Is it time to ditch the Scottish schools’ ‘unhealthy obsession’ with exams, assessments and goals?
Dollar academy launched a free, open-access e-learning platform to offer young people a new way to learn. But can it inspire a broader change in the delivery of Scottish education? Michael Alexander hears more.
But does Scottish education need to be reformed so that an “unhealthy obsession” with exams, assessments and goals is a thing of the past?
That’s a question Ian asked as he leads a major industry-education partnership that aims to help close the achievement gap in Scottish education.
Launch of IFAD
In May, an open-access online learning platform called IFAD (Dollar Academy Futures Institute) was started by the leading independent school, enabling young people across Scotland to learn in new ways through innovative projects rooted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations SDGs).
It was created to address three fundamental challenges: sustainability, equitable access to education and the need for curriculum reform.
Welcome to IFAD!
We are delighted to have launched FIDA – an innovative learning platform anchored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. @ianhughmunro explains more about IFAD and global challenges online.#education #Innovation pic.twitter.com/hLhzQJaUuh
– The Futures Institute of the Dollar Academy (@FuturesInst_DA) May 12, 2021
The platform allows young people to work with experts from industry and academia to better understand and design solutions to some of the most complex challenges they face, such as climate change, poverty and injustice. social.
It offers a wide variety of ways in which young people can get involved in a core offering of 17 global challenges – one for each of the United Nations SDGs.
Ian hopes the project can serve as a ‘beacon’ to inspire other schools in Scotland and he hopes to involve the Scottish government.
However, despite his belief in the need for reform, Ian is frustrated by the negative rhetoric that often surrounds Scottish education.
“Critics are very quick to look at education in a binary way and say the system is broken,” he says.
“I find it frustrating and I think it’s actually wrong. Thousands of fantastic things are happening every day in every school in Scotland.
“But I also believe that the system can evolve and must evolve.
“I think there are good models of this in other countries around the world, and I guess one of the reasons that IFAD came into being is this frustration – the frustration of people who say the system is broken but they won’t do anything to fix it. This frustration has been part of the engine.
“But another area that pushed it over the line and got it started is the need for curriculum reform.
“I think in Scotland we have an unhealthy obsession with evaluation. I’m not saying exams are a bad thing. For some children, they are great.
“But if you’re not a candidate for the exam, does that mean your life should be written off?” No. But how can we create other opportunities for students to show how creative, thoughtful, brilliant and intelligent they are? “
Innovation and imagination
Prior to arriving at Dollar in 2019, Ian, raised in Aberdeenshire, held leadership positions at George Heriot (his alma mater), Gordonstoun and Shiplake College.
He became the youngest serving rector of an HMC school in the world when he was appointed by Kelvinside Academy, where he established a reputation for innovation and imaginative educational development.
Early in his career as a biology teacher, he began to think about how to approach education differently.
He tells the story of the day his then S2 class looked out the window at the birds stamping their feet on the ground after the rain, and they asked him, “Mr. Munro, do you think they do? that for the worms to rise? “
Ian admits he wasn’t sure.
But it inspired the students to build an electromagnet that the more it vibrated, the more worms they had bought from a compost store came to the surface.
“It was a good project that won them the Scottish Science Fair and brought them to the UK Science Fair,” he says.
“But it just struck me that through the project they learned a lot about collaboration, entrepreneurship and working with people inside and outside of school.”
Ian cites the worms project as a prime example of how, by showing imagination, working hard and ‘taking a step back’, great real educational experiences can be achieved outside of the current national curriculum.
However, another ‘highlight’ came while he was researching at Cambridge University when he stumbled across a project in Boston, USA – a full-time innovation school for high school students. where their program is based entirely on real world challenges.
Instead of lessons, students work collaboratively with business people and academics on open projects. Instead of subjects, everything is merged. Instead of classrooms, they have open-plan studios, and instead of “artificial” class times, students spend weeks immersed in real-life problems.
At the end of the day, students don’t get grades, but instead compile “real-world” portfolios that could secure them an internship or internship.
“You can come in and you can build a robot to extract plastic from the ocean or you can create a physical roaming play,” says the zoology graduate from the University of Edinburgh, who is a member of the Royal Society of Biology and studied at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.
This interest in the design of alternative study programs led to the creation of the NuVu innovation school in Kelvingrove.
However, this also directly led to the creation of IFAD where Ian now combines his interest in curriculum reform, areas of sustainability and expanding his school’s charitable footprint.
Built in partnership with industry and academia – including renowned textile maker Johnstons of Elgin, award-winning global architecture studio Grimshaw and the Winton Center for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge – global challenges open access of IFAD encourage students to apply critical thinking and creative problem solving to tackle real-world problems.
• Clean hands, good health •
The global Covid-19 pandemic has been a powerful reminder of the critical importance of hand hygiene.
This free global challenge is to design your own durable hand washing device.
To participate in the challenge, visit our website! pic.twitter.com/bwkRYP9qGD
– The Futures Institute of the Dollar Academy (@FuturesInst_DA) May 19, 2021
Each is centered on a fundamental principle of helping young people develop the skills necessary to help build a more sustainable future.
The first five challenges are now available for free on the website and take three to eight hours.
They go from ‘Zero hunger‘, who sees Chef finalist Jilly mccord help children create a new recipe based on locally produced, sustainably produced foods; at ‘Plastic of the future‘, where students make their own bioplastic at home and design a new packaging solution that could help reduce plastic waste.
In addition to receiving a certificate upon completion, students who submit promising work will have the opportunity to gain internships, work experience, and participate in mentorship programs.
In an effort to further narrow the achievement gap in Scottish education, IFAD is also offering free SQA courses, starting with Superior policy and National 5 Economy, which will allow students who cannot access these courses through their own schools, to study for the qualification online, supported by regular interaction with a specialist teacher via video call.
Later this year, IFAD will offer a program of Summits of sustainability, starting with a partnership with Sustainable Fashion Week in September and a UK sustainability education and leadership summit in October.
There will also be a Toolkit for Teachers, which will provide free resources for teachers.
IFAD tracks success of Dollar Academy open-access online pilot project Dollar discovers in 2020.
The launch of this pilot project coincided with a report funded by the Scottish government and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and published by the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, which called on independent schools to take “more steps to share education, infrastructure and networks with local public schools and community groups – including, for example, digital learning links to expand choice subjects where it is currently restricted; and access to a wider range of employers and individuals who could make valuable connections with public schools ”.
IFAD is building on an earlier pilot to offer a wider range of free courses, projects and opportunities for children across Scotland.
David Thomson, head of modern studies at Morgan Academy in Dundee, who was part of the Dollar Discovers pilot, said having access to this resource had been an ‘absolute godsend’, with very positive feedback from the students who participated. .
Describing the intentions of the Scottish Excellence Program (CFE) as’ really good ‘and agreeing that IFAD is’ very true to the overarching intentions of CFE’, Ian concedes that as an independent school he is’ maybe easier ”for Dollar to move quickly and launch projects like this.
He points out that he also knows many colleagues in the public sector who have incredible partnerships with industry.
It is about empowering young people to be tolerant and respectful in a rapidly changing world – to enable them to see that there is a “world of opportunity” and to make them realize that they can “be.” change and make a positive difference ‘in the real world.
However, by “taking a step back”, Ian hopes that ongoing discussions about the future of education can take place and, most importantly, that action can be taken.
To learn more about FIDA and its free online resources, visit www.fida.world