What is worth knowing – and how do we teach it?

Dr Shalini Advani, director of Pathways School Noida, India, explains the importance of a curriculum that develops skills in students which will better prepare them for the future workplace.

What is worth knowing – and how do we teach it?

Pathways

International Guide 18/19 video
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We all think we know what education in the twenty first century needs to be about. Educational reform initiatives tend to point in the direction of valuable subjects, most commonly towards STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths. Added to the mix is a new emphasis on learning to code, because coding and artificial intelligence it is believed, is where the jobs are.This, however, is an oversimplification. Not that these areas are not important, but they are insufficient for success. Proof for this comes from a surprising source: Google. In 2013 Google ran a study of promotion, hiring and firing data and were themselves astonished at what they found.For professional success at Google, STEM expertise came in last. The seven top characteristics of success were all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; working with different values and points of view; understanding and being supportive of colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.If these are critical workspace skills, the more important question is – What are we doing in schools and as educators to actively develop and teach these?School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsHistorically our education systems have been organised around individual competition, not collaboration. Testing is individual, homework must be done individually and grading is always individual. Collaboration is reserved for light-hearted project work. This is even more true for the development of personal attributes of reflection, empathy and understanding.So how can schools help students to develop these important skills? The following are a few practical suggestions that schools can implement:

Project based learning (PBL)

PBL directs students to respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge and lends itself to almost every subject. For example: begin with a question on what is a bigger danger for the health of young people – childhood obesity or malnutrition. Students conduct research on populations where either obesity or malnutrition is prevalent to discover why, what food supplies lead to it and what can be done to combat it. Reflection and group discussion may lead to the creation of an information website or an awareness campaign.

Harkness Table

This is a teaching methodology designed to promote open-ended thoughtful discussion and listening skills. In this method twelve or fourteen students sit in a circle and discuss a pre-decided topic. Students must have pre-read information and have already answered set questions.It is a method of student-led learning : ideally the teacher does not speak more than ten sentences. It can be initiated by saying, “Can you explain X?” or “Can we talk about Y”?Students can contribute in different ways – by analysing previous points, by providing information, by drawing upon what has been said to pose a follow-up question, by giving an opinion based on information.In the class, those in the circle receive a grade for each contribution. Those outside the circle make notes. Following this, all students complete a summary of learning points and are assessed in the usual way with a written assignment.

Mindfulness

In a world of high adolescent anxiety and depression, the benefits of teaching Mindfulness have been well reported. Students across the world speak of how it improves their concentration, teachers testify to a reduction in disciplinary issues and an improvement in higher order thinking.Moreover, Mindfulness in the classroom has the capacity to train students to nurture the qualities of focus, resilience, curiosity, reflection.It is clear that schools need to redesign what they define as curriculum. Teaching subject knowledge is insufficient to prepare students for the world of work. Without posing questions which have multiple answers, developing thoughtful problem solvers, we are short-changing the children we educate.Dr Advani is founding director of Pathways School Noida, India, an IB World School located on a 10 acre site in the North of India.
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