One of the crucial fabrics of our modern society is education. It is what enables us to develop our minds by gaining knowledge of some aspects of the world. For millennia, it has played an indispensable role in the progress we have made collectively. Its importance is underscored when we look at some of the groundbreaking achievements of humanity such as air flight (aviation), space travel and exploration, vaccine development, quantum computing, etc. Virtually none of these milestones would have been possible were it not for education.
In most parts of the world today, the modern formal educational system has a chiefly conventional path to progression. It usually begins in the early years of life when as a kid, you attend some form of preschool or nursery school. This is where basic skills such as reading the letters of the alphabet or identifying and counting numbers are taught.
The next phase is primary education. Although the number of years spent by students may vary from country to country, primary schooling usually lasts a minimum of 6 years. During those years, a host of skills, such as reading, writing, speaking, and numeracy (number operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), and quantitative reasoning are developed. Other subjects such as geography, history, and general science are taught but in very simplified curricula.
After primary schooling, comes secondary education. Its structure, name and how long it lasts vary between countries. But junior high and senior high schools are the two parts of secondary education. In the US, they are commonly known as middle and high school respectively. Upon graduation from high school, the next step on this path is tertiary education. This involves pursuing all sorts of academic programs at institutions like community colleges, universities, polytechnics. An alternative path post-secondary schooling is vocational education or employment.
College education starts with an undergraduate study program, after which a student may continue to pursue a postgraduate degree — typically a Master’s. At the highest level is the doctoral or Ph.D. studies, which often requires a Master’s degree as part of the entry qualification. Pursuing college-level education is by far the most demanding and challenging. Students get exposed to advanced topics and rigorous academic work. The coursework will also include assignments such as paper writing. In a bid to find balance in managing their high-pressure academic life, some college students might also buy essay papers online.
Finally, after graduating from college, the conventional expectation is to get a meaningful job using one’s college degree. But as we know, the world today is changing at a fast clip in many areas. Education is not excluded. Many conventional pearls of wisdom no longer apply. Many one-size-fits-all methods of teaching have proved to be ineffective. Having a college degree is no longer an automatic guarantee of career success or easily getting a job.
It follows that educational institutions have to innovate to better prepare children to stand out and be ready for the realities of the modern world and even the future. Here, we’ll take a look at some schools (focused on secondary and primary education) that are doing things differently and demonstrating their innovativeness accordingly.
Innovativeness, in this context, centers around how students are taught (pedagogy), how they are grouped to learn, how the physical environment and space for schooling is designed and used, how the learning process is linked to the students’ local communities and commercial environment.
1. Makoko Floating School
Designed in 2013 by Nigerian Architect Kunle Adeyemi of NLÉ, the Makoko floating school is situated in Lagos, Nigeria. It was a collaborative project between the Heinrich Böll Foundation, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment, Yaba Local Council Development Area (LCDA) and the Makoko waterfront community.
The idea was to build a school that could help address the local challenge of having just one primary school for all children in the waterfront community. The existing school was built on reclaimed land and faced the environmental danger of seasonal flooding.
From an architectural standpoint, the physical building appears as a triangular A-shaped structure with 3 tiers and a base consisting of 256 plastic drums on which it floats. Local materials such as timber and bamboo form much of the structural material from which it is built. The base tier (playing space for children) has an area of approximately 1000 square foot. The second tier is where the main classrooms are situated. The roof tier also has one outdoor class. Some noteworthy installations on the structure are the solar cells on the roof, composting toilets and rainwater catchment structures.
Although the original version of the school collapsed in 2016 due to heavy rains, two improved designs have been unveiled since then. This school clearly demonstrates innovation in the design of the physical space and structure in which children learn. Also, it serves as a local architectural solution to developed with attention to the adverse conditions of the physical marine environment in which it is located.
2. Ørestad Gymnasium
Established in 2005 and located in Copenhagen, Denmark, this upper high school (called gymnasium in some parts of Europe) is housed in a massive glass cube that serves as a single classroom for over 1000 students. It is known for its open spaces and collaborative approach to educating students.
The physical design is noted for its spaciousness, movable walls and bookshelves, and huge drum-like structures where students can sit and collaborate. It is designed to make them feel relaxed and open to working with their fellow students in groups formed by the students. There is a lesser emphasis on teachers as instructors in a typical classroom setting. Teachers there rather serve as their guides. Its study programs are mainly focused on media, communications, and culture.
With a vision of “Tomorrow Today” aiming to develop education that prepares young people to become changemakers, it’s not surprising that their approach is a far-flung departure from conventional methods.
3. Big Picture Learning
This American school was established in 1995 and is located in Providence, Rhode Island. In the school, a special emphasis on personalized learning. From the start, K-12 students are immersed in real-world learning experiences that engage their creative minds and develop their passions. Each student is assigned a mentor who has experience is a professional field the student may be interested in.
That approach used there is known as learning through an internship (LTI). It has found great success and adoption with more than 55 schools across the US now implementing it.
Located in the capital city of Sweden, Stockholm, this nursery school stands out for its emphasis on gender neutrality. The kids are never taught to distinguish between “he” and “she.” By doing so, they hope to foster respect in the kids and equality of people without any subconscious or conscious gender bias and discrimination. But this also extends to race, religion, and similar societal constructs.
Rather than refer to a person by using the gender pronoun “he” or “she,” the kids are taught to use “they” or call the person by their first name.
Founded in 2013, Altschool is a tech and education (edtech) company located in San Francisco, California. It focuses on educating kids from the ages of 4 to 14 using non-traditional teaching and testing methods primarily powered by technology. It aims to target and personalize the learning experience around each child enabling them to think flexibly and develop tech skills that will serve them well in the future.
Although it started with a single location in San Francisco back in 2013, it now has more than 20 partner schools in the US and 4 of its own schools (Altschool Lab Schools).
On a closing note, the list presented above is by no means exhaustive as other schools around the world are also taking similar approaches to how they educate their students. The emphasis should be placed on the degree to which non-traditional methods and designs are used in schools that qualify them as being innovative. When such innovative approaches are adopted broadly, the implication would be a broader spread of the benefits they bring.