With the world changing at such a rapid pace, how do today’s schools prepare students for an unknown future?
One thing we know about the future is that it will look very different from life today. Due to automation and significant advancements in technology we are on the brink of a world where 40 per cent of current jobs may no longer exist and graduates will need to conceive, create and forge their own employment.
One of the biggest challenges facing educators today is how to prepare students for this unknown future. As well as ensuring students leave school with essential numeracy and literacy skills, today’s students need to be well-rounded citizens who can turn their hand to any opportunity as well as having the resilience to self-analyse and test their capabilities, ready to face the uncharted path ahead.
To adequately prepare their students for this unknown world Nambour Christian College (NCC) believes that it’s the breadth of experiences and education for the whole child that is key. From their extensive Early Learners activities to inclusive VET and TAFE courses, the unique blend of spiritual, creative and academic teaching is ensuring a generation of students fully prepared for the world ahead.
The growth mindset, curiosity and love for learning required for future success is something that needs to be instilled in students in the very early years. To achieve this, today’s early learning centres should be engaging, inspiring spaces with a wide range of play-based, sensory learning experiences. Play-based learning develops critical thinking, communication, independent thought and problem solving skills, and this is now the pedagogy that underpins the national Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF*).
In response to this, NCC Early Learners takes a lot of their learning out of the classroom and back to nature, with orchards, cattle, chickens and a fully-functioning farm as part of the school. Children can pick veggies, care for horses, and use this outdoor environment to connect real-world experiences to the embedded literacy and numeracy learning intentions. This early grounding in the natural world is a critical part of the beginnings of a well-rounded child, and something that many families no longer have access to – living in apartments and high-density housing.
As well as developing a connection to nature, a key part of a whole child education is learning from an early age to make healthy choices and lead an active lifestyle. Ensuring children in preschool get enough of the right exercise to develop and strengthen their growing bodies as well as develop their emotional and social skills is as important as teaching ABC.
“One of the most important things we offer at NCC is our Active Kids program,” explained Bronwyn Taylor, Head of Early Learners. “This fun sports program runs four days a week as part of the Early Learners curriculum and includes a lot of ball handling skills, balance, movement and coordination. We change it to match the current needs of the child, reflecting on the program at all times.”
Also as part of their active learning program, NCC has the very unique offering of a weekly swimming lesson for every child over the age of two and a half. “Our swimming program is quite exceptional,” said Bronwyn. “Living on the Sunshine Coast it’s really important that children learn to swim. And having them learn whilst at preschool is a huge help for busy parents.”
The third, and equally important piece to this whole-child philosophy in the preschool years is nutrition. “The fact we provide all meals is definitely a favourite with the parents!” said Bronwyn. “The menu is planned with a nutritionist and it looks at the health and wellbeing of the children. Not only does this save parents the daily chore of preparing lunchboxes, it also gives children the opportunity to try different foods and ensures they all receive a balanced, healthy, nutritious diet each day.”
A successful start to Prep depends on a smooth transition from Kindy. With the Early Learning Centre as part of the greater school, this is where schools such as NCC really excel. With a regular connection to the Junior school, Kindy students are accustomed to the environment well before officially stepping through the doors. Therefore, by the time they do enrol they already have a relationship with the teachers, they know the environment, and already feel like they belong.
“We go over and above the typical school process to make sure the Prep transition at NCC is a smooth one,” explained Deb Holmes, Acting Head of Junior School. “With everything in one school, the Early Learners can come to all the concerts, events and exhibitions at the Junior school so they already feel part of the school.” She continued, “We also have information nights for parents and Kindy students have regular visits to the junior school to ensure that every child is completely comfortable in the Prep classroom before they start.”
With such a smooth start students can hit Prep running, and rather than spending the first term finding their feet the NCC Prep students are already a significant step ahead.
The primary years are when the solid foundations are set for both emotional resilience and academic success. In response to this, many primary schools in recent years have moved to a combination of explicit teaching and student-led, play-based experiences. With a system of classroom ‘Investigations’ in Prep, where children are engaged in purposeful and deliberate activities at hands-on stations, NCC is one such school to make the shift – and with great success.
“The foundations of literacy and numeracy are absolutely crucial,” said Deb, “and we ensure that these are achieved with explicit teaching.” However, the investigations add another level to the classroom, with children discovering learning intentions for themselves, nurturing and expanding those curious minds.
Another aspect of preparing students for the future is a strong arts program. Fostering critical thinking skills and encouraging self-expression and curiosity, creativity is integral to learning how to resolve problems. With Creative Arts now being such a critical part of the development of a well-rounded child, key thought leaders in education have been actively pushing for creativity to be taken as seriously as literacy and numeracy. Rather than preparing for a singular job for life, graduates of the future could have up to 30 different occupations in their lifetime, meaning they will need to constantly reinvent themselves, logically analyse information and take risks. If they aren’t creative and always looking for solutions, they aren’t going to cope with the future they face.
“Our students need to be the problem solvers of the future. To equip students for life they need these critical thinking skills that creativity brings,” said Deb. “We know that a strong arts program in the early years is important, so we have a well-rounded arts program that complements students’ learning and incorporates the different areas.”
A good example of this is NCC’s Year 4 music program, which ensures all children learn an instrument they haven’t learned before.
“This approach has seen great success. We now have some amazing talent in the senior school, with bands that have travelled overseas for competitions and a renowned music department.”
The many strands on offer ensure students have a solid foundation for their future learning as they progress through the junior school. “The future is unknown, we are preparing children for jobs that we don’t know what they are going to be,” said Deb. “We need to create strong literacy and numeracy skills. But students also need to be able to articulate what they think and feel, and we want students to love learning, which comes from it being fun and engaging. So, we aim to make that the case with all our programs.”
This is reflected in the burgeoning facilities on offer to children in the junior school, where they have access to rock climbing walls, a dance studio, gym, swimming pool, their own science lab, a dedicated junior library, performing arts space and an art rotation program.
“One of the things that makes NCC unique is the breadth we offer. We are constantly researching our programs and are dedicated to always meeting innovative learning,” said Deb.
Facing such an unpredictable job market, more than ever it’s important for graduating students to explore their skills and have every possible opportunity available to them. Bruce Campbell, CEO of Nambour Christian College, explained, “We have a high standard of education for those students that want to go to university, but that’s not for everyone. Therefore, we also offer hands-on skill development in hospitality via our fully operational commercial training kitchen and café restaurant, as well as Industrial Technology, Trade and TAFE Certificates.” The school also has a careers and guidance counsellor who ensures the balance is there in traineeships and apprenticeships.
“No two children are alike,” Bruce continued. “We have families where one child loves books and robotics and another who loves to climb and paint. With our broad curriculum, every child is catered for and families can have all children at the school knowing that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Education today needs to deliver on many levels. “It’s not just skills and knowledge,” said Bruce. “It's behaviour, character, community, as well as physical, emotional and spiritual development.”
This is more challenging for schools, because they not only need to be a classroom, they need to be a safe-haven and predictable space that gives students the stability, support and confidence to ask questions.
“Children need to feel supported and safe to explore.” Bruce continued. “Meaning relationships and a strong connection to the staff are crucial for students of today.”
As a Christian school, NCC believes that these Christian values play a critical part in preparing students for the future; this foundation providing education for human development – spiritual, emotional, physical and academic.
“We believe that spiritual grounding is important to be prepared for the unknown,” explained Bruce. “Students need to have a firm understanding of what they believe; of reason, of logic, and to be inquisitive.
These values will always be with them to guide them when they have to make tough decisions in the future. How we act will come back to the beliefs we hold.”
To support these values, NCC operates an extensive global outreach program throughout the senior years, with student-led events and life-changing trips such as Kokoda, Malawi, Fiji and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
“These activities push the capacity of students far more than is possible in a classroom, building resilience and developing character strength,” explained Bruce. “This also provides them with an understanding of gratitude and devotion, and always being aware that they are blessed, and that it is important to bless others.”
This spiritual guidance is evident across the school. From the early years through to the high school, students are taught to look outward, becoming confident, well-rounded citizens, always able to see beyond themselves. So when they do step out of the school gates into that unknown future, students are equipped with all the skills they need to thrive and give back to society.