What is the purpose of schools?
That is an eternal question. I will provide my thoughts on this, but also share why I believe the school we are developing is focused on this question.
The purpose of schools has shifted over the 100+ years that formalized schooling for all has been in existence. It is not a coincidence that schools at the beginning of the previous century grew from a need to provide a more educated workforce during the advent of the industrial revolution. Companies needed better educated workers to increase their productivity and operate the machinery required for manufacturing.
The Knowledge and Skills to be Future Ready
Some argue that in the 21st century, the skills have changed, and therefore the role of school must adapt. I agree: School must provide both the knowledge and skills required for students to function in an ever-changing and fast-paced world. This has made the job of schools much more complex and I´ll discuss why that is.
If you read my earlier blogs, you will see that TASIS Portugal subscribes to the notion that knowledge is a power that also requires you to develop skills. They cannot be done independently. You cannot be skilled and be unaware of the core knowledge that educated people possess.
As automation becomes more commonplace, robots and machine learning have made us question which knowledge and skills students will require to lead successful lives. Our curriculum is well aligned to promote the knowledge and skills we believe are important. Beyond our Core Knowledge curriculum, which is articulated, unambiguous, content rich, and coordinated, we maximize learning efficiency. We also teach skills alongside the mastery of knowledge.
Our Singapore Math and Next Generation Science Standards were selected to bring problem solving to the fore. Critical thinking is enhanced through the strategy of chess, the reflection of meditation, and the creativity of artistic endeavors of all types. We chose the violin specifically for the youngest students to help them develop the skills of audiation and musicality while reminding them of the importance of theory and musical history.
Our public speaking and rhetoric program helps students develop their voice and confidence. Even our assessment methodology is designed so that students to receive constant feedback about their performance--we don't use just a number or letter grade, which often drives extrinsic achievement rather than internal reflection on one´s learning. This also requires our teachers to articulate areas of improvement and adjust their teaching to maximize student learning.
Success in future generations also depends on soft skills such as collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and ethical thinking. Many commencement speeches mention things such as, “our graduates will help make a better world.” But will they? That is true when the school, hand in hand with parents, helps young people make ethical choices, care about others, and remember that manners and kindness make for a better life for all. That is what makes a better world.
At TASIS Portugal, our goals reach beyond the curriculum--although it is still one of the most important attributes of our school–and dares students to be better citizens. Our pastoral program and focus on positive behavioral recognition works best when the school walks that walk, challenging students to reflect on their actions and take responsibility for them. This is why we work closely with families--to help young people make good choices and recognize that the world needs them and does not exist separate from them.
We communicate a great deal. We believe it is important in the partnership we create with parents. Our parents receive correspondence from our teachers or from me about how their children can make better choices and become more generous community members, and they assist by reinforcing the universal virtues of respect, tolerance, and kindness, which are essential to a child´s growth. It's what parents want from us, and what we need from them.
People feel better about themselves, have higher self-esteem and mental health, and are happier when they are part of something greater than themselves. The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of purpose.
Finally, the world we want for our children should complement the world in which young people grow. We have a very important role in creating the academic and social-emotional expectations that will make for a better school, and together we are creating a school that will instill positive change in our young people and in our world.