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 by Gregory Van Goidtsnoven, Bilingual Principal

With the recent virus issues facing the world, many international schools around the world have had to implement their plans for distance learning. These programs come in many shapes and forms, such as “Blackboard” or “Google Classroom”, but they all rely heavily on allowing students to continue their education while not physically being in the classroom. As I have mentioned in other articles, the use of technology in education has been increasing dramatically. Our reliance on it has brought about some very ingenious educational strategies, as well as some equally unexpected difficulties. The reason I bring this up is that as the principal in an international school, I am frequently confronted with the misunderstandings of what is perceived as a “Good Education” and sometimes unrealistic expectations. One of these misunderstandings in education has been the rigorous focus on what is perceived as “Academics” and attaining high scores.

Over the past several years there has been a big surge to improve the scores in math and science. The push to become competitive in these areas gave birth to a new educational program that is commonly known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Through this program, a greater emphasis was placed on these subject areas so that students could become better equipped to meet the needs of a quickly developing technological society. Once again, technology was pushing the boundaries and impacting the concepts of “Education”. Many were pleased with the change of focus knowing that the jobs of tomorrow have yet to be designed and yet many were aware that technology would be at the center. Having children better equipped for this challenge gave many peace of mind.

Schools around the world began their systemic changes to prepare their students to meet the demands of the 21st century. Science and math departments grew and a comparative perspective began to emerge to see who was achieving higher in these areas.Class ranking began to creep in as a way of evaluating students against each other, which lead to a dramatic increase in class expectations, rigor of subject matter, homework, competitiveness and more frightening emotional stress.

It is to this misunderstanding of what is “Education” for that matter “Academics” that I write this article. All too often there is a dismissive attitude towards anything that is not perceived as “academically important”. We try to look far into the future to forecast what our children will need to be successful and, in doing so, lose track of being in the present. In no way am I saying that the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are unimportant. Undoubtedly these are skills that will be necessary for the 21st century, however we must never forget the human condition. Since the introduction of STEM, there was an evolution of the practice which now included “Art” and “STEAM” was created. Although this addition to the educational focus was implemented, it was not fully promoted or for that fact understood. The “Arts” in STEAM was not simply the incorporation of painting and drawing to a student’s class schedule. The “A” in STEAM should be thought of as an “H”, which stands for “Humanities”. By not recognizing this “H”, many do not realize the purpose or importance of these areas of study. The humanities are quickly becoming the focus in many schools, post-secondary colleges and universities and, more dramatically, the corporations of tomorrow. Although having a strong foundation in the STEM model is important, many companies and CEOs of corporations have been turning their focus on those individuals that are “problem solvers” and “critical thinkers”. One might assume that these skills are taught in the STEM model, and they are to a point, but a deeper understanding is what is needed in the 21st century

Recently I came across an article that gave “nine reasons the humanities matter” and I believe that they best illustrate how these skills are overtaking the STEM model.

  1. The humanities help us understand others through their language, histories and culture
  2. It fosters social justice and equality
  3. It reveals how people have tried to make moral, spiritual and intellectual sense of the world
  4. It teaches empathy
  5. It teaches us to deal critically and logically with subjective, complex, imperfect information
  6. It teaches us to weight evidence skeptically and consider more than one side to every question
  7. It builds skills in writing and critical reading
  8. It encourages us to think creatively Teaching us to reason about being human and to ask questions about the world
  9. The humanities develop informed and critical citizens

It is my hope that by bringing this topic of discussion to the table, I can help in dismissing the fear that unless you master or score high in these areas of STEM you are somehow not going to be able to get into a good university or be able to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Yes, getting good grades is important and of course there are skills that will be required of you, however it is becoming more and more evident that the Humanistic skills are out weighing the scores that you receive on reports or tests.

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