What is a Round Square education?

By Rod Fraser on 07/12/2016

The Round Square network of schools support and promote a particular approach to education that is values-based.

At its heart, values-based education deals with qualities and attitudes, with personality and strength of character. It comes from experiences, real-world learning and periods of reflection. It has the capacity to instill a passion for lifelong learning and provide the personal “noise filter” necessary to develop higher order thinking skills. Both are essential for the constantly connected, communication-rich i-generation.

"Providing an education that incorporates not only cognitive skill development, but also non-cognitive skill development is fundamental if students are to actively engage in their communities – whether they be local or global.” says Rob McHarg at the Inter-Community School in Zurich "Working in a Round Square school means that as a school community we promote experiential learning opportunities, encourage international collaboration and exchange, and celebrate diversity. We are fortunate at ICS, to have the support that enables two teachers allocated time to coordinate our school’s Round Square programme”

Rob McHarg and Lydia Eckstein work in partnership to instil Round Square values and ethos at ICS Zurich. As Lydia says “Round Square schools empower and challenge students to make a difference. It takes students out of their comfort zones and connects them with like-minded learners from around the world who share the same drive to make a difference in our world. As a teacher working in an environment that supports students as they innovate, create and collaborate, you cannot fail to be inspired by this next generation of minds. We are also fortunate at ICS, to have the support that enables two teachers allocated time to coordinate our school’s Round Square programme.”

Round Square is now in its 50th year and with a network of 170 international schools in 40 countries on six continents, Round Square provides a catalyst and framework for more than 200,000 students each year to engage in a holistic programme of self-discovery. Built around six IDEALS of learning (Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service), the Round Square approach inspires and draws out from every child their capacity for achievement and excellence, recognising that learning is most effective when it is practical, cross-cultural and collaborative.

“In a time when the world is changing at an ever-increasing pace; when we recognize that adaptability, empathy and teaming skills are central traits for our students to be successful in life; and when global as well as intercultural literacy is an imperative for individual, community, and international well-being, Round Square has become an even more important partner for our school.” Says Innes van Nostrand, Principal of Appleby College in Canada.

“Of course academic rigour is a central priority for us.” adds Appleby’s Head of School Katrina Samson, “But we see the broader range of involvement by our students in both traditional and innovative co-curricular programs having a powerful impact on their outlook and their abilities. Global experiences, outdoor education, and the interaction with students from around the world are having life-changing effects on both our young people and our faculty. The Round Square network and programs are an important part of our offering.”

Van Nostrand goes on to say, “The principles that Kurt Hahn promoted have become even more important today, and the IDEALS of Round Square are in lock-step with Appleby’s values as together, we work to develop young people who have both the commitment and ability to be valued members of their local, national and international communities.”

This values-based approach that is embraced by Round Square schools, going above and beyond academic achievement, is of particular interest to parents.  A recent study of Round Square schools conducted by researchers from the Cambridge University Faculty of Education reports that “Parents have the highest expectations of Round Square schools both academically and in terms of character development for their children; for the greater part they find these expectations fulfilled or exceeded.” The report quotes a number of parents in support of this comment. As one says "The benefits are fantastic for their personal development: Resilience, confidence, independence, courage, leadership, articulation, self-belief, the list is endless!” Another is quoted in reference to the Round Square IDEALS "These values are who we are – they all blend together to create well-rounded teenagers who understand that there is more to the world than just them.”

As the researchers discovered, in selecting a school for their child, whilst parents will inevitably prioritise high quality support for academic achievement, this is not the only deciding factor.

"Academics are very important and you can't do without that but there are many other elements to life that high school needs to prepare them for and Round Square certainly does that” says Dr Robin Drennan, whose daughters attend St. Stithians Girls' College in South Africa "It challenges them in unusual circumstances, multicultural situations, and that makes them grow, and we can see that with both my daughters."

Through the Round Square network, students are able to access a range of practical activities and programmes that build character, global awareness and confidence, instilling values for positive and active citizenship, whilst also developing exceptional leadership skills.

School-hosted, Regional and International student-led Round Square Conferences engage more than 8,000 students a year in collaboration of thinking and learning across countries and continents. At a more intimate level, local, regional and international student and staff visits and exchanges between schools offer opportunities for more than 1,800 pupils and teaching staff to experience each other’s learning environments, countries and cultures. More than 26,000 students from Round Square schools take part in immersive community service projects each year. Round Square’s own International Service Projects bring together students from member schools across the globe to work as a truly international team in partnership with communities facing economic challenges. The teams tackle tasks that have ranged from building schools, classrooms and community centres to constructing paths and clean water systems for remote hill-tribes.

"It can take a few days out of curriculum teaching but the long term benefits are huge” says Chris Townsend, Headmaster of Felsted School in the UK “The connections that pupils make and the lessons they learn - not just academic lessons but lessons about life and other people - are really important to them. So our experience is that students who have gone out and taken part in conferences and projects will come back more motivated, harder working and ultimately more successful."

Our students agree, and ascribe their development of a range of intangible qualities to their Round Square experiences: "In Round Square we have a lot of activities that give us knowledge, which is outside a text book.” says Amish Prakash from Indian School al Ghubral, Oman, "It’s not only book knowledge. They make you book smart as well as street smart. Which is not something you find in other schools that do not have Round Square."

Juno Wen from the Bejing Concord College of Sino Canada attended the Round Square International Conference in Singapore along with delegates from Round Square schools from 40 other countries “I developed co-operative awareness. I learned how to unite our team. For the community, I cultivated competitive awareness. For the world, I got a deep meaning of sustainability.”

“I believe my perceptions are more international and my thought process in understanding the human race is less territorial” says Apurv Gupta, who participated in a Round Square International Service Project in Peru and is currently serving as a youth representative to the United Nations “I am grateful to the project to have recognised that despite differences, humans are similar the world over; be it people in Peru or students from around the world. My perception of the world is very united which truly helped me in forging a professional career with the United Nations."

Drawing on 50 years of experience in delivering these practical learning opportunities for students, the recently-launched Round Square Discovery Framework captures and describes the spirit of a Round Square learner who develops and exhibits competencies and attitudes in relation to each of the six RS IDEALS. The framework connects the IDEALS with twelve Discoveries that students make on their learning journey (inquisitiveness, tenacity, courage, compassion, inventiveness, ability to solve problems, self-awareness, sense of responsibility, appreciation for diversity, commitment to sustainability, communication and team-working skills).

With this approach, Round Square schools have the opportunity to blend character education into even the strictest curriculum, as researchers from Cambridge University's Faculty of Education discovered “The IDEALS are somewhat counter-cultural, sitting uneasily with an increasingly dominant international culture of narrow academic performance and competitiveness that disregard values-led activities… It is clear, however, that those developing the Round Square Discovery Framework are seeking more creative ways of reducing the tensions between these positions by synthesising academic, skills-based, experiential, personal and moral learning in powerful ways."