Abigail and Isabel Cole believe wind power could power an onsite sustainable garden at the American School of Dubai, where they are in grades 10 and 11 respectively.
The sisters were inspired by William Kamkwamba’s memoir, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, and have been awarded a grant from the academy’s association for parents, teachers and students to design and build a windmill, says Dr Paul Richards, ASD Superintendent.
The garden is a hands-on learning space integrated into the k-12 curriculum at the school. It provides a seed-to-plate initiative for school lunches and a composting programme for the ASD community that has won funding for an industrial composter from the Zayed Sustainability Prize.
“In today’s context, a student’s educational journey must work for them; school is not something to be done to them,” Richards tells GN Focus. “The one-size-fits-all approach that we likely experienced as students becomes a one-size-fits-one experience for children. This must happen because every student has his or her own diverse learning needs.”
That thinking chimes with a wider belief that the global education system hardly equips our children to cope with tomorrow’s challenges. Much attention has been concentrated on our preparedness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a reference to how software, hardware and biology will combine to change the way we live and work through fields such as artificial intelligence, connected devices and 3D printing – but our philosophical and ethical responses to these transformations may be even more important.
Preparing for tomorrow’s world
“Schools are fundamentally in the future business,” says Mark S Steed, Director at JESS Dubai. “We have a huge responsibility to equip the young people in our care with the values, skills, understanding and wisdom that will enable them to thrive in the world in which they will be living.”
Education is a key policy area for the UAE, with the nation’s stated aim to be the world leader in the sector by 2071. The UAE currently spends Dh80,000 per student in its public schools, more than double the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of Dh33,000 per student, according to data from the analyst PWC. Student numbers across the board are set to rise to 1.28 million in 2021 from 1.04 million in 2013.
Susie Ballantyne, Director of Educational Development, Bloom Education, which manages Brighton College and Dwight School Dubai, attests to official encouragement and parental backing when it comes to tackling the weighty issues of the day – whether it’s the impact of technology, the depletion of natural resources, innovating for a sustainable future, or the value of a meaningful life. “We find it very easy to integrate and align these approaches and opportunities for our students here. We follow the lead of the KHDA who promote and support amazing initiatives for students and their families. We include these topics in our extracurricular programmes [and] throughout our school day,” she says.
Across the emirates, school students are participating in promotions such as Expo2020, embarking on sustainability drives, learning how to deal with anxiety in a dedicated mediation area and understanding the world through hydroponics, biodomes and bee gardens. Yet, that may not be enough.
Values that define success
As the world changes, students may have to understand that the only constant is indeed change. ASD’s Dr Richards talks of how the rise of smart machines and the decline of the stable, long-term white-collar job has necessitated a dramatic shift in learning.
The revolution brought on by technology has gigantic implications for schools. Skills, such as critical thinking, all of a sudden eclipse content knowledge. Dispositions, such as curiosity, become the value-added human component in the workplace, as we learn to work with machines. For most jobs, it is no longer how much one knows. Instead, it is what one can do.
“The revolution brought on by technology has gigantic implications for schools. Skills, such as critical thinking, all of a sudden eclipse content knowledge. Dispositions, such as curiosity, become the value-added human component in the workplace, as we learn to work with machines. For most jobs, it is no longer how much one knows. Instead, it is what one can do,” he says.
The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs Report expects that 75 million jobs will be displaced by 2022 in 20 major economies. In that scenario, schools could embrace change faster.
As JESS Dubai’s Steed puts it, “Governments, school leaders and parents are fundamentally conservative. They know what worked in the past for them and assume that it will continue to work in the future. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be different. We need to rethink radically what is studied in schools and what is the aim of the educational process.”