Our recent colloquia with Mike Hourihane from Think Global School was an excellent call to deeply consider the purpose and traditions of schools and the systems of which they are a part. The discussion and ideas presented have since provided considerable food for thought and had me asking questions around the ‘how could we …’, but also, ‘why not?”

“It is important to question assumptions.” Mike Hourihane

Think Global School is a unique enterprise, with no single school building and a very open educational philosophy, providing opportunity for student applicants to study in unique places around the world. It has been in operation since 2010 and has evolved in an iterative process of educational exploration, evaluation and refinement.

One of Mike’s focus areas is the concept of Agile methodologies, a software engineering term, where constant change is expected and planned for. This iterative, responsive approach is evident in TGS’s process, where Mike discussed the various aspects of school culture, pedagogy and curriculum that have evolved over time.

“What is the purpose of required secondary education?” Mike Hourihane

Mike noted the existing focus in most K-12 contexts is content, in competition with skills. He challenged whether we are ‘beginning with the end in mind’ if we just prepare kids for the next level (schooling, university etc.). Mike stated that the purpose is lost in education (specifically secondary) when we solely prepare students for higher education. He indicated that exposure to a range of curriculum areas is a must, but a focus on learning to learn is essential, though regularly overlooked in a content-driven model. These ideas complemented the previous week’s meeting with Bruce Dixon from Modern Learners and continued the challenging reflection about educational purpose.

Place-Based Learning and a Listen and Learn Approach to Service Learning

TGS students learn ‘from the location about the location’ through ‘Place based learning’ and Project Based Learning (PBL). TGS are focused on ensuring their students are motivated to make change in a global context and not just visit the world. There is a significant service learning approach, although not without context and maintenance. A ‘listen and learn’ approach to needs analysis is utilised and students may pass project work on to the next round of students working in the same space in order to respond to community needs in a purposeful and sustained manner. It is aimed that this change mentality extends beyond the school experience into the future lives of the students, although the alumni data is not yet extensive enough to be conclusive. TGS have learnt and aimed to focus more on culture than curriculum and this has extended to their hiring practices – through experience, they have learnt to look for mindset over academic ability.

Exams and high stakes testing eradicate wonder and curiosity.” Mike Hourihane

TGS are working hard to maintain academic rigour with a community-oriented project lens and operate largely outside systems that seek to standardise the learning process with testing. Mike raised the challenge that the “idea of the classroom almost has to go” – suggesting that different combinations are possible and that educators work towards mixing and breaking up constraints and standardisation. With this challenge in mind, Mike is launching a new company, Edio – through which he plans to educate and model the use of PBL to solve global issues.