taken centre stage. This is something we will continue to nurture and grow.