How Will My Children Survive the 21st Century?

By Natasha Sim | Parents Avenue’s Writer

While it is up for debate the idea that a significant portion of children will take up jobs that may not exist yet, it still does not stop us parents from thinking about what then is the purpose of our children’s education in school. Because, to be frank, the purpose of education is no longer linear—especially now in the 21st century.

Parents Avenue sat down to speak with the new Head of Primary of Kinabalu International School (KIS), Mrs Joanne Smith about what we can expect from the primary and early years curriculum now in the present, and what that may mean for our children’s future.

“When I was at school we knew what sort of jobs were available to us,  Education was intended to land us a job. We’d decide what we want to do as a career and follow that trajectory,” Jo explained. 

But that’s no longer the case. With t
he growth and development of different  technologies we don’t know for sure what the labour market will be like in 20 years time. Some jobs may even become obsolete.

How do we prepare students for an unpredictable future?


Truthfully, we can’t know for sure what the future holds.  As the adage goes, “we can plan for a pretty picnic, but we can’t predict the weather.” However, we may equip children with the skills needed to face the bad weather. And that is achievable through  a curriculum that nurtures the whole child. 

“It’s important that children can think critically; are resilient and open-minded to change; are innovative; and able to communicate effectively,” said Jo.

“We do this by using the curriculum as a vehicle to develop these skills. Children are able to collaborate throughout the curriculum; they can be curious and imaginative no matter what the subject.”

KIS students get to practice their "soft skills" during Enterprise Week when they become little entrepreneurs.

One may even argue that what is commonly termed as “soft skills” should be understood as essential skills. The ability to communicate well, think critically, collaborate and be creative are foundational skills that help them connect with the wider world.

In fact, “social skills are actually far more predictive of outcomes into adulthood than early academics.” Simply put, social competence at a young age is a far bigger determining factor to whether a child will grow into a successful young adult, than compared to academics. 

A wider curriculum that promotes holistic education


“I believe that what goes on in the classroom is as important as what goes on outside the classroom,” said Jo.

That is why the wider curriculum offered by KIS gives students as young as three opportunities to participate in events such as Global Goals Day, where children collaborate to solve issues like climate change; achieving ‘zero hunger’; and ‘no poverty’. 

We also focus on Student Leadership, with even children at a primary level having the opportunity to express and exercise their rights and responsibilities as “citizens” by deciding on, for example, our playground rules.

Talk on wildlife conservation by Danau Girang Field Centre on Global Goals Day
During Global Goals Day, students learned about responsible consumption and made upcycled bags from old banners.

“It’s part of what we do as educators to help our children build character and resilience”, said Jo. 

And indeed, we have to admit that the ability to problem-solve, find a support system, communicate feelings and be resourceful are what would help anyone, and in this case our children, cope with what life throws at them. 

Here, it will bode well to mention another learning experience that KIS children are involved in: Enterprise Week. 

The week sees children turning into little entrepreneurs. Aside from it being a very literal Math exercise, children get to exercise their creative minds to come up with products for sale.

They team up, learn budgeting, finance, and practice public speaking by pitching their “big sale idea” in order to get a ‘bank loan’ from school.  By the end of the week, the year group that turned the highest profit and showed the greatest initiative will get to win the Enterprise Cup.

What if schools focused on relationships instead of test scores?


As adults, it’s easy to understand that test scores do not necessarily reflect a child’s intelligence or character.

But as parents, we get so caught up with our child’s grades, but are we preparing them to be LIFE ready? We’re more inclined to worry about them getting into a prestigious university than we are about them facing the world once they walk out the door. 

Because of how quickly society is evolving, it may seem that a child needs to learn more academic skills to catch up. However, homework can displace important developmental milestones for children: skills that have been talked about throughout the entire article. 

Testing children over and over again mandates that a child’s worth is only what it is on paper. 

Teachers at KIS work hard to foster positive and nurturing relationships with students and parents, it makes for a collaborative learning environment. One where a child can lead and inquire—the possibility of growth into active citizenship much more palpable.

“We do have robust assessment procedures for over 200 primary school students at KIS. Teachers will particularly  assess children on a range of objectives in reading, writing and math skills on a weekly basis which in turn informs planning for the following week” said Jo. 

But what the Head of Primary would like to highlight is their “open-door policy” for parents to come in and chat about their children at any time. As well as an informative reporting cycle, parents are encouraged to communicate with their class teacher and Head of School via the Class Dojo app. 

Class Dojo is used at KIS as the primary source of communication between home and school and allows parents to follow their child’s learning journey. Every Friday, class teachers post a summary of the week and also provide information on the learning for the week ahead. “Fostering close professional relationships between teachers and parents is of paramount importance and is central to building a close-knit community,” said Jo.” 

For Jo, the goal is to raise well-rounded children that communicate well, can collaborate, are resilient, receptive to change and open-minded to the unpredictability of life after school. And to have a child grow into a respectful global citizen, it is crucial to focus on developing skills that may not be graded on paper.

Jo Smith is the new Head of Primary at Kinabalu International School (KIS) who joined in August 2019. Jo holds a BA (Hons) Degree in Joint History and English and a PGCE Certificate. She is currently working on completing the National Professional Qualification of Head Teachers. Prior to her appointment at KIS, she was a teacher in the UK and later moved to work at Regents International School Thailand before landing on the shores of Kota Kinabalu.

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