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Who knows what the future holds?

As Winter turns to Spring, the question, ‘What next?’ is on the lips and in the minds of many pupils in their final year of school. Even those who have firm plans are still about to take a step into the unknown and the next stage of their life looms large on the horizon.

When these pupils started school, there were no jobs in smartphone app design. There are now 14 million. On the other hand, professions such as accountancy, which had offered career certainty for their parents’ generation, are increasingly threatened by new technology. Who knows what entirely new opportunities will pop up before they hit 30 or how unrecognisable traditional jobs will be?

In our fast-changing world, schools have a responsibility to look carefully at the skills and competencies students are being equipped with. It is not enough to score well in exams and think that our job is done anymore. Particularly when we hear government agencies advise that “When it comes to recruiting graduates, attitudes and aptitudes are often seen as more important than formal qualifications.” Good exam results will always remain important, but they are no longer the limit of what schools must provide. Schools of today must think deeper. And this where International School Aberdeen (ISA) excel.

Let’s consider analytical skills. Prized in the past, but today they are the most easily replaceable skills by computers. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to dismiss such skills as they continue to be important, but in combination with others. New economy jobs require a blend of analytical and creative thinking. An App Designer is a perfect example. Successful apps meet human needs, they solve specific problems and are created by teams with different skills including coding and modern programming language, graphic design and agile methodologies. But as well as the technical skills, they must have the ability to access and analyse data quickly and once they have gathered the data, they must have the creativity to turn that data into an idea that will work for users. Of course, they could do none of this without a strong foundation of basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Traditionally the school curriculum has split these approaches - mathematics at one end of the spectrum, art at the other. ISA brings them together.

A recent project by a group of 13 and 14-year olds at the school highlights how we get creative with our curriculum to drive academic rigour and creative flexibility. In art, pupils were introduced to Bridget Riley’s 3D graphic design work, analysing its appeal and aesthetic worth. In maths, those same pupils set about creating complex shapes that folded up from paper sheets into their own creative 3D designs.

To visualise a final design took creativity; working out how a flat sheet design folds up to a 3D object took a high degree of analysis. There were no answers in the back of the book. Every solution was unique and every pupil, no matter what their maths ability enjoyed making an original expression. The pupils used maths skills while going through a design process, incidentally, developing skills in geometric visualisation which will serve them well for higher level maths courses in their final two years of school.

For many 18-year olds, they are planning their next steps through the Universities Colleges and Admissions Service (UCAS). Every year, UCAS helps millions of students find the right course for the subsequent stage of their education, and to think about the abilities and aptitudes needed for long term success. Young people need a firm foundation of basic skills. What makes them stand out is being “adaptable and flexible, and to cope with change.” UCAS advises, that they must develop not just skills, but transferable skills in particular. These will enable students to “think creatively, sort out problems and show leadership.”

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 2020 school graduates will have an average of 12 jobs in their lifetimes. This is the very reason UCAS emphasise the importance of transferable skills. ISA’s maths and art collaboration project isn’t trying to produce the 3D designers of the future. Rather it is a demonstration to pupils of how subjects and ways of thinking can be used together to find innovative solutions. Creative use of transferable skills, rather than a right answer in the back of a book.

It is not just those about to leave school who are asking, ‘What next?’. In a rapidly changing world, we all wonder ‘What next?’. We can speculate of course, but we can’t know; however, one thing is certain. We have to be more creative in our curriculum to prepare our children for a working life that won’t have a single answer.

Who knows what the future holds?

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