A perennial question for educators today is: how do we prepare students to succeed?
Many schools obsess over straight A’s – students sacrifice their health and childhood in their quest for top marks. Their intentions are forgivable. For the longest time, grades were thought to be the sole marker of academic excellence and the key to elite graduate schools and thereafter, a thriving career. Which teacher or parent wouldn’t want that for their children?
But that just doesn’t cut it anymore. With the rapid pace of technological innovation and the onset of the 4th Industrial Revolution, standing out from the crowd (and machines!) is going to take more than just top SAT marks or a perfect GPA. And it’s a crowded labour force – competition for coveted jobs has never been more rife. Between 600 million and one billion people will enter the labour market between 2017 and 2030, yet the pace of job creation isn’t keeping up, warns the World Bank.
So, what can schools do to prepare students for the future? For starters, they can acknowledge research that shows there is minimal correlation between grades and job performance. Instead, qualities that standardised tests cannot measure are better predictors of whether a student will become a leader of tomorrow.
Primary among them is leadership. A quick scan of the most elite universities in the world will show just how much (read: a lot) emphasis is placed on this quality by admissions teams. It goes without saying that to be the president of a club is more desirable and shows more promise to be a “contributor” over a regular member, which unfortunately portrays one as merely average in the face of such a competitive cohort.
“Not only does leadership distinguish a student in a competitive applicant pool from other students ([compare] a student body president to someone who has spent four years just going home and doing their homework) but also serves to foreshadow the impact the student could make on the college/university campus, and the potential impact they could make once they graduate,” Emmi Harward, the Executive Director of the Association College Counselors in Independent Schools, told The Atlantic.
The good news is leadership can be taught. And the schools that do this best in Asia are as follows:
Singapore American School (SAS) is the go-to for expats in the Lion City for many reasons. Here, there’s personalized learning, new course offerings, and passion pathways – all of which have served to create a history of excellence in Singapore’s top international school.
At SAS, there are over 90 clubs available to high school students. These exist on top of the traditional student leadership opportunities like student council, house presidents, grade presidents, and peer support. And if the club they want to join doesn’t exist? SAS empowers students and gives them the tools to make it happen.
Take Kaelan Cuozzo, for example. The SAS student led the entire initiative TEDxSAS ‘Breaking Barriers’, bringing the influential event to her own school. Another student leader at SAS is Bryanna Entwistle. With several friends, she created an event called Walk for Water that has become a non-profit group that builds wells in Cambodia. It’s student-driven and has been running for several years now.
Kaelan, Bryanna and other SAS students may still be young when they graduate, but with experiences like these, they will have one enviable leadership portfolio to show colleges and future employers.
The British International School Phuket (BISP) prides itself on “producing young people with the necessary skills to meet the challenges of a fast developing world”. One of the ways this school, located on the fringe of the Andaman Sea, does this is through its extensive range of activities.
At the English-medium, co-educational, day and boarding school, students take part in dynamic programmes that respond to each student’s unique needs. This includes practice and preparation required for annual sporting tournaments, FOBISIA Games, musical theatre productions etc. General Activities include clubs like Art and Design Academy, Model United Nations, Business Academy, STEM Academy and so forth. For Service Activities, student can take their pick from options such as Animal Welfare, Beach Clean Up, Gibbon Rehabilitation Peer Leadership Training, etc. Additionally, there are also paid activities programme where specialists visit the school to offer their expertise.
Another vital component of BISP that inculcates leadership are its CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) activities. These are compulsory for students in Years 12 and 13 to obtain their IB Diploma and the BIS High School Diploma. The goal is to encourage students to show commitment, initiative and personal engagement toward their experiences, as well as self-reflection on what they’ve learned.
Dwight School Seoul (DSS) aims to ignite the spark of genius in every child through a dedicated, personalized curriculum based on the unique interests and passions of each student.
To mould future world leaders, it does so through encouraging academic excellence through the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. As an education trailblazer for more than 30 years – it is the first IB continuum school in Seoul – it’s fair to say that DSS has a good track record of this strategy.
IB programmes are designed to challenge students to excel in their chosen field, encouraging both personal and academic achievement. At the heart of the IB Diploma Programme is the Creativity, activity, service (CAS) core component.
These activities must be real, purposeful, have significant outcomes, be personally challenging, involve thoughtful consideration and reflection on outcomes. Through CAS, students in their the last two years of High School at Dwight are able to enhance their personal and interpersonal development through experiential learning.
Such experiences are great additions to university applications. And at DSS, getting students to demonstrate initiative and leadership isn’t just confined to those in their senior high school years. Its University & College Counseling programme starts as early as Grade 9, directing their academic performance and guiding their participation in activities that best show their personal attributes and interests.
*Some of the institutions in this article are commercial partners of Study International