Curiosity is key
Essential elements of a modern curriculum
Brendan Law identifies four key elements that should feature in a modern curriculum, but everything must unleash a child’s curiosity.
A great deal has been written on what ‘futureproof’ curricula need to achieve. Educational thought leaders the world over are broadly in agreement when it comes to the ultimate goals. A modern curriculum needs to be child- and life-centered as well as skills- and competence-based. It needs to stop telling children what to learn and start coaching them how to learn. Alongside effectively teaching all the foundational skills and knowledge they need, it needs to provide space and freedom for curiosity to reclaim its rightful place at the heart of learning. And finally, how we assess learning needs to change. Obsession with grades needs to stop ruining education.
Different people use different language but for me, a modern curriculum can be summarized under four main headings:
Fit the curriculum to the child, not the child to the curriculum
How well do we know each child in the classroom? Even those of us privileged to work with small class sizes don’t have deep enough insights to understand all the twists and turns in every child’s learning journey. A modern curriculum needs to take advantage of the power of technology to become fully adaptive and capable of real-time feedback on the holistic development and wellbeing of each individual student – mind, body and spirit.
Inherent in this is the need to put a focus on EQ alongside IQ, which can be done by interweaving a rich array of creative, sporting and co-curricular activities alongside core academic subjects. When children are given breadth of experience alongside depth, they become curious about new things, grow in confidence by discovering unexpected talents, and enjoy their education without even realizing they are learning.
Embed relevance and interest to encourage learner curiosity and agency
Application of learning to real world scenarios should be inherent in all aspects of school life. A curriculum has to be more than theory. It has to be practical and experiential to trigger curiosity, interest and aspiration. There are so many pathways to a successful and fulfilling future, and schools need to ensure students are both aware of their options and empowered to follow their passion.
Establishing a learning network that connects students with the wider community is key. By building working partnerships with families, businesses, government entities, volunteering associations and NGOs, schools create educational ecosystems that expose young people to life beyond the classroom. This helps them to mature, develop a sense of citizenry and hopefully, discover and fall in love with their future vocation.
Inspire a shift from a consumer to a producer mentality
Maker-centered learning is a concept that came out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. It is described as encouraging “…thinking routines that foster the primary maker capacities of looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity.”
Tinkering, discovering and creating are not unusual in STEM subjects, but when applied more globally, these behaviors encourage children to think independently and critically; to be curious and brave, take risks and experiment. They promote learning through mistakes, encourage collaboration and deliver experiences that build the capacity to adapt. As such, the benefits of a maker-centric curriculum are relevant in all contexts and cultivate some of the most important attributes to have in a world that moves quickly in new and unexpected directions.
Remove curiosity barriers
Everything I’ve covered so far relates to the content and design of a modern curriculum. But there are two significant areas missing. Firstly, the spaces and environment in which children learn. And secondly, the huge question of how they are assessed.
In both of these areas, our imaginations are constrained and limited by the scale of the challenge. Existing school buildings are difficult and expensive to reconfigure. And an attainment-based academic assessment score is so ingrained as the main criteria higher education institutions use to make their selections, that to change it seems unachievable.
However, we need to unfetter ourselves from these legacy inhibitors to allow truly lateral thinking to take place. Education in a post-COVID world will be much more flexible and blended than before. This means we can challenge how we design and use our spaces, reimagining them in support of less traditional and prescriptive teaching styles. We need to ask questions like does every lesson need to be at a desk? What’s the point of corridors? What are the roles of music, light and nature in the learning environment? And more…
When it comes to assessment, we are still in the dark ages. Currently most assessment is all about attainment of a score rather than achievement of an aspiration. The skills needed to achieve an aspiration include much more than the ability to learn and recall knowledge. Cognitive flexibility, creative and lateral thinking, diplomacy, curiosity, courage, tenacity. These are the assets we need to develop. We know this. And yet, we don’t assess them. This is a problem because as the saying goes, what gets measured gets done.
So, we need to move away from standardized testing as our primary measure, and towards competency-based evaluation designed to support the growth of metacognitive skills. We need an approach that appraises emotional and social development alongside intellectual progress. One that supports curiosity and deepens learning rather than dumbs it down.
Brendan Law is Director General of Misk Schools, Riyadh where he and his team are working to deliver on Misk Schools’ vision to design a new educational paradigm in Saudi Arabia. Previously a portfolio director of 14 British schools in the GEMS group, he was the founding Headmaster of both Cranleigh and Brighton College in Abu Dhabi.
Feature Image and 3 support images: by kind permission of Misk Schools