Full STEAM ahead: international schools foster critical thinking and creativity

How are international schools engaging students with STEAM subjects to answer business demand for employees with transferrable problem-solving skills and creativity, and the increased interest of in recent grads in tech and innovation jobs?

The British School Warsaw, Poland

The British School Warsaw

As we move into Fourth Industrial Revolution and with the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), STEM has been firmly on the radar in international education, with a particular emphasis on getting more girls involved in traditionally male-dominated professions, such as engineering. More recently, STEAM, which incorporates the arts, has been considered highly desirable by global businesses who are looking for the next generation of multi-skilled innovators. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that during the next 10 to 20 years “14% of jobs are at high risk of being fully automated, while another 32% at risk of significant change”, meaning that STEAM skills will play an increasingly important role in the global workforce. The latest figures from employer branding specialist Universum's annual benchmarking study into graduate careers have found that many STEM graduates are looking beyond traditional engineering roles and moving towards innovative, technology-driven companies.Traditionally, STEM-related jobs have been in male-dominated industries, so how can educators boost the future talent pool for STEM-related roles or other areas of work where females are underrepresented? Dr Sue Shortland, professor emerita, London Metropolitan University, says “When we are looking at girls in education and preparing them for the future, it is really important that they are given the opportunity to study the science-based subjects. Work that has been done by the Women and Work Commission led by Baroness Prosser indicates that schools tend to push young women into certain types of careers, which are the five c’s – catering, cleaning, caring, cashiering and clerical. It is therefore important that the career advice girls are given directs them into a wider field of study beyond the five C’s.”School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsInternational schools around the world are investing in STEAM education, curating innovative programmes and events to excite students about careers in STEM and STEAM – and to encourage more girls into these fields. We look at a selection of international schools that are at the forefront of STEAM education. 

ACS International Schools, UK and Qatar

ACS International Schools believe that technology of all kinds can be used positively in education as a force for good. Its schools use technology to develop the four C's: communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. ACS Hillingdon has an IT Lab on campus, with a classroom designed specifically to galvanise students' creativity through the collaboration of traditional learning techniques with IT and mobile technology. ACS International Schools acknowledge that to study engineering at university, for example, students need to have a background in at least one STEM subject. However, it believes that the arts can play a vital role in developing a pioneering and creative mindset – an essential aptitude in engineering and business. At ACS Egham, parents and business leaders are often invited to give talks to the students. Andrew Vaughan, head of art at ACS Egham, says, “I was delighted to hear one CEO of a global bank saying that they are just as likely to recruit someone who has an art degree as one in maths, because their business is looking for innovators; people who can synthesise ideas and come up with new options.”Vaughan adds, “We are extremely lucky at ACS to have robust, well-resourced art provision, and see it as a vital part of every child's education. We embed art across the curriculum and consider it an essential partner with science learning. We talk about the importance of STEAM learning, not STEM.”

British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park, USA

Part of the Nord Anglia Education (NAE) Group, British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park (BISC-LP) has been an early adopter of the STEAM movement. The school also collaborates with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and aims to enhance the teaching of STEAM by connecting MIT innovation and culture with the school. STEAM leader, Tom Collins, explains, “The importance of STEAM comes at a time when colleges such as MIT are lamenting the lack of ‘outside the box’ thinking from undergraduate students. Knowing how to use technology or complete complex mathematics; being able to use the scientific method or engineer simple products does not mean that one is using creative thinking. Innovation comes from human experience and human experience happens through engaging with the arts.”Every spring term, Nord Anglia students visit MIT to immerse themselves in a culture of hands-on problem-solving. The children meet leading MIT scientists, build and experiment in workshops and learn about the new discoveries that will shape their future. Activities during the MIT visit include everything from building robots, to bioengineering, to coding. The students also have a chance to visit MIT and Harvard, allowing them to experience student life at one of these prestigious universities. 

British International School Warsaw, Poland

In a move designed to bring STEAM to the forefront of its curriculum, The British School Warsaw (TBS) hosted the first Europe and Middle East regional Nord Anglia MIT Steam Festival in collaboration with MIT in June 2019. The theme of the event was ‘Pioneers of Tomorrow’ and the festival aimed to expose NAE students to the MIT way of thinking, with a vision to ‘Prepare the Pioneers of Tomorrow’ and to invent the future. The festival hosted more than 200 students from 12 schools from around the Middle East and Europe. Students attended a five-day schedule of STEAM-related workshops run by TBS teachers and visiting expert speakers. STEAM courses are designed to encourage the design-thinking process, promote collaboration and nurture creativity in learners. The workshops exposed students to a range of STEAM technologies – those in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics – and creative approaches to problem-solving. Following the workshops, the students took part in a team project to complete a set challenge and task in just one day. A student showcase and closing ceremony then took place on the final day.Summarising the success of the festival, Andy Puttock, group education director of NAE, says, “I am delighted that we now have STEAM festivals to support our ongoing collaboration with MIT in all our NAE regions. As we prepare our students for the changing world ahead of them, there is no doubt that the need to create links between all aspects of their studies, to learn in an interdisciplinary fashion and to identify problems and issues as well as find solutions, will be essential for the future. This collaboration and these festivals are right at the heart of our mission to help them develop these skills.” 

The International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

The learning environment created at The International School of Kuala Lumpur’s (ISKL) new smart campus in the heart of Kuala Lumpur has been shaped by the latest in global best practice and educational research. The 26-acre campus, which opened in 2018, creates opportunities for students and faculty to collaborate, which ISKL believes is key to effective learning. The campus was designed to support and foster engagement – creating learning spaces that provide flexibility, inspire ideas and allow opportunities for interaction and connectivity. Collaborative areas, maker spaces and common spaces related to areas of study are integral to the school’s design, as well as its inquiry-based curriculum.The interactive technologies incorporated into the classroom experience and the behind-the-scenes advanced IT infrastructure provide students with a learning environment designed to stimulate ideas, innovation, and creativity both now and into the future.ISKL is the first school in Malaysia designed to achieve a platinum Green Building Index (GBI) rating for sustainable design. Environmental education is embedded in the curriculum and the new campus has been designed to provide students with real-life learning experiences. For example: elements of the building management system act as a teaching tool to show the school’s real-time resource consumption which encourages students to look for ways to save energy.Critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to collaborate constructively are important components of STEAM at ISKL. Elementary school students benefit from interactive lessons in a unique ‘maker space’ – which enables students to put thinking into action and experience real-world problem-solving. For example, skills learned in mathematics are put into practice in the maker space when designing and measuring a model building and the study of weather patterns are brought to life by creating rain gauges from recycled water bottles. Design technology laboratories in the middle and high school encourage students to learn, create and innovate together. Outcomes show the effectiveness of interdisciplinary learning in developing thinking strategies, teaching students to analyse information, synthesise input and meaningfully reflect on their learning. 

Jerudong International School, Brunei 

Jerudong International School (JIS) provides students with a solid academic foundation so that they have the exam results required to apply to the world’s best universities. However, within the academic curriculum and also in addition to it, it implements a range of programmes and extra-curricular activities to challenge and inspire students – providing them with leadership opportunities and the critical-thinking skills, tools and confidence to be able to adapt to the different environments they will find themselves in the future.Nicholas Sheehan, principal, explains, “Brunei is a quiet country, which has allowed us to develop a thriving co-curricular programme within the school. This includes the award-winning Outdoor Discovery Centre, an outdoor ‘jungle’ classroom, the management of which is led by a team of students.” The CCA (Co-Curricular Activity) programme at Jerudong International School is a vital part of the overall educational experience at JIS, with more than 300 activities on offer. Also, the final week of the academic year is an Enrichment Week where students can select an activity which is off-curriculum. This could be in school e.g. at the Outdoor Discovery Centre, drama-based, entrepreneurial, cooking; in Brunei, scuba diving shipwrecks and coral reefs or discovering the country as part of a photography course; or outside Brunei, such as its Gold IA (Duke of Edinburgh) award trip to China and Tibet, or the Borneo Project to Sabah or a Drama trip to California. Many of these activities encourage skills that are crucial to supporting STEAM subjects. 

Shanghai Community International School, China

Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) has a hands-on approach to teaching new technology, including robotics. As a spokesperson explains,“As we witness the growth of the fourth industrial revolution, robotics – specifically the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) programme – is one way for us as educators to provide our students with an engaging platform that can help them develop complex thinking skills. Designing and programming a robot to solve missions provides students with a fun way to build competencies around computer programming and robotics, while exercising their logical and analytical reasoning skills. The fast-paced, iterative design process requires students to try, fail, and try again, using the immediate feedback they receive after they run their code to help them reach their desired solution.“This year at SCIS, the technology coordinator at our Pudong Campus, Barry Johnson was also able to bring the FLL into our lower school as an after-school activity. Seeing the influence robotics has in areas like student perseverance, creativity and innovation was exciting, even at this young age. Next year, the goal is to provide our high school students with a similar programme, where they design and build robots. We feel it is important for them to understand how to engage with the technological advances they will encounter and learn how to adapt to them.”

Tanglin Trust School, Singapore

Dr. Richard Forster, Head of Science Faculty at Tanglin Trust School explains that the school is “fortunate to be in the heart of the vibrant science, technology and media hub of Singapore, enabling us to enhance our STEM curriculum through building many opportunities for students to work with our neighbours.”The senior school's enriching STEM Club regularly hosts guest speakers, ranging from Singapore-based research leaders to Tanglin alumni, who share the wonder and challenges of their profession. Students also see cutting-edge science in the real world, for example visiting laboratories looking into developing a dengue vaccine and bioinformatics laboratories that use computational methods to support the drug discovery process. 

The American School in England, UK

The American School in England (TASIS) offers students an international education, which includes a strong emphasis on technology and innovation. A spokesperson explains, “At TASIS we believe in preparing our students for the ‘Day After TASIS’. Technology plays a major role in the lives of our students, regardless of their professional and academic pathways. TASIS embraces technology in the classroom and uses it to enhance learning throughout the School. For example, devices are used in the middle and upper schools, and specific classes such as coding, robotics, and engineering are offered in our day and co-curricular programmes. “To achieve technological and digital citizenship, TASIS offers our upper school students courses like Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS). ITGS prepares our students by facilitating a greater understanding of the social and ethical implications of how we, as a society, use technology, and the importance of using it responsibly.“Our guest speakers range from Google executives to representatives of securities companies who develop surveillance software for governmental organisations such as MI5, the FBI and the CIA. The exposure to real-world understanding, as well as misunderstandings, gives our students the higher-level thinking skills to scrutinise and evaluate the information that is presented to them constantly in their everyday lives.”Among its classroom facilities, TASIS boasts MakerSpaces in which to design, prototype and create, as well as The Centre for Innovation, Inspiration, and Exploration. Students are invited to use the centre’s resources, including the resin 3-D printer, to realise STEM projects and other approved activities.

The York School, Canada 

Based in Toronto, The York School has a progressive approach to education and a school-wide commitment to innovation. Anthony Westenberg, communications and marketing, says, “We offer a culture of creativity that inspires teachers and students to think differently, explore confidently and adapt skillfully. This approach means that we are constantly searching for technological opportunities that will enhance learning.”Led by its Learning, Technology & Innovation department, the school constantly adapts to technological opportunities that arise and responds with new initiatives and programmes. It regularly assesses the needs of its community and participates in a rigorous process of goal setting and reflection each year.The York School’s Wellness team and Learning, Technology & Innovation department created Digital Citizenship Resources, which provide best practices and address risk factors involved with children on social media. Westenberg adds, “We see many wonderful educational and community-building opportunities through social media and incorporate them into our classrooms when we can, but we also ensure students from a young age understand the responsibility that comes with having an online presence.”These are just some of the exciting initiatives that international schools offer. For families considering going on or currently on a relocation assignment, they can be confident that international schools are recognising the need to invest in STEAM education, providing students with global opportunities.
Relocate Guide to International Education & Schools 2019/20 watch the video
This article is from Relocate Global's Guide to International Education & Schools 2019/20 which is packed with expert tips and information for those relocating and the professionals supporting them. 
For volume options, co-branded editions, digital or online licence agreements and advertising opportunities, contact Fiona Murchie at +44 (0)1892 891334 or email fiona@relocatemagazine.com 
Relocate Global Guide to International Education and Schools 2019 2020

Now available as an ebook on Amazon! Simply download from Amazon onto your Kindle, mobile phone or tablet to read wherever you are!

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online DirectoryFor more education and school-related news, visit our Education and Schools pages.© 2019. This article first appeared in the 2019/20 edition of the Guide to International Education & Schools published by Relocate Global, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Relocate Global. Relocate Global accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.