For most parents, the desire to secure the best education for their child is about setting them up for success in their future career. With that in mind, it is unsurprising that the demand for new subjects that go beyond the traditional core curriculum is on the rise.
As new and emerging technologies dominate the workforce across every industry, there’s a growing expectation for young people to be prepared for careers of the future. Inspired by the success of tech giants like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, parents are keen for their children to be prepared for a working world and careers that don’t even exist yet.
Interestingly, many of these entrepreneurs inspiring the next generation dropped out of mainstream education before graduating – so how can we create a system that builds and retains talent, helping students develop the necessary skills to succeed?
Last month a report by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) highlighted that GCSEs are outdated and no longer serve the needs of students today. The survey showed that 94% of school leaders, teachers, parents, students, university staff and other education workers believe that GCSEs needed complete or partial reform, looking at both curriculum and the assessment process.
So, what can schools and educators do to prepare students for a world that is almost impossible to predict? And how do we keep students engaged and make sure that their education remains relevant to them?
One key change is expanding the existing curriculum. Robotics, blockchain and entrepreneurship are just some of the subjects that we are seeing a rise in demand for as young people draw inspiration from the changing world around them. When it comes to introducing these new subjects, partnering with industry experts is key. Not only are they at the forefront of their fields and best placed to speak on the subject, but it is more engaging for young people to see real life examples of what they could achieve in these areas.
Over recent years, as the pressure for teachers to hit targets increases and students face more and more competition, there has been a shift away from an in-depth exploration of subjects, towards success criteria and teaching young people how to pass exams
While not all schools will have access to industry experts, with more educators moving into the online space – Harrow Online and Eton, for example – using the power of technology to share information and lessons only widens opportunity for new styles of teaching and learning.
When it comes to new subjects, training existing staff is also important. Looking at new and emerging subjects when it comes to training and development will give schools an edge. Some schools like Haileybury are now encouraging their staff to take part in part-time research which offers an opportunity for students and teachers to develop their skills. If teachers are passionate about their subjects, and exploring them beyond the curriculum, this can go a long way to inspiring the students.
Beyond introducing new subjects, however, we also need to look at innovating traditional subjects. Over recent years, as the pressure for teachers to hit targets increases and students face more and more competition, there has been a shift away from an in-depth exploration of subjects, towards success criteria and teaching young people how to pass exams.
When it comes to the core subjects, we really need to question the purpose of what we are teaching and the skills we are looking to develop. The most important skill we can teach students is how to learn – which is rooted in curiosity, creativity and questioning. What graduate employers are looking for are abstract skills, such as independent thinking, creative problem solving and effective questioning. Training teachers around these areas and embedding these skills at the core of all lessons is vital.
Finally, looking at our definitions of success for young people is also important. Traditionally there has been some snobbery when it comes to subjects beyond the traditionally academic, but embracing vocational courses can give pupils an edge when it comes to employability. Interestingly we are beginning to see more of an uptake of courses such as psychology and business studies, and even BTECs are gaining popularity with more independent schools adding them to the curriculum.
All students have different strengths and interests, and we need to work towards an education system that embraces and nurtures that in everyone.
As technology emerges quicker than ever, the world of tomorrow is relatively unknown to us. While we can’t always predict the knowledge required for future careers, we can teach skills that will make young people valuable future employees. Looking at education as a whole and approaching all subjects in a way that develops the skills of effective questioning, decision making and problem solving is what will really set young people up for a future of success.