If a school is to adequately prepare its students for a future described more accurately by its unknowns than its knowns, then it must include 21st Century ‘survival’ skills such as those researched by Harvard’s Dr Tony Wagner:
- Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving – requires the ability to comprehend and critique, value evidence
- Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence – includes the need to understand other cultures and perspectives
- Agility and Adaptability – in order to respond to changing demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline
- Initiative and Entrepreneurship - the ability to think and act independently
- Effective Oral and Written Communication – use technology strategically and capably
- Accessing and Analysing Information – exercise judgement and sceptism
- Curiosity and Imagination – build strong relevant content knowledge
In designing its curriculum and selecting its methodology, schools should have at the top of mind:
- Strategies to encourage pupils to collaborate in seeking solutions
- Helping pupils (and teachers) to understand that there is often no one right answer
- Help children to understand that they are expected to support their views with carefully assessed evidence
- Encourage pupils to take risks and make mistakes – this is when real learning takes place
The last point is one of the most important. It’s what we mean when we talk about ‘safe space’. It’s heart-breaking to see how children learn to take satisfaction out of other’s mistakes in order to falsely bolster their own self-image.
The above skills seek to address a future where traditional employment in industries such as apparel manufacturing, textile mills and products, chemical manufacturing (except drugs), oil and gas extraction and steel manufacturing are declining rapidly.
Schools do not currently provide adequate skills for tertiary education or the complexity of the digital workspace. The US Department of Labour asserts that an estimated 85% of current jobs and almost 90% of the fastest, often growing and best-paying jobs now require a post-secondary education. Future employment opportunities will lie in macro robotics, exotic energy, new material science, machine cognition, nano technology and bioengineering. We should also understand that economic gravity is shifting from the West to the East:
In developing children, schools have the following elements at their disposal:
- Curriculum – what is taught
- Methodology – how it is taught
- Staff – who does the teaching
- Environment – physical (shape, design and interiors of buildings, open spaces; ethos – the conscious and subliminal messages to which children are exposed while at school)
All subjects have a core curriculum for languages and Maths. In addition to the prescribed topics in the other subjects, there are themes such as the environment, human rights and social transformation (Apartheid, slavery), conservation of natural resources and so on. The core curriculum content serves to ensure that the children have the foundational knowledge on which to develop the more complex concepts introduced with further secondary and tertiary study.
There is also a curriculum of dozens of skills including, e.g.
- identifying the main idea
- various IT skills
- presentation skills, and so on
The combination of themes and skills give teachers the freedom to allow children to choose topics closer to their areas of interest.We want children to remember what they learn and this happens when they are interested in the material.Providing children with a list of facts to be memorised and then regurgitated is a test of only memory, just one part of what makes up intelligence. Moreover, in most cases, the ‘facts’ are quickly forgotten.Afterall, who remembers what they learnt in History in Standard Five, Seven or even Eight?
Curriculum - Thinking Skills
Why is the teaching of ‘thinking’ allocated periods on the timetable from Grade 0 – 7 at St Peter’s?
Would this time not be better spent on Maths or languages?
The teaching of thinking techniques was introduced to the St Peter’s curriculum nearly 30 years ago in the 1990s. At that time, the Girls Prep had not been opened and the Head of the Boys Prep had been peripherally involved through the de Bono Foundation in a project involving labour at the Lonrho Platinum mines in the Rustenburg area. Miners had been trained in some of Dr Edward de Bono’s thinking techniques with impressive results. Miners began to exhibit better decision-making in spending their monthly salaries. For many, the salary began to last until the end of the month, reliance on loans decreased, alcohol consumption declined as did domestic violence.
The renowned Dr Edward de Bono, the father of Lateral Thinking’ was visiting South Africa. He had heard of the St Peter’s thinking programme and asked to visit the school. The Head persuaded him to lecture to the staff and he eventually spent a day at the school. At the time, de Bono held professorships at both Cambridge and Harvard and had consulted to some of the world’s largest corporations, at a cost of $13 000 - $18 000 per day. The boys were so excited that they grabbed anything to hand for him to autograph – two even presented their boxers!
St Peter’s teachers had long realised that children (and many adults) often responded to challenges and other opinions with very narrow thinking. They sometimes saw only the positive or the negative in a situation. They were quick to stereotype or responded emotionally in anger, fear or contempt. Like most of us, they would seek information which confirmed their belief and ignore contrary facts. Decision-making based on limited thinking can have dire consequences for individuals, families and societies. Examples abound: buying an expensive car to the detriment of one’s daily living expenses; some of the Lockdown regulations; not practicing safe sex, surrendering to peer pressure to experiment with drugs.
More latterly we have realised that with access to information and the instant transmission of news and opinions that social media allows the need for discernment and judgement, had become more critical than ever.
Over the past two decades, the cognitive education (Thinking Skills) curriculum at St Peter’s has grown substantially. Initially, rooted in de Bono’s Six Hats, PNI (Positive, Negative and Interesting), it now includes David Hyerle’s Thinking Maps. The programme has two chief objectives. Firstly, it teaches the ability to group, sequence, compare and analyse information. Secondly, it encourages pupils to think about an issue or problem from more than one standpoint. That is, the beneficial, cautionary, creative, emotive, factual and analytical.
The obvious benefits have become increasingly apparent over time and are evident in class discussions and test answers. What we had not anticipated, however, was the feedback from senior schools following the Grade 7 interviews for application to their preferred senior schools. Staff at these schools report a high level of confidence and maturity in St Peter’s student’s responses. Some go as far as to say that they are able to identify a St Peter’s child merely on meeting him/her without seeing the uniform.
Next Edition: Methodology, Staff and Environment