When I was growing up, if you wanted access to books, you went to the library or a bookstore. If you wanted to see a movie, you went to the theater or a video shop. And if you wanted to learn something new, you took a class.
Sitting in a theater last month watching Captain Marvel crash into a Blockbuster, I was stunned by how retro the scenes from the nineties looked. While some of the clothing from the decade is clearly making a comeback, the tech seemed simply ancient.
The days of renting VHS feel like they took place in another lifetime, rather than a mere twenty years ago. The way I consume movies and television now could not be more different than it was then.
I never would have imagined growing up that I would one day live in a home sans cable or video player that had instant access to everything on the market. I am by no means an early adopter when it comes to technology, rather the person who still carts around paper books.
Technology has forced even the most nostalgic and change averse among us to alter our behavior in the arena of media consumption. For the students in our primary and secondary schools, this same shift has occurred in the realm of learning.
I have always taken for granted that if you wanted to learn, say, a musical instrument, you would enroll in lessons. Children today would just as soon learn via YouTube. It saves them time, the trouble of engaging their parents as the financial intermediary, and allows them to progress at their own pace.
Schools have, to date, not been put under the same pressure to change as other businesses in the market. Walk into most high school classrooms now and you will encounter a scene more or less the same as the one you would have witnessed one hundred years ago - a teacher with a subject-specific certification directing a group of students arranged in rows of desks.
When one considers that a single Google query will generate information that exhausts by one thousand times the knowledge of that single instructor, this is, in effect, like walking into a friend’s house today and finding that they insist on continuing to access films via VHS.
Unfortunately for these academic institutions, the trend shows that upcoming generations of students who did not exist in a world without the internet simply will not continue to invest in educational experiences that are expensive, undifferentiated, lower quality than what they can receive for free, and give them zero competitive advantage in college or the job market.
A lab run by professional marine biologists, a high school campus that looks more like a design studio than a school, and the existence of the Black Dolphin are a few of many indicators that THS is on the cutting edge of a movement to catch brick and mortar schools up with the times.
Teachers at the high school are trained not to limit student learning to their own areas of expertise but to reach outside their disciplines and see all of Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong, and the world as extensions of their classrooms.
Courses on offer are taught not only by trained educators but individuals with professional experience beyond teaching - parents with degrees or work experience in a particular fields, local business owners and entrepreneurs, and professors at universities around the world.
A prime example of this is the Startup Immersion course that is co-taught by a humanities teacher, a member of THS’ operations team, and a local business owner. Viatao Tech is a Hong Kong startup which is breaking into the school vending machine business by setting up snack stands in schools where students curate the products on offer and pay using an app.
The business faces many challenges on a logistical, marketing, and operational level. Students in the course serve as both representatives of the company’s target demographic and management consultants. They have been tasked with tackling problems of practice that the company is grappling with in real time.
Their assessment at the end of the course revolves around pitches to the company’s executive team with recommendations for how they might endeavor to solve these problems. Their market research, solution development, and pitch prep is overseen by faculty that bring diverse, targeted skill sets to the table.
Students in the course engage in a process that is rigorous, memorable, and, perhaps most important, relevant to the endeavors they are likely to participate in later in life when they lead their own teams, start their own businesses, or solve their own problems.
Shakespeare posits that all the world’s a stage. Indeed our lives are one grand production and, conversely, the best theatrical performances are the ones that generate in the confines of a theater an experience that looks and feels so much like what we experience in the real world as to be transportive.
The single objective of schools is to develop students to be ready for the world they will enter as adults. Let’s make it look as much like that world as possible.