International College Hong Kong
May 02, 2017

What is school for?

Victoria Lee is Head of English at ICHK

What is school for?

This is a question that became a focus point for a Year 7 English group this Thursday. It wasn’t part of the plan, but sometimes some of the most interesting and memorable lessons aren’t. In fact, although it can be hard to admit (especially for teachers, who are often driven by the end ‘goal’ of the lesson) some of the greatest learning arises at just these moments.

Not only was this not planned, but it was also the result of –let us say- a short extollation of the merits of getting to class on time, completing homework and not writing in pink pen in our workbooks. I have quite strong ideas about organisation and we were going back to basics. After the students quietly and dutifully contributed to a discussion about what a well-organised English book looks like, I began to ask them why they actually needed to do these things. There were some solid answers: learning organisational skills for later life; so that the teacher can understand their work; being respectful.

I wanted to make the students understand that these seemingly fixed (and perhaps arbitrary to them) rules were part of a bigger picture. Equally, I was struck by the idea that education expects even the youngest of students to buy in to routines and methods that they don’t necessarily have a say in or understand the merit of. Naturally, this brought us to the question that precedes this short piece: what is school actually for?

With a combination of slight apprehension and curiosity, I asked.

The initial answers were reasonably predictable: ‘to help us get a job’, ‘to prepare us for life after school’. Some even proposed a different model of school: the idea that learning should be more about their interests and the ‘real world’. As I responded and followed up, one response really interested me. It was equally extraordinary in both its simplicity and its level of insight:

School is for learning to become the best possible version of ourselves that we can be.

From the mouth of a Year 7 girl was an understanding that reflects a real engagement with what is happening at ICHK. It demonstrates the power of an environment that promotes both individuality and membership to a community. There is a consciousness within this answer that shows a sense of care and consideration and, I hope, the nurture, that allows students to thrive and become themselves, to realise in equal measure academic and personal development.

ICHK is a unique environment: yes, as teachers we are passionate about our subjects, yes we are focused on student attainment and yes we do plough energy and time into boosting ‘performance’. But we are also in a community where the conditions are such that learning can be truly holistic, where teachers are not made to feel uncomfortable stopping and changing direction when teachable moments arise. As more and more generations of students are coming to us, the impact of this is becoming clearer. We work with, and send off into the world, individuals, who – whilst not their ‘finished selves’ - are equipped with the skills, confidence and attitude to keep becoming the best version of themselves that they can be.

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