What’s trending now?
Schooled in the world.
Why it’s important?
Whenever groundbreaking progress is made in one of the basic institutions of our society, we take note. Twentieth-century education has not been marked by its revolutionary ideology, creative curriculums, nor its commitment to design and architecture. Along with the global shift toward rethinking environmentalism and sustainable energy, education has also come into the spotlight of consideration. Against the backdrop of our ever-changing world and, more specifically, our cities – the most unlikely luminaries are challenging the value of the archaic classroom.
Just a few weeks ago, the first “world school” was opened. In the historic setting of Chelsea in New York City, The Avenues School opened its doors to almost three hundred scholars – all signing up for an unprecedented school experience. The Avenues School’s founders spent half a decade dreaming up a school that would suit our current global community and one that would be a catalyst for the schools of the future.
Avenues offer its students a global education system. The basic premise is that everything that constitutes a traditional school needed to be reinvented. Avenues predict that the education required for a global community must cater for its embryotic citizens. Besides a futuristic ideology, there are sound practical building blocks that the school offers.
Primary school children are asked to decide between Chinese Mandarin or Spanish as their second language. For fifty per cent of the day, students are taught in English, for the other fifty per cent they are taught in either Mandarin or Spanish. The school believes that by creating a fifty per cent ‘immersion” program, that their students will have an advantage when they graduate from high school. It is a revolutionary concept that is unlike the two to three hours a week other students might get.
Two of the benchmarks that make this school a “world” school is that they offer global opportunities to their students. Firstly, part of their curriculum includes the course, The World Course. The course teaches practical entrepreneurial skills, as well as, the ability to master the services and resources of international cities (such as, London, Buenos Aires etc.)
Secondly, and most notably, the school requires that part of a student’s school year must be spent in another Avenues campus across the globe. Currently, the New York City campus is the only one, but by the end of 2013 there will be campuses in Shanghai and Buenos Aires. The concept is that students have access, through the resources of the schools, to visit other cities and become “global citizens” within them. The schools will all mimic one another, in an attempt to alleviate the disorientation that is usually associated with exchange programs. These are not intended to be exchange programs, but rather internships that gear students with skills that will be useful to them when they graduate. Think of all the networking possibilities!
What’s the butterfly effect?
Skeptics have dubbed Avenues as just another snooty Manhattan private school. In a city like NYC, everyone has experimented with some new progressive approach to the fabric of society. Yet, when you examine the school more closely, it is clear that the effects of this sort of education revolution are far reaching and not simply an experiment for the bored.
Historically, whenever a trend takes flight, it isn’t isolated to just its sphere of influence. In the conception stage, Avenues’ wiped the slate clean of all conventional educational ideology. This lead them to considering the neglected aspects of educations – well, those aspects that are not usually deemed important.
Avenues chose a historic suburb to house their new school. The suburb offers a resource to the students because they are connected to a part of NYC’s past. Location was also worth considering. It was not enough to find a “cool looking” building, it had to be a place that was strategic for this new venture. Avenues chose premises adjacent to the end of the NYC Highline (the city’s newest park that was planted along an abandoned railway track). The location is accessible to students but is also surrounded by aesthetics.
Architects and interior designers were approached to lend their skills, pro bono, to crafting a building that offers students visual appeal. The greatest care was taken to consider the floors, the canteen, the lighting and the lockers. Needless to say it is an architectural feat that resembles an architects showroom and not a worn-out classroom. The classrooms, themselves, were designed to hold a collaborative space rather than a hierarchical space. The classrooms are minimalistic, the desks are made from recyclable materials and technology is maximized.
Besides the aesthetics of these new world schools, Avenues has managed to have an unusual butterfly affect on the unlikely profession of teaching. Globally, teachers are not seen as professionals anymore. In an Avenues’’ press release they stated that they had closed all applications for their new campuses in Shanghai and Buenos Aires. They were inundated with requests from all sorts of people, not just existing teachers. The concept of global education has managed to revive the art of teaching and has made it something desirable. Perhaps, this is because the applicants are required to have a different skill set than the usual matrons that we know teachers to be.
The global hotspots
Although, Avenues are the leader in this education trend, they are not the only global leaders. Much of the ideology they have gleaned from has come directly out of two international pioneers in education: Sir Ken Robinson (England) and Sugata Mitra (India). Both are acclaimed for their work in the education sector. Robinson won the TED talk in 2009 for his outlandish talk on abandoning the school system. Mitra has had international success for his use of technology and the Internet in rural environments.
In light of the recent Limpopo textbook debacle, perhaps South Africa is in need of some education revolutionaries.
By: Wendy-Jane Chong
Wendy- Jane Chong is a freelance writer and a keen trend observer. Last year she was an intern at Flux Trends. She launched a kiddie party business called “Imaginary Friends” this year and runs a blog with her husband.
Image credit: Gallo Images/ Getty Images