The Nexus Learner: learning without limits

In 2020, the Nexus International School (Singapore) moved to its new 12-storey campus in Aljunied. Educators at the Apple Distinguished School collaborated with architects to create a school with innovative learning at its heart with spaces that function as third educators.

Imagine heading into a learning space without classroom walls. The area is filled with vibrant colours and unconventional furniture choices for a school. Learners are sprawled across couches, quirky stairs-like tiered seating, bean bags and recliner armchairs. You notice a few walls and shelves that offer some loose separation, but they are covered with whiteboards filled with scribbles, writings and ideas. Glance over to the windows and there are also little notes here and there in marker. Looking around, learners are huddled in small groups with their iPads as they buzz with excitement, discussing their work and thinking about new ideas. Sounds unheard of for a classroom?
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What Nexus does differently

“The only constant in life is change,” says philosopher Heraclitus. With the added interconnectivity of the internet, there is a collective awareness of change in the world, and it is not always received well. However, Nexus was determined to be different by flowing with the evolving times.“When we started Nexus, it was with the intention of making sure that what we do here is different from all other international schools,” shares President of Taylor’s Schools, BK Gan. “We have the learner’s outcome in mind and wanted a school that has a very open and entrepreneurial way, allowing students to explore their passions and develop a real love of learning.”As educators, Nexus strives to cultivate learners who are ready for anything they may face in the future. The school nurtures resilient and confident learners who embrace diversity and they are taught to think, respond, evaluate and take responsibility for their learning. Nexus asks not the traditional question of what the learners want to be when they grow up, but what problems they want to solve.“What I love about our learners here is that they have a good sense of change,” comments Principal Lachlan MacKinnon. “We adults tend to be a little bit fearful of what change brings, but Nexus’ learners do not fear it.”Nexus cultivates life skills and soft skills within its learners by challenging some of the outdated, traditional schools’ ways and reimagining them in many creative ways. When Nexus learners come to school, they are not assigned desks and chairs. Instead, they are encouraged to move around the learning spaces so that they can collaborate with their peers and teachers more easily. This set-up cultivates independence and allows learners to decide where they feel most productive and comfortable. This choice keeps them more interested and engaged, resulting in better wellbeing, and consequently, better learning outcomes. Additionally, learners feel extra secure as they have a subliminal awareness that within Nexus, the school is their “oyster” and the staff they have around them will support them in all they do.“I think our approach to learning is very modern,” says BK Gan. “It is based on extensive expert educational research and encompasses a distinct forward-looking, growth mindset. The idea is to have a very innovative and entrepreneurial perspective to start with, and the environment you are in drives that.”The IB programme that Nexus uses as its core curriculum bolsters the direction of the school. The programme follows an IB learner profile, which also has a focus on developing individuals who are well-rounded and excellent beyond their academic successes. At Nexus, children around 4 years old may start in the IB Primary Years Programme and this goes up to Year 6. Learners then subsequently progress into secondary school in Year 7, studying the IB Middle Years Programme until Year 9. The learner then pursues a two-year International General Certificate of Secondary Education programme in Years 10 and 11, with the oldest learners finally taking the IB Diploma Programme in Years 12 and 13. However, while the IB programme may seem focused on other aspects of a learner, it is also well known to be a challenging and comprehensive programme for students.“You can argue that the IB programme is the most rigorous curriculum in the world,” says Lachlan MacKinnon, who has worked with several variations of the IB programme in Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Britain. “It certainly sets students up to be university ready. The IB curriculum is truly one that goes deeper than just knowledge and understanding. It is the application and inquiry that challenge kids to think and respond in an innovative way.”Beyond the physical environment, Nexus also establishes an open-minded and accepting environment. “Nexus believes in the freedom to think and express oneself without the fear of mistakes,” says BK Gan. “As such, every opportunity can be a learning experience, so creativity is limitless.”BK Gan also shares an anecdote about a kindergartener’s comment during one of Nexus’ conferences on global warming. The young learner suggested that a building be made of a giant sponge to syphon off floodwaters. While some may find the idea funny, it is actually a great example of the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that Nexus tries to cultivate in its learners. “They can mix and match their ideas, and that is where we want to challenge them.”Nexus learners are further supported by a technology-rich curriculum. As one of the only five Apple Distinguished Schools in Singapore (amongst 689 schools across 36 countries), Nexus is recognised as a centre of innovation, leadership and educational excellence that demonstrates extraordinary commitment to best practice when exploring the potential of technology to enhance teaching and learning. Not only is technology increasingly regarded as a basic skill, but it is also an enabler to make learning more interactive and collaborating simpler. Nexus learners are equipped with iPads and MacBook Pros and are complemented by displays that are AirPlay compatible. The campus is also filled with ViewSonic screens that allow learners to write directly on them and present their work from.

The importance of connections

Learners are the key focus of Nexus. The school prioritises positive and restorative environments that are welcoming and conducive to learning. Nexus believes that if learners are enjoying their learning journey, they will naturally excel in their academic performance as well.The school is also keenly aware of the needs of children at different stages of their lives. As younger learners in Early Years and Primary tend to focus on fun, classes have a high focus on inquiry-based learning and high engagement during classes. Nexus teachers ensure that these young learners have high levels of agency during class and aim to make lessons enjoyable. However, as children hit puberty and mature, they start to have new and different needs. Nexus teachers aim to support and guide these learners as they go through confusing and tough challenges. In Secondary, there is a greater sensitivity in establishing an emotionally and physically safe environment for learners, which is key to developing independent, confident and successful learners.Nexus’ Care Movement encourages learners to take care of themselves and others, as well as the world. It holds regular in-campus conferences on pressing global issues such as global warming and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “A lot of times, we talk about global issues such as climate change and everyone thinks that big companies or the government should take care of such problems,” says BK Gan. “If each of us does our little part, we can make a huge difference in the world around us."
This article is included in the  Autumn issue of Think Global People magazine (5831k) .

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