The great big education race

International schools, ministers and education experts attended the recent Bett Show in London to discuss innovation, investment and the top destinations for education.

A child in a classroom constructing a scientific model
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Some of the challenges that international schools face, from resource optimisation to student wellbeing and upskilling, were debated by an esteemed group of international schools at the 2020 Bett Show in January.Four schools that are tackling this with gusto include ACS International in the UK and the Middle East, Branksome Hall Asia in South Korea, Swedish boarding school Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL) and Sri KDU International School in Malaysia.

Creating future-ready schools 

Carina Nilsson, principal at SSHL for 12-18-year-olds described how her school is adapting to what the future student will look like, with emphasis on collaboration and problem-solving skills. “We want to use our smart young brains and encourage them to cooperate with companies and universities to create real solutions in Sweden and hopefully for the world,” she said.While Graeme Lawrie, partnerships director at ACS International, demonstrated the school’s unique corporate partner model it has in place to get students ready for industry. He explained, “We want to enhance the learning journey for everyone and technology has been a huge opportunity for ACS. We borrow equipment from companies and encourage students to learn from different company technologies and use their services to develop work-ready skills.”Spring Issue 2020 out nowSri KDU has also shaken up its education system with some of its students even acting as teachers to help marginalised communities learn English. Principal Maggie Rafee noted that not only do their pupils learn valuable communication skills and assist their communities, but they also learn relevant tools for work, such as Google Plus and G Suite, and how to create and organise learning resources.
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Continuing on the theme of social impact, director of learning technologies, Terry McAdams, showed how Branksome Hall is breeding innovators at an early age with its students learning to design wind turbines. “Our students are learning to use 3D printers and routers. Some have even built a wind tunnel and they can test their designs and discover how to solve real-world problems in our quest to become a carbon-free school,” he said.Mr McAdams also shared how the school is enabling its students to solve challenges closer to home, with student wellbeing being a growing issue for all schools. He added, “We can’t convince enough students and teachers that sleep is important for learning, so we are developing a prototype Oura ring that monitors sleep quality. We’re hoping that students can improve their sleep and, therefore, how they learn.”Other inventions in progress that are being led by the students include a meditation headset to try to reduce anxiety among students and teachers.

Building cities for relocation

Several countries were represented at the UK’s largest education and technology show this year, with each country pavilion highlighting investment areas and where they lead on education. Hailing itself the ‘City of Education’ was Moscow, signposting its focus on equipping international students for a career in science and engineering, while its Department of Education showed how the city is working with industry to provide a uniquely practical and engaging study experience. Norway emphasised the use of education technology in its classrooms and 3D learning. Coding, robotics and creativity were championed by Korea and Japan, while leadership was emphasised by Hungary, France and Spain. The dominant global presence was however from the MEA, with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE all unveiling their education ambitions.

Creating choice in the Middle East and Africa

In his session Rethinking MEA Education, Dr Abdulla Al Karam of Dubai school regulator Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) touched on the growth of the education market in the Middle East and Africa (MEA). “Dubai has around 280 schools all offering different curriculums, but going forward we need to offer a different type of school. Excess seats now exist, so it has become a parent’s market in terms of choice, but we need to widen that choice to create more diverse options. Schools in the UAE, particularly Dubai, need to differentiate,” he said.Historically, regulatory environments have often proved problematic for schools setting up in the region, added global education consultant and teacher at Dwight School Dubai, Evo Hannan – but this is now changing.

Relocate's Guide to International Education & Schools 2019/20, the Guide to Education & Schools in the UK 2019 & the Guide to Education & Schools in APAC 2017 are invaluable resources for parents, employers & the professionals supporting them. 

“The MEA is creating more favourable regulatory environments in a bid to diversify economies that have typically been resource-dependent. There is also now a real willingness to pay for high- quality international education and for parents to put their incomes directly into their children’s future. Furthermore, UAE states such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi now have many mid-priced offerings, as opposed to say Singapore and Hong Kong, which are primarily expensive school markets,” he said.One predominant area MEA countries are investing in is digital and vocational skills that are aligned with industry and can help guarantee students work on completion; an area the Middle East, in particular, has previously been dragging its heels on. “Vocational education is a large growing area for us in that it is mainly being led by the utility companies,” notes Dr Al Karan. “We have seen many companies in Dubai setting up their own education institutions in-house, so I think we will see more vocational jobs and even more demand for vocational learning.”

Wellbeing concern heightens 

A repeated theme throughout the event was student wellbeing. Dr Al Karan asserted that wellbeing was no longer an option in the MEA, but a vital component of a student’s life. A series of wellbeing pillars are now being championed across schools in the UAE due to a recent student KHDA consensus. These pillars include: diet and health, sleep quality, and human connection and friendships.Student wellbeing was also a concern among most international schools in attendance, with a Young Minds report estimating that one in three students have a diagnosable mental health condition and approximately 90 per cent of school leaders seeing an increase in the number of students showing low-mood, anxiety, stress and depression.

Saudi Arabia's digital future 

With the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 underway, a session led by Dr Abdullatif Mohammed illustrated how digital transformation will help to realise the country’s vision for infrastructure and ‘human capital’. With more than 50 per cent of Saudi’s population being under age 30, the need for harvesting future-ready skills has become a matter of urgency.Saudi Arabia has the largest GDP in the Middle East according to Investopedia and it’s throwing some monetary weight to see this vision through. It is starting off with the building of a rather ambitious ‘futuristic megacity’ called Neom, which will be completed in 2025. “$500 billion is being invested in the city – 30 times the size of Manhattan – an insane amount of investment. The Middle East and Africa are very focused on investing in education right now,” added Mr Hannan.“This digital transformation strategy,” he adds “is being borne out of the kingdom’s dependence on oil and its need to invest in a digital economy. Saudi Arabia is building on its education, but also better local knowledge, digital health and education, more automated processes and broadening its digital administration processes within all sectors.”

Smarter Schools in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi programme called Future Gate – to promote digital learning, project work and technology-based learning at K12 – also aims to certify about 1,000 teachers by 2022 to teach with digital technology, as well as create up to 10,990 smart classrooms. The initiative will provide digital learning resources and transform traditional school settings to encourage collaboration via virtual classrooms.Mr Hannan discussed ongoing plans to create ‘smart schools’ that are connected to fire departments, health facilities and medical care, where data can also be shared and stored to improve student support services. 

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