The annual conference of the US National Association of Principals of Schools for Girls, which I attended last week in Seattle, took as its theme ‘Our new world of work: challenges and opportunities’, and proved to be an excellent forum in which to consider and debate the issues surrounding this topic. Ellen Stein, the Head of the Dalton School in New York, and this year’s President of NAPSG, opened the conference with the assertion that ‘as the world of work changes profoundly, the world of education must change with it’, and this underpinned the discussions and debates of the entire few days. With these emerged again and again the importance of critical thinking, of flexibility of mind, of communication skills and of collaborative processes – all of which are skills which the young people in our schools now must learn and embed if they are to be successful in their futures.
And this was very clear when, as part of the conference programme, we visited the world headquarters of Microsoft, located in Seattle – a fascinating experience. This global corporation extends to almost every country in the world, devotes $9 billion dollars a year to research, and draws together teams of extremely bright people to work on exciting new projects to help make a difference in the world – increasingly, Microsoft’s main focus. Did you know, for example, that research teams from Microsoft working on detection filters for spam emails had linked up with researchers of the HIV virus, and had applied their algorithms to the hunt for a vaccine? It appears there are a several similarities between the way spammers seek to evade spam filters and the way the HIV virus is constantly mutating; by drawing the research together, vast strides forward are being made in the hunt for a cure.
The world needs curious minds and lateral thinkers, and in schools we must work hard to ensure that the curriculum we provide for our students is no longer locked into the past, in an industrial age. For too long the realities of what our world needs have not filtered through to the classroom; suffocating and restrictive examination programmes have limited creative thought or the pursuit of individual passions, and this, it seems, is true worldwide. The classroom should be the gateway to a world of deep thought and inventiveness; anything else should be unthinkable in this day and age.
And this is where School Principals come in. Leadership is key to the success of any organisation, and its impact is (and should be) felt keenly in places which should be likened to the great galactic nurseries of the stars – places of learning and development where great minds can be grown. The role of the School Principal is to break free of stifling constraints and, sometimes, political interference; to put every child first and to help him and her to glimpse what the future may have in store. It is so important that we do this. The future of the world depends on our young people, and we owe them the very best start in their learning journey.