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Getting the world back on track starts with laying the foundations for a more holistic education.

9 October 2020

After a rollercoaster of a summer, young people are now back in the classroom and a new routine is beginning to emerge. Since the start of the summer holidays, it has been widely recognised that we have the opportunity to change our education system to be fit for purpose - though there is some worrying anecdotal evidence emerging of doubling down, of students being drowned under a mountain of work focused on passing exams.


This is exactly what we feared would happen back in July, and it goes against the growing number of voices calling for meaningful change.


Leading educators, neuroscientists, businesses, universities and others have come together to form Rethinking Assessment, which is calling for urgent action to overhaul our education system. As they set out in an open letter to The Sunday Times, the purpose of education is to develop the full and diverse range of strengths of every young person.


The concept of a National Baccalaureate has been proposed, with a better framework of curriculum, assessment, qualifications and accountability that captures both examined and non-examined elements – representing young people in a more rounded manner. As Tom Sherrington states, not everything needs to be examined to have value.


Fundamentally, we believe 2020 has shown us – in numerous ways – that being academically skilled is not enough. Our future prospects are directly related to those of our young people, and it is vital we build them into well-rounded individuals. Our current system does not award qualifications upon reaching a certain threshold, but rather pits students against their current cohort to determine their grade – with a third leaving with nothing. This is not building the future workforce that we need.


Extra-curricular activities have long been the environment in which young people have fostered the transferable skills that remain with them throughout their education and careers. It’s time to extract ‘extra’ from the equation. For us to prepare the next generation, not just to solve the problems we haven’t encountered, but also to be engaged members of the community and society, we need to incorporate these activities into the mainstream curriculum. They should not be optional extras for those who have the time and money to invest in them.


By integrating practical, ambitious and long-term initiatives like the Greenpower challenge into the curriculum, we give our young people the context around what they are learning. They’ll be more likely to engage with subjects if they can experience it for themselves; what better way to learn about friction and forces than to sit in an electric kit car you’ve designed and made yourself and slam on the brakes?


At Greenpower we’ve been doing this for over twenty years and have seen first-hand the long-term benefits that our project delivers. We’ve lived it, breathed it and have the evidence to back it up. But don’t just take our word for it. In the words of former participant Emily Marchant: “My experience of Greenpower, while mechanically and scientifically interesting, was shaped by the personal values that it promotes and develops.”


Though young people will relish being back in the classroom with their peers and returning to a semblance of social interactions, burying them in a mountain of work is unlikely to inspire them at this crucial time. Our education system should make space for activities like the Greenpower challenge, and build them into the foundations of a new, more holistic way of learning.


The charity Big Education states: “We believe deeply that we need to educate the whole child – head, heart and hand. And if we do that with innovation and rigour, then young people will be equipped to make a difference to the world. Education is an intellectual as well as practical undertaking and needs a rich blend of both.”


This is why understanding the context of what they are studying is vital for young people, they need to see the link between what they are doing in the classroom and what their careers could be. This is how we inspire them to undertake a STEM career and we believe spark creativity from which we can all benefit. To achieve this, we need to do what we’ve always thought unthinkable: rip up the textbooks and start again.