A while back, Verdala International School (VIS) took a conscious decision to offer a more holistic approach to its philosophy of education. This concept can sometimes be perceived as a bit wishy-washy, so we spent some time as a community unpacking the issue. We asked our students, our parents, our board and our staff to identify what worked for them as learners, what they currently see as positive experiences at VIS and what they see in the future of education.
The data collected showed that parents wanted successful career pathways for their children but wanted them to be happy in the process. Parents were also acutely aware that people change jobs more often than before, and employers expected their workforce to be able to collaborate and undertake project work.
Our teaching staff looked closely at the skills required, recognising that changes in education mean they themselves need to adapt and learn as part of the process. The students overwhelmingly asked for a toolkit that will prepare them for the future. All stakeholders emphasised that well-being and coping mechanisms for an ever-changing world needed to be addressed. Thus, the ‘VIS Definition of Learning’ was born, addressing a holistic approach to developing the balanced and successful learner.
One branch of this educational tree was the emphasis on ‘service learning’. This is not a new concept; it goes back to the research of Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Kurt Hahn; the latter developed the foundations of Gordonstoun, UWC Schools, Salem, and most notably, the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, which has helped millions of young people around the world develop into confident and thoughtful youngsters who offer their time to make the world a better place.
In a 1965 address, Kurt Hahn had said: “There are three ways of trying to win the young. There is persuasion, there is compulsion, and there is attraction. You can preach at them: that is a hook without a worm. You can say: You must volunteer, and that is of the devil. You can tell them: You are needed. That appeal hardly ever fails.”
Helping young people see that they are needed as contributors to society is an important part of education. Many children, quite naturally, move through life with selfish spectacles on, either through the fortune of their own circumstances or the opposite, a feeling of lack of self-worth as their home-life may impact on their journey.
As a fee-paying school, our students are already one step up the ladder of privilege as their parents have the fortune of educational choice. However, privileged or not, all young people need to develop their personality, self-esteem and citizenship within a platform that offers opportunity for helping others.
All young people need to develop their personality, self-esteem and citizenship within a platform that offers opportunity for helping others
This month, the school as a whole has focused on “Reach Out to Help Out” as we launch student engagement beyond themselves. In High School this has been going for some time as we run the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) and International Baccalaureate Careers Programme (IBCP) where service is a required component to passing. The IB students are expected to engage and reflect on their learning outcomes around their Community, Action, Service (CAS) experiences.
This year, post-COVID, we reconnected with a range of local NGOs and charities dealing with subjects such as human rights, mental health and migrant women at our first VIS Community Fair. Our High School students, including International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) students, are now all expected to choose and engage with an initiative. In addition, we have adapted our timetable to incorporate an “hour to serve” so they have time to take action, raise awareness and be an advocate.
Our VIS definition of learning underpins our values and we have fostered this essential component of experiential learning across the whole school. The Middle School has a community project as part of the Middle Years Programme curriculum, while each Elementary grade has adopted a local organisation, such as animal charities and vulnerable children projects. All these initiatives are tied in with guest speakers, field trips and opportunity for students to think about how they will take action.
Students, parents and staff have all identified that meaningful learning experiences are the way forward; through these opportunities, we develop transferable skills, resilience and well-grounded individuals, but above all, that every person counts and can contribute.