Future-proofing students

Article by Robert Marshall, Deputy Principal: Director of Teaching and Learning
St Catherine's School, Victoria / 03 February 2021

The coronavirus pandemic is without doubt, a defining moment, the effect of which will be felt for years to come; the impact upon schools, significant. None the less, schools are optimistic places and are always looking towards the future. With that in mind, St Catherine’s School is thinking about what is next.

Operating our school in the [email protected] environment has compelled us to consider how we might operate differently in the future. There are major implications in how we might teach, what curriculum we would provide and the organisational structures we will function within.

Even before the pandemic, we had been investigating what learning might look like in the next few years. The review of the NSW school curriculum, Nurturing Wonder and Igniting Passion, chaired by Professor Geoff Masters from the Australian Council for Educational Research identified key findings in the report and stated that the curriculum is too dense. The Report strongly recommends:

  • De-cluttering the curriculum: Reducing content where it is needed
  • Learning with understanding: New curriculum focused on essential learning and structured to clearly show how deep learning develops from early to senior years
  • Skills in applying knowledge: Provide opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate skills in applying knowledge
  • Excellent ongoing progress: Students’ progress to new learning when they have mastered current learning.

Hot on the heels of this NSW review, is a report from the University of Melbourne, Future-Proofing Students: What they need to know and how educators can assess and credential them, which provides a compelling statement of a positive learning direction for schools.

At the centre of this report is an acknowledgement that the current model of schools with a heavy emphasis on learning and recalling content, and the narrow focus on achieving a magic ATAR number, are not enabling our students to learn those capabilities which are essential for post school life. The University report argues that, “the school models should also encompass broader social skills of communication, collaboration and ethical behaviour and the ability to perform in an intercultural environment. Personal skills, such as persistence and the capacity to use feedback and analytical skills, such as computational thinking, creativity and criticality, are also paramount.”

Further, the report adds “What is clear is that these skills cannot be learned if learning is experienced only through carefully directed, broadcast-style instruction, targeting mastery of set texts and assessed using well-rehearsed written examinations that rely on individual, intellectually focused effort.”

The current work being undertaken at St Catherine’s and an increasing emphasis on learning for understanding and ongoing adjustments of assessments which examine deep understanding of complex concepts and relationships, is reshaping our School. In turn this focus is redefining how we teach. The work we have commenced with The University of Queensland, and the Teaching for Thinking project was accelerated in the second half of 2020.

The University of Melbourne report argues we need to future-proof our students and this means “ensuring that they learn a wide range of skills, or capabilities, that will allow them to thrive in increasingly complex global workplaces.”

Our aim is for all of our students to leave school strong and confident in these capabilities.

References:

NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA), (2020), Nurturing Wonder and Igniting Passion: https://nswcurriculumreview.nesa.nsw.edu.au/home/homePageContent/view

University of Melbourne, (2020), Future-Proofing Students: What they need to know and how educators can assess and credential them: https://education.unimelb.edu.au/mgse-industry-reports/report-2-future-proofing-students