Established in 1936, St George’s Preparatory certainly has evolved since its founding years as an all-boys boarding Preparatory School in Port Elizabeth. Education certainly has changed since the early days when our first headmaster, Raymond Hutchison, arrived from Cape Town from Western Province Preparatory School in 1936. The original manor house, Knockfernia, still stands tall in our corner of Park Drive and resembles strongly our heritage. However, much has changed since then and our humble dame reminds us of this on a daily basis!

During the well-known YouTube clip, “Shift Happens” 1, it mentions, “We are currently preparing pupils for jobs that do not exist … using technologies that have not been invented… in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet”.  It also claims that a student starting a four year technical degree, will find that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study!

Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, claims, “Teaching matters, learning matters more, mastery matters most!” He further elaborates on this during his TED Talk- Play, passion, purpose2. This is not too dissimilar from Einstein’s hypothesis that, “The formulation of the problem is often more important than the solution.”

For research, Tony spoke to a wide range of people– corporate heads to college students: he found that the habits of heart are still very important, and there are a set of core competencies that are essential to thrive in the new century.

Critical thinking for instance, is now required not just by the elite, but by everybody.  BUT are we teaching it, and are we assessing it?    The most important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to ask really good questions.  The problem is, schools today generally ask students, whether they have good answers, and not questions!

Tony provides Seven Survival Skills for Careers, College and Citizenship in the 21st Century

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurship
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
  6. Accessing and Analysing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

How do we educate for innovation and educate to provide students these skills?   What would it mean to create an innovation culture in our schools?  Again these are the questions we need to ask.  

For most, creativity has been buried by rules and regulations. Our educational system was designed during the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago, to train us to be good workers and follow instructions. Sir Ken Robinson’s thoughts on this are well represented in the RSA Animate, Changing Education Paradigms, found on You Tube.3     

Sir Ken Robinson, in his book, Creative schools4, mentions the following: “The challenge is not to reform education but to transform it.  As we face a very uncertain future, the answer is not to do better what we’ve done before.  We have to do something else.”

New research suggests that the traditional ‘carrot-and-stick approach’ which focuses on rewarding sought after behaviours and punishing the behaviours you wish to discourage, may actually inhibit creativity, diminish performance and result in short-term, narrow thinking.

Dan Pink, in his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us5, further proposes a revised approach to motivation which focuses on the innate human needs to direct our own lives (autonomy), to learn and create new things (mastery), and to do better by ourselves and our world (purpose).

Daniel Pink expands on this idea in A Whole New Mind (2005) and defines Economic Development as:
1. Agriculture Age (farmers)
2. Industrial Age (factory workers)
3. Information Age (knowledge workers)
4. Conceptual Age (creators and empathisers)

In Pink’s eyes, the evolution from the 18th century Agriculture Age (farmers), to 19th century Industrial Age (factory workers), to 20th century Information Age (knowledge workers) will give rise to the 21st century Conceptual Age (creators and empathisers). To succeed in the Conceptual Age, Pink believes we will need to complement our reasoning with six essential aptitudes:

  • Design – stretching beyond the creation of a functional product, service, experience or lifestyle to create something that is beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging
  • Story – going beyond data to persuade, communicate and create self-understanding by creating a compelling narrative
  • Symphony – seeing the big picture and figuring out how to combine disparate pieces into a new whole
  • Empathy – understanding other people’s perspective and responding with emotional intelligence
  • Play – seizing the health and professional benefits of laughter, light heartedness, games and humour
  • Meaning – moving beyond material plenty to pursuing purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfilment

None of this is new, or particularly surprising; it has been spoken about for almost as long as all of us have been involved in education. What is surprising though, is what little is actively being done about it or the fear we all experience, particularly heads of schools, to actually action the changes that are so desperately required. Where then does this leave us in the education space today? Whilst at St George’s Preparatory we do not have all the answers, the one thing we do accept, is that we need to become life-long learners and we need to be brave enough never to accept the status quo at the detriment of the individual children in our care.  

We have initiated an intentional focus on our curriculum and in particular our learning spaces over the next three years as we grapple with all of this. The banks and the corporate worlds of the early 1900’s are a mere shadow of their former selves today in the 21st century.  How much change in the educational environment has been noticed? Sadly, not enough!

The following graphics where taken from an article written by @educationrickshaw- After 100 Years of the Same Teaching Model It’s Time to Throw Out the Playbook.6

Each of these three education models – the 1950s, 1990s and today – were made on Canva. The idea of “the arrow” was first shared with by @NigelJWinnard from Intentional Learning.7

“With the world of knowledge now available at our students’ fingertips, and in a time when we’re certain that the workforce of the future is going to look completely different from what it does now, it’s time to reject the status quo of how we design learning opportunities for our students. Seeing as we are already well into the 21st Century, my hope is that once and for all we put an end to the 20th century mindset of the teacher as the keeper of knowledge and our students as the passive consumers of information.”– Zach Groshell @mrzachg

There are no clear-cut answers to our initial dilemma of, how do we best prepare our pupils for the future. We do, however, believe that creativity certainly is a great place to start!  So let us try to celebrate creativity and give our boys and girls the space and freedom in which to do it! As with many schools we are reassessing the value of homework, questioning the merits of examinations and now only offer examinations in Grade 6 and 7 in only Mathematics, First Language and First Additional Language.  We are also addressing our methods of assessments and are moving into a more collaborative space.

We have recently embarked on classroom renovations to suitably match our way of thinking. This project alone was a wonderful exercise in collaboration, flexibility and agility, problem solving and of course curiosity and imagination- I am sure Tony Wagner would have been very proud! As with many schools no doubt, budget limitations are the most trying in a process like this and the need to get “the best bang for your buck” is always in the forefront of your mind as well as your Governing Council’s.  It really is a blessing to have a forward thinking board of governors who recognise that change is imminent, and who want to lead rather than follow. Whilst there are more and more companies entering the classroom furniture space that is suitable for our needs, most of them are European based and with the exchange rate, quite frankly are not affordable for most schools.

Living in Port Elizabeth is wonderful, but sadly it does present limitations regarding the amount of suitable contractors, suppliers, manufacturers etc. available with the specific requirements a job of this nature provides.  We are “The Friendly City” but perhaps service delivery could improve; promises of quotes and site visits were very slow in coming. Some honest advice would also be to recognise that “builders shut down” is exactly that, and despite all good intentions, December and January whilst best suited for schools is not the best time to attempt such projects.  A team made up of the Headmaster, Head of Senior Prep, Head of Junior Prep, and Class teachers worked closely together to decide exactly what it was they wanted their classrooms to look like. The addition of a designer, as well as the visionary input of the manufacturing company’s founders who supplied much of the cabinetry work and furniture completed our team.

We decided to embark on a journey with a local company whose, philosophy was not to dissimilar to ours and creativity and intelligent use of space were integral to both functionality and design.  It also was a wonderful opportunity to support local business during a time where the economy, particularly in our city with many small businesses is struggling.

We have also been challenged with the pace and integration of ICT with our curriculum for a number of factors, perhaps the greatest being suitable and sustainable bandwidth. Part of the vision to enhance collaboration for our staff and pupils meant that:

  • firstly we needed reliable bandwidth that would efficiently service all our needs on campus
  • secondly, we had to ensure a robust firewall and Wi-Fi management system were in place
  • Finally, we needed to find a suitable Learning Management System, easily manageable for Prep School pupils and staff

We have finally been able to resolve all of the above mentioned challenges and have fibre running into our network.  Through our Palo Alto Network firewall and the ClearPass solution from HPE Aruba, we are now able to maintain Network oversight of which URLs are being accessed and we can set clear policy that is unique to our pupil and staff make up. We became an official Google Apps for Education School at the start of 2016 and the logical progression was to use Google Classroom for our Learning Management System.  At Prep school level we found Google Classrooms intuitive abilities and cross device connectivity a perfect solution for our staff and pupils.

We have been walking this journey for three years now and we are very excited to have the types of learning spaces we wanted and the connectivity required.  We are really looking forward to an exciting year of innovation, differentiated learning and hopefully collaboration of a higher level, not only from our pupils, but our staff and parents too, both internally and externally.

As Mohatma Gandhi once said:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

We really do hope that this small change will begin to change the way we think about what we are doing for our entire community, pupils, parents and staff!

Alex Hall

Campus Head- St George’s Preparatory

Reference:

  1. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT2D-6-7kS
  2. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvDjh4l-VHo
  3. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
  4. Creative Schools- Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica
  5. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us- Dan Pink
  6. See http://bit.ly/100yearssameteaching
  7. See https://nigeljwinnard.wordpress.com/

Gallery – New St George’s Classrooms