As I travel to Hong Kong again, this time for the grand and very exciting opening on Saturday of the brand new Dalton School Hong Kong, on whose Foundation Board I sit, I am minded to ponder on why people strive to open new schools. Over the past few years I have seen many, many schools open across the world, and I have been involved in several of these; of the defining features of these openings is that they are incredibly hard work – hours and hours, months and years of developing a concept, finding premises, persuading investors to provide working capital, navigating legalities, appointing a principal and staff (and harnessing their educational experience), bringing together an effective board, designing a unique curriculum, connecting with the world to ensure there are students … building, developing, growing. It takes a phenomenal effort to start a school; what, then, drives so many people to make this effort and to pursue the goal of opening a new school?
One of the main drivers for new schools is that the envisaged school fills a gap – either because there are no schools at all in the area (which despite the overall success of the Millennium Development Goals is still the case in many parts of the world), or because the new school provides for a different kind of education – more student-centred, perhaps, more forward-thinking, or just refreshingly different from the education which is currently available. Schools across the world are on a journey of constant self-improvement and challenge, and sometimes it takes a completely new structure, freed of embedded expectations, to turn these ideas into reality. For some groups, the motive is financial, because education – like any business – has the potential to raise a profit, but even when this is the case, there is almost invariably a strong educational motive behind the school – no-one takes on the task of bringing a school to fruition without a compelling sense that a school is, of itself, an important thing to develop.
And this belief, I sense more and more strongly, the more deeply I am engaged in new schools across the world, underpins every single new school development: a very central, core understanding that education really, really matters in our world. Education has always mattered and always will; to every question worth asking, the answer involves learning and education. Schools – where we protect time and expertise for the young people of our world – are the prime facilitators of education in our world, and when we consider how far we have come to provide universal schooling globally, and our global ambitions for secondary as well as primary education for all, as elucidated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we should – at the very least – take pride in what our society has achieved, and how far we have come as a human race.
New schools are not just buildings or collections of policies and schemes of work; they are ideas and pinnacles of hope, of which we can be deeply proud. I, for one, am intensely proud to be associated with them. Saturday cannot come quickly enough …