Riverston focuses not only on getting the best grade but also on the best education and creating a lifelong passion for learning Image Credit: Supplied

What does it mean for your school to be nominated and win the Top School Awards?

It means everything to us, not only as a school but as a group of schools and children’s centres that work under the Riverston umbrella. The award was given to acknowledge the innovative inclusion model Riverston has pioneered that enables all students — including those with additional learning needs and those who are gifted and talented — to succeed.

What is your institution doing to foster critical thinking among students from an early age?

Critical thinking skills are a necessity for all students because they’re crucial for living life. Every teacher at RSD looks for interesting ways to integrate them into classrooms.

Questioning: We look to develop essential questions that inspire a quest for knowledge and problem-solving. Our questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

Building a foundation for critical thinking: We begin any critical thinking exercise with a review of related information, which may stem from things such as reading assignments, previous exercises and videos or text. I once observed a geography lesson where students were challenged to prove Iceland existed. A simple objective but the critical thinking and problem-solving skills used and learnt were massive.

The main challenge for any school comes under its pursuit of excellence. It is imperative that we make sure everything we do is excellent. If we don’t, the children may never reach their full potential and that is something that must never be allowed to happen.

- David Quick, Founding Principal, Riverston School Dubai

We’ve also used peer groups, where older children are tasked with writing a short story for younger students, as well as roleplaying exercises to stretch their analytical, creative and critical thinking skills. Additionally, a lot of our students are visual learners, so using pictures to express what they are thinking is an excellent way to help them answer questions in the classroom.

Independent learning: Critical thinking involves intensive work and concentration, but students should be left to themselves for much of the process. However, it can be helpful to step in partway through their process. This is why at RSD we do not employ 1:1 learning support assistants. The most a learning support assistant will be attached to someone with us is for about 80 per cent of their time thus giving them the independent learning experience they need to develop this key life skill.

What are the challenges you face in the UAE’s education sector, and what initiatives are the school undertaking to counter these?

The main challenge for any school comes under its pursuit of excellence. It is imperative that we make sure everything we do is excellent. If we don’t, the children may never reach their full potential and that is something that must never be allowed to happen.

Excellence is a culture that permeates every room, hall, corridor and outside area of a school – a focus not only on getting the best grade but also on getting the best education and creating a lifelong passion for learning. Students learn best when they are part of the learning process, and our teachers show their pupils how to learn. Subsequently our students are beginning to thrive in their learning environment whether that be an Arabic, moral, Islamic or mathematics lesson. The learning skills they adopt are transferable across all their lessons as well as their life outside of school.

At RSD the curriculum isn’t just a document of what a subject must teach or cover for that year group or key stage. Yes, the curriculum must be planned, documented and reviewed on a regular basis, but for us it must do a lot more. Our curriculum focuses on learning and learners; it encourages students to take risks and is responsive to individuals’ needs and interests. That way, all subjects come to life as we look to adapt what the curriculum may be to suit the needs and interests of the pupils in front of us.

Our pastoral care is centred on a family ethos, so our children feel nurtured and valued. We put great emphasis on the 3 R’s: Relationships, respect and responsibility as these are essential core values for life.

What role does technology play in getting your students future-ready?

We have a purpose-built ICT laboratory that all students use twice a week. Our students cover both computing and programming during their lessons, and we’ve got iPads and interactive whiteboards in every classroom. The key for me though with technology is that it is there to support the learning of our students and not to dictate it.