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Enriching school curricula with multi-cultural narratives inspire curiosity to help learners acquire transferable skills

Updated: Mar 5

By RVM Communications


George Barrett


  •       Themed around ‘Enriching your curriculum’, the Schools Now! 2024 conference equipped educators and decision-makers with the tools, insights and actionable strategies necessary to enhance the educational experience for students worldwide.

  • Education experts from around the world presented innovations and case studies in leadership, well-being and safeguarding approaches and the integration of technology in digital learning.

  • The conference focused on empowering subject experts within the school community to drive curriculum development and delivery.

  • The conference delved into how educators can navigate the rise of AI and where it intersects with Africa’s digital divide.      

Due to technological advances and the advent of AI, South Africa’s education sector is undergoing rapid transformation. Educators must adapt to these new ways of working to foster important skills such as critical thinking.

 

While this offers opportunity, challenges also arise, such as the digital divide – a pressing issue in Africa – and the need for more comprehensive teacher training. Collaboration between stakeholders is essential to ensure equitable access to education.With a view to enabling enhanced learning outcomes in schools, British Council’s Schools Now! 2024 was held over three days in Cape Town, South Africa from 27-29 February 2024. The conference was attended by over 1000 school leaders both onsite and virtually, and served as a platform for fostering collaboration, sharing best practices and insights in international education. 


The themes included digital learning, leadership, well-being, and safeguarding, adding to a rich internationalised and contextualised curriculum. Through a series of engaging keynote sessions, immersive workshops, and panel discussions, delegates explored innovative teaching approaches, curriculum enrichment strategies, and the integration of technology in education. 

 

Martin Lowder, Head of Global Exams Services, The British Council, shared, ‘The spirit of Schools Now! is to establish global connections within the educational community, exploring insights and innovations in international education. By addressing emerging themes, we aim to empower educators to navigate the complexities of the shifting education landscape and drive positive outcomes for students.’

 


Schools Now! Conference Audience


British Council South Africa Country Director, George Barrett, said: ‘British Council Partner Schools programme supports over 40 Partner Schools in South Africa and 785 in Sub Saharan Africa to deliver UK International School Qualifications on behalf of UK awarding bodies. Our educational support enables schools to enhance the learning experience for students, improving educational outcomes and giving young people in the region access to international opportunities.’

 

The opening keynote session by Victoria Pendry, CEO of the Curriculum Foundation, aimed at empowering schools to develop, monitor, and evaluate an enriched curriculum. She highlighted that, ‘In a rapidly changing world, if learners are to develop resilience, creativity and the essential skills of collaboration, the curriculum must be ambitious and enriched with local and global narratives that excite imaginations and inspire curiosity.’

 

Her presentation explored the interconnected nature of digital learning, leadership, well-being, and safeguarding as a foundation for quality and equitable education. She summarised how ‘a curriculum that is rich in respect for the past, eager to consider preferred futures and committed to exploring different perspectives, will drive positive outcomes beyond the classroom’. 

 

Other distinguished speakers included, Dr Funke Baffour-Awuah, Head of Well-being Division and Child Protection Lead, Al Rayan International School, Ghana, Kathleen O’Hare, British Council Education Consultant, Pamela O`Brien, Deputy Head and Jo Parkes, Deputy Head Academic from British Council School in Madrid, and adding to a rich and diverse perspective.

 

Tatiana Popa, Deputy Academic Director, Heritage International School, Moldova, an ISC International Education Influencer of 2023, delivered a session for virtual delegates, on ‘Digital learning’, focussing on the use of AI in schools and how this will impact all areas of work, educational tools, teaching practice and much more. 

 

An expert panel on ‘AI in Education’ comprising of Kudzayi Tarisayi, Senior Lecturer, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, Reham Ali, Director of Middle and High School Education, Nermine Ismail International Schools, Egypt and Jo Parkes discussed valuable tips into how schools can ensure students are prepared for future needs dictated through the use of AI. It was eye-opening to see nearly 90% of conference delegates voice AI as a friend, not foe, signalling widespread optimism towards AI’s potential benefits.

 

Dr Funke’s keynote addressed how to ‘Develop a Well-being Framework for a Thriving School Community through the lens of ‘A Curriculum-Centred Approach.’ She stressed on how ‘Integrating wellbeing into the curriculum promotes a thriving school community: By intentionally incorporating wellbeing into the curriculum, schools can create a holistic learning environment that supports the mental, emotional, and physical health of students.’

 

A series of workshops discussed practical aspects of implementing key learnings through a range of key thematic areas such as, ‘Leadership Synergy: Peer Coaching & Empowering Your Success’ and ‘What is an innovative curriculum in an exam focused school context’ to name a few. These workshops provided school leaders with engagement tools in support of enriching the curriculum so that communities are inspired and committed to helping learners to acquire transferable skills  such as problem solving and critical thinking, teamwork and communication, particularly in multi-cultural realities.

 

Jo Parkes led a workshop on curriculum, reinforcing ‘the importance of reading as a fundamental aspect to an enriched curriculum. Establishing reading as the backbone of the curriculum is enormously effective but sadly often overlooked.’

 


 Schools Now! Conference delegates


Another key focus of the conference was safeguarding, recognising the importance of school community wellbeing and safety within the learning environment. Pamela O`Brien, in her workshop on ‘Developing school practices to ensure safeguarding and wellbeing of students’ shared that, ‘Safeguarding and wellbeing are intertwined. Creating a safe environment is key and includes not only complying with relevant laws and standards but also identifying school practices which promote the wellbeing of children and act as protective factors.’ 

 

She shared case studies from the British Council School, Madrid where ‘Policies, systems and procedures have led to consistency and best practice. We can only say a policy, or a system is working if we see it in practice and the entire school community plays their part.’


The conference also provided British Council’s Action Research Grants recipients from Partner Schools the opportunity to share valuable findings from their respective research areas. A thought-provoking session by Amira Soliman Awaad, Director of Curriculum and Instruction from Dr. Nermien Ismail International Schools in Egypt showcased how ‘Digitized Blended Learning Methods’ such as the ‘Flipped Classroom’ and ‘Exit Tickets’ save class time and yield real-time intervention data, translating them into needed interventions for struggling students or requirements for increased rigour in the curricula.’

 

Schools are managing a variety of changes and development, and the British Council supports our Partner Schools to approach new challenges through training, guidance and encouraging collaborative practice. As education continues to evolve in response to the changing needs of learners, the Schools Now! conference plays a crucial role in driving progress and innovation within the sector. By harnessing the collective expertise and passion of school leaders and decision makers, the conference serves as a catalyst for transformative change, ultimately enriching the educational experiences of students worldwide. 

 

By championing safety and well-being, embracing technological advancements, and leadership in schools, and thereby promoting an enriched curriculum, the outcomes of Schools Now! Conference focused on empowering educators to create engaging, student-centred learning environments that prepare learners for success in the 21st century and beyond.

 

Key takeaways from the event will be available on the Schools Now! website page:

 

British Council Sub Saharan Africa, Regional Exams Director, Keshav Sreedharan, said: ‘British Council's Schools Now 2024 conference was organised in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time since its inception. Against the backdrop of Africa's potential, particularly with its dynamic and driven young population, this conference holds the promise of unlocking new opportunities and pathways for schools adopting the UK curriculum. The vibrancy of Cape Town will ignite conversations and initiatives that will shape the future of education in Sub-Saharan Africa.’

 

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