Blog: Schools need to focus on more than just academic learning

It is important for students to take control of their own education and development, a skill that they will need in any place of work.

(Source: Courtesy of BISB)

Leavers exams mean that secondary and high schools main focus is always on skills and knowledge for those exams. But in this ever changing world and growing issues with mental health should this focus now change?

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There has always been the debate on if teachers should be social guides as well as knowledge educators. Students come to school with emotional issues, being upset by what a friend said, being sad because a pet has died. Most schools now have a good pastoral support system in place for these issues. At The British International School Bratislava we have Form Tutors and Heads of Years as a network of emotional support for our students. We try to make sure that students feel they have someone they can talk too, and to help them deal with these issues.

Although, the area that quite often is not addressed is that of the development of the whole self. Having lessons were students can learn who they are, how to reflect on themselves and grow. Learn to have down time from work so they can balance their mental health. And most importantly to know that relaxing and having fun is also a part of life, not just working.

Therefore maybe schools should expand their curriculum programme to try and do just that. Try to develop programmes that focuses on the importance of trying new things and having a go. As we know that having a go and failing is better then not trying at all. Having activities to help develop team work and dedication skills. And isn’t it important to support students to develop their ability to reflect and be mindful when doing activities and therefore see self growth themselves? It is important for students to take control of their own education and development, a skill that they will need in any place of work. Therefore, school programmes should focus on learning through fun, as research states that we remember things much more when we are laughing. We all need fun in our lives and so this should be an important part of all schools curricula.

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At The British International School Bratislava we are always trying to implement such ideas and programmes into our curriculum. For example in History we don’t just learn about the Roman Army and their tactics but we research how the Roman’s shields were made. Then we make a replica of a shield, then went outside to reinact marching, making a turtle formation and so on.

To develop our curriculum this year we have added a new subject CAS for Secondary School students. This means that in one academic year, students will work in the three areas of creativity, activity and service. The creative ranges from urban drawing, upcycling to sowing. An activity could be archery, ultimate frisbee or mountain biking. And Service means volunteering to help others in some way, for example helping out at the dog shelter, designing and making a mosaic at the local family centre, or performing a concert for the local old people’s home.

Whilst doing these topics students are encouraged to reflect and be mindful about what they are doing. We speak about why we have these programmes and try to get students to understand the importance of having down time and having fun. And how building this into your weekly programme is important. This is a very important part of our curriculum as we want students to become healthy adults and have a balanced and healthy life after they leave school.

Therefore should schools be moving towards more active programs that are focused on the development of self-growth rather than just academically based content learning? This will definitely be something that will be debated over the next few years in the educational world. What do you think?

Clare Palusak is CAS Coordinator, Clubs Coordinator and Teacher of History and Global Perspectives at The British International School Bratislava

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