CEO blog: Happy Prizegiving Season!

Posted: 12 December 2018

By: Rachael Westgarth, Chief Executive, Round Square

It’s prizegiving season for many Round Square schools as we approach the end of the year and the end of term around the world.

For many it is a time of reflection and celebration of the challenges and triumphs of the past year and prizegiving events are an opportunity to hear from students about their adventures both at home and overseas, their leadership challenges, the moments that moved them to take-action in the service of others, their ingenuity and determination in tackling environmental challenges – an opportunity to capture and communicate the spirit of Round Square.

These are powerful reminders that when each of us reflects on our time in school, our strongest memories, the most enduring lessons and the experiences that go on to become our “eureka moments” are more-often-than-not about learning-by-doing, self-discovery and personal challenge beyond academic learning. They are testament to Kurt Hahn’s belief that given the right opportunities, challenges, encouragement, support and freedom, students will discover in themselves more capacity for happiness, courage, compassion, adventure, greatness, excellence – And for achievement both inside and outside the classroom – than they ever realised was there.

Amidst the fairy lights at Kingsley School’s prizegiving last week I invited everyone to conjure up a ghost of Christmas past – seasonal, I thought, and a reference to my own 6th form prize – a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Conjure up your own right now – an ancestor from about 100 years ago – a great, great, great grandparent perhaps – and bring them to the present day, fully intact with a vision of the world as they experienced it. All their beliefs, triumphs, maybe some prejudices; their hardships, victories: their outlook on life unchanged from the time in which they lived.

Take them to your home, watch the news on television, surf the internet on your computer, ask Siri a question on your mobile phone, Skype with your auntie on the other side of the world. Then microwave a meal, take them for a drive in your car, go shopping, get on a train, hop on a plane to another country, take them into an office, a hospital, to a football match, to the cinema, to a rock concert…

Their minds would be blown.

Now take them into an average school – an average classroom – Be the ghost of Christmas present.

Of all these examples it’s probably the environment that would seem most familiar to them. And yet this is the environment in which our next generation is developing an understanding of their place in the world today and preparing for an ever-changing future.

We might have swapped slates for laptops, our encyclopaedia is now the internet; interactive whiteboards have replaced chalk-and-talk, and much of the learning that takes place in school is now learner-led. But our education system is still structured around knowledge acquisition and examination; in an average school the day is largely made up of taught lessons, and many of the subjects – history, geography, maths – would be somewhat familiar to your ghost of Christmas past.

We are a far cry from Dickensian times of course, but we have our own Christmas Carol to learn nonetheless. Bring your “ghost of Christmas past” to the classrooms of “Christmas present” and consider how prepared we are for “Christmas yet to come” – that ever changing future – and perhaps we will agree that whilst we are heading in the right direction, there is much still to do.

To succeed in that future, today’s students will need to be capable of creating their own careers. They will need to be entrepreneurial, confident, adaptable; to be critical thinkers, and problem solvers. They will have to be tenacious, resilient, self-managing, internationally-minded and able to work in multicultural teams. More importantly, we all need them to be all these things – both now and in the future – to be courageous and compassionate change-makers, prepared and empowered to collaborate on seeking more creative solutions to global problems. As Kurt Hahn said: “Education must enable young people to affect what they have recognized to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner scepticism, despite boredom, and despite mockery from the world”.

I hope that you will have some time over a well-earned break in the coming weeks to bring together past, present and future – to reflect on the importance of the work that you are doing in your schools to innovate; to challenge the system; to offer your students practical opportunities for real-world learning through experience and push themselves beyond their comfort zone; to develop a world-view that embraces internationalism, democracy, environmentalism, adventure, leadership and service; and to champion and promote character development alongside academic success.

Have a great break one and all – I look forward to catching up with everyone at the ARMs in the New Year.

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