A few days ago, I met with the core academics team at Beaconhouse to review our progress since the last School of Tomorrow conference in Lahore two years ago.  I think it would not be incorrect to say that the general consensus was that, while we have made considerable progress in a number of areas, it is still a ripple in the ocean that is Beaconhouse.  The 8,000 soldiers of Beaconhouse are undoubtedly our teachers and unless each of them understands what it means to be a school of tomorrow, we have little hope.  So, while there has indeed been a paradigm shift in the thinking of people in the corporate offices of Beaconhouse since 2000 when we started organizing these conferences, our key challenge remains how we are going to cascade this new understanding to the front line – our classrooms.

The good news is that we do not have unrealistic expectations and appreciate that such fundamental change takes time.  A great deal of strategizing (followed by carefully planned implementation and change management) is required to mainstream the pockets of excellence and best practice that undoubtedly exist in many of our schools.  Let us take one such example: project-based learning at TNS Beaconhouse (established 2007), an IB school in Lahore that is the outcome of the School of Tomorrow conference of 2005.  However, it has not been an easy journey.  Even though TNS is now in its sixth academic year, it has taken time for the understanding of project-based learning (and indeed its underlying philosophy, experiential learning) to take root.  And, with due respect to the good people of TNS, the roots are still growing in strength and connectedness.

So what exactly is experiential learning – and what does it have to do with schools of tomorrow? Experiential learning is an intuitive way of learning that is timeless (certainly far older than the modern school that we all know) and encourages learning through experiences, or learning by doing.  I find that the simplest way of explaining ‘experiential learning’ to people is to offer the example of learning to drive a car.  You can read a 1,000-page manual (or textbook) on how to drive a car with detailed calculations of how much pressure to exert on the accelerator in order to attain corresponding speeds, animations of how to effectively manipulate the steering wheel to make the car turn left, and so on, but until you go through the ‘experience’ of driving a car and make a few (hopefully not fatal!) mistakes, you don’t learn to drive a car.  ‘Learning to drive a car/driving a car’ is the perfect example of learning by doing.  Indeed, Aristotle had the right idea in 384-322 BC when he said: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”  (I suppose that’s why he was Aristotle… and we’re still figuring it out 2,334 years later.)

So, even though the School of Tomorrow conferences sometimes evoke fleeting images of androids teaching human children in high-tech, virtual reality-equipped environments (and indeed some of that may be a part of it), that’s not necessarily the driving thought here.  What, then, are we talking about?

I cannot pretend to possess a blueprint for the school of tomorrow (if I did, we probably wouldn’t need to organize these conferences).  What I do know is that a school of tomorrow probably should not organize its teaching days purely on the basis of 45-minute compartments of disconnected knowledge (i.e., subjects) that are delivered in a manner devoid of any real-life context, where children learn things without knowing why they are learning them (i.e., studying complex equations on how much pressure to apply to an accelerator or a brake without ever stepping inside a car) and are ‘examined’ soon thereafter with mind-numbing questions like “If the vehicle is going at 60 miles per hour and you wish to decrease its speed by 18%, how many degrees of pressure do you need to apply to the brake?” What, I wonder, is the relevance of such decontextualized question-mongering if the child is never going to drive or, as it were, ‘do’?  (I can think of one reason: so that he may pass an exam and then wipe his memory clean.) This simple metaphor of ‘learning to drive by driving vs. studying the theory and mechanics of driving’ applies to the modern curriculum as a whole because we provide very little opportunity for application of knowledge but much emphasis on the transmission of abstract concepts.

Often, when I say things like this, people ask: “Excuse me! Aren’t your schools doing the same thing?”  My answer to this is always the same: this is not about Beaconhouse, it is not even about Pakistan.  It is about a global education system that developed in response to the industrial revolution and hasn’t changed much since.

To be continued…

  13 Responses to “School of Tomorrow – Part II”

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  8. It gives me great pleasure to appreciate yours efforts and hard work for education . I have following suggestions

    Develop an education system based on valuing variety
    Develop a partnership model for policy development
    Develop a national curriculum organised by principles and aims
    Develop an education system based on evaluation being inseparable from teaching (in other words, reducing the significance of outcomes-based assessment)
    Develop Community Forums (along the lines set out in Tomorrow’s Schools) to allow the parental voice to be heard more clearly

  9. Dear Mr. K,
    I wanted to stand up and clap when i read the second last paragraph! i totally believe that learning is actually “learning” when the process requires application and experience. And you hit the nail in the head….actual difference cant be made till this understanding this philosophy is trickled down to the classrooms. A culture needs to be created which promotes this belief and encourages it.

  10. it seems like every single word is from the core of your heart and of course true.
    All the Best for the SOT conference..!!!
    Your soldiers are with you..

  11. Very rightly analysed! Kasim Saheb, thank you indeed for being so candid!
    I would like to quote Fullan; “It is not the pace of change that is the culprit, it is the piecemealness and fragmentation that wears us down.”(Fullan, 2003).
    Yet, it would depend how coherently, a system can move forward. I would want to really believe in what Sizer opined when he said, “I’m increasingly persuaded that schools that go slow and do a little at a time end up doing so little that they succeed only in upsetting everything without accruing the benefits of change.” (Sizer, 1992). so eventually it would boil down to the fact how resourceful we all are and as you said cascade it down to the frontline, to which I would agree with Einstein when he reflected; “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein.

    Hats Off to Beaconhouse for taking up such paradoxical problem. Sajeda

  12. Dear Mr. Kasim,
    I believe, SOT 2005, was a paradigm shift for a continuous development on the “School Of Tomorrow” in your words its “not about Beaconhouse, not even about Pakistan but thinking about the global education system that developed in response to the industrial revolution and hasn’t changed much since.

    The SOT 2005 was a great inspiration and a window for all of us in the BSS educational setting. Since my area of work was the Beaconhouse Outdoor Education Programme initially much focused on Adventure Trips, however, learning from this conference, we tried to integrate the concepts of experiential learning, Global Citizenship and Project based learning concepts on the BOEP programmes in the wilderness & the natural environment.

    We took many projects as extension of classroom learning. Our most successful projects which covered the concepts of experiential as well as Project based learning have been about the Indus Valley Civilization, Conservation of Fresh Water Turtles at Motorway Areas, Green Beaconhouse Campaign in the lines of UNEP’s One Billion Trees Campaign, Peace Mission Programmes with Schools in India, participation on UNEP TUNZA Children International Conferences around the word, School based Green Clubs, participating on the International Painting Competitions part of climate change learning. Thousands of BSS students & teachers participated on these projects and BOEP was instrumental facilitating these projects in the context of an opportunity of experiential learning.

    Our well planned programmes were not only helpful for student’s experiential learning in the field but also provided opportunities of group work, presentation skills, exposure at national & international forums of learning.

    BOEP’s Place Based programmes were a great success as they reinforced basic learning of social studies & basic Science concepts in the natural settings. Our visits to the natural parks worked like living laboratories as the interaction of students with a variety of components in natural setting provided best opportunities of learning.

    Mr. Virda Saqib, shares his experiences of Ayubia National park as following:

    “We saw different kinds of animals like snakes, scorpions, monkeys, lady birds and ants. We saw two snakes that were silver color, the scorpion was black, the monkey was brown, the lady bird was red with a hard shell and some were dotted black. The ants were dark brown. The crow was big and black. We also discovered the difference between a city park and a national park.”

    Our experiences of education on local, national & international projects has been a great source to working on the Beaconhouse Sustainable School Initiative, much focused on the cross cutting issues of climate change & global warming. Since 2010, its concepts are integrated with BSS Academic Calendar of North and our students have produced beautiful educational projects and this satisfies me to think that a journey one thousand miles starts with single step, and I believe the journey & vision of “School of Tomorrow” will be recorded revamping a better Tomorrow of Pakistan

  13. It would appear that this is a full circle experience. Children learn best from the example of their peers. And that is why sometimes the ‘Grade 8’ music student only knows how to play the four exam pieces to perfection, without being able to play anything else, or just having the joy of making music. In many ways, the School of Tomorrow brings home the message that children learn best through contextualised endeavours. I do therefore agree with your insights.

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