School curriculums in desperate need of modernisation, claims eight-year-old

Fourth grader argues younger pupils should be allowed to study robotics, social media and artificial intelligence

Adam El Rafey, with his mum, Soha. Reem Mohammed

An eight-year-old pupil from Dubai has challenged schools to radically reassess curriculums to allow room for more relevant, modern subjects.

Adam El Rafey claimed the current academic focus was too rigid and held children back by limiting their creativity.

Speaking at an education conference in the emirate, he called for classes in robotics, social media and artificial intelligence.

He said learning about how to make a YouTube video or to spot bullying behaviour was just as useful to pupils today as more traditional subjects.

“My mum learned in the same way that I’m being taught and we need to change that,” said Adam.

“Artificial and personalised learning can help. I want to learn about advanced physics and chemistry but I can’t because I am in year four and they don’t teach that.”

“We are not allowed to be creative as we want to be.”

Adam made his remarks at the annual Global Education Supplies and Solution conference in Dubai.

The event aims to bring together experts from around the world, allowing key decision makers to discuss new ideas in the sector.

Organisers said the pupil at Jumeirah English Speaking School in Dubai was the youngest speaker to address the conference.

The star pupil also won three gold medals at the 2018 Olympiad in UAE, an annual, international exam which covers English, maths and science.

“Sometimes school cuts us off,” Adam said. “For example, if I am in the middle of a piece of writing and then the teacher comes and tells us it’s time for the next subject.

“I need more time but I have to leave it and that interrupts my creative thinking process.”

Adam’s mother, Soha El Halfawi, told how the youngster had started reading at the age of one, without having been taught.

He has since continued his obsession with learning, even completing 12 robotics courses at organisations accredited by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai’s private school regulatory body.

Speaking to The National, Adam urged schools to allow children to experiment, to tackle different academic projects and to enjoy more field trips.

He also said lessons in social media were crucial to modern schooling, and that banning children from online platforms was not the answer.

“Schools should teach pupils how to manage social media,” he said. “They should face up to the issue and have a class on social media. Don’t tell me to limit screen time but tell me how to make a proper YouTube channel.

"Teach us about fake news and teach us about bullying.”

Ms Halfawi described how her son’s curiosity had proved boundless even from an early age.

“I have videos of him when he was a two-year-old identifying all the flags in the world," she said.

"Then he got interested in cars and memorised all the logos. He would look at cars while driving by and cry out names of brands like Peugeot and Ferrari."

Today, Adam’s bedside table is crowded with books on physics and astronomy, including authors Randall Munroe and Stephen Hawking.

Ms Halfawi said she was often amused to find titles hidden under his pillowcase and in his bathroom.

“Vanadium is my favourite element [in the Periodic Table], not just because of its bright red colour but it’s also the ingredient for strengthening metal," Adam said.

Five community schools open in Abu Dhabi

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Public schools are transformed into social hubs in an attempt to promote a culture of participation and engagement.

Five community schools were opened in Abu Dhabi emirate on Sunday.

Two opened in Al Ain, one in Abu Dhabi city and the remaining two schools in Al Dhafra.

Community schools are newer public schools that have been enhanced by the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge. Pupils benefit from more activities and classes, while the school itself becomes a social centre for the community.

Last year, Adek said it planned to transform 30 public schools into community schools in the capital by 2020.

The schools are meant to serve as social hubs to meet community needs, enhance pupil-parent relationships and promote a culture of participation and engagement.

The project focuses on six areas, including science, sports, health, culture, national identity, and pupils with special needs.

Dr Yousef Al Sheryani, ADEK’s undersecretary, said the goal of the project is linked to the country's education vision because it promotes the role of a school as a cultural hub, while creating an attractive educational environment to support talented pupils.

The new community schools in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi include: Mleih School in Abu Dhabi, Al Shaheen and Um Ghafa schools in Al Ain, Al Abbas Bin Abdul Muttalib School in Al Ruwais, and Dalma School in Dalma Island.

Re-defining Success and Failure

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 Our definition of failure defines more about us than we may realize, because the fear of failure is one of the most frequent sources of creative paralysis.

When the perceived threat of potential consequence outweighs the perceived benefits of success, we stop acting.

Notice the word “perceived”. These consequences are often illusory, but in our mind they are as real as a tiger staring us down. The problem is that we can go for days, weeks, months, years, lifetimes without every really getting to the bottom of this fear. The result is that we forfeit our best work.

The two things that will paralyze us creatively faster than any others:

1. We haven’t defined success.
2. We haven’t defined failure.

If we don’t have a clear definition of what we’re trying to do, we will spin out. Simultaneously, if we don’t have a clear definition of “missing the mark” we will experience paralysis. The simple act of clarifying these two concepts can immediately yield courage for your creative efforts.

Millennials are changing remote work

Improving technology and changing expectations of work and family from millennials are giving rise to a new office arrangement: the coliving/coworking space, often on the beach but always somewhere far away. It's like WeWork meets an upgraded hostel (in paradise) with free coffee, fast internet, a kitchen and quiet spaces, along with all the serendipitous meetings and experiences that make travel great. Leading the charge are companies like Selina, Outsite and Roam, which are opening locations across the globe to meet the demands of today's digital nomads.

Preparing for the Future of Work

Today, I’m part of a panel on the “Future of Work in an Era of Automation and Artificial Intelligence” at the Business Roundtable’s CEO Innovation Summit. This is a topic we’re often asked about at Walmart: what will jobs look like in the future, and how should we be preparing people for those roles?

When I consider this issue, I think back to my first job as an hourly associate in a distribution center, unloading Walmart trucks in the heat of an Arkansas summer. Our unloading processes in stores have been largely unchanged for three decades. This year, however, they are changing. We’ve begun modernizing our backrooms with a new technology called “FAST Unloader.” Associates take merchandise from the truck and place it directly onto a conveyor. The technology then scans and sorts the items. It takes 1/3 the time, and we’re seeing increases in sales and reductions in turnover in what had been a very difficult job to fill.

Improvements like this are happening across Walmart – our stores, our supply chain, and our eCommerce operations. We’re looking at our jobs through the lens of technology and asking ourselves which human tasks add value – and which should be automated to improve the associate experience, customer experience, and sales.

We’re exploring shelf scanners to monitor our inventory levels, an autonomous floor scrubber (think industrial-grade Roomba), and robotic technology that speeds the process of picking items for Grocery Pickup. At the same time, we’re investing in associate-facing apps and technology to enhance how our associates work and learn. For example, we’re using virtual reality headsets to train associates on the FAST Unloader before it even arrives in their store.

The overall trend we’re seeing is that automating certain tasks gives associates more time to do work they find fulfilling and to interact with our customers. We consider those interactions a competitive advantage now and in the future. We’re also seeing reduced turnover in our stores.

Another trend in the broader retail industry is that stores are likely to have fewer positions in the future. Although we will continue to have large numbers of jobs at all levels, we think our stores will follow that trend. The industry’s turnover rate means we can largely manage the overall number of store associates through attrition. Additionally, the progress we’re seeing from technology indicates that, over time, our roles can be higher-skilled and higher-paid.

This is the future we’ve been preparing for as it relates to training and paying our people. We’ve invested more than $4 billion over the past four years in higher wages, training and education. We’ve built 200 in-house training academies that teach retail and management fundamentals and focus on soft skills and leadership skills. We’ll have trained nearly 500,000 associates by the end of the year. We’re also offering a college benefit, where an associate can earn a college degree for the equivalent of $1 a day. We want every associate to be better off for having worked at Walmart.

We’ve increased our starting wages by more than 50 percent in the last three years, and we’ve invested in adoption, parental leave and education benefits at the same time. Let’s not get stuck, however, thinking about starting wages only. There can be unintended consequences of that focus. For example, raising the start rate at some companies ends up capping compensation for those who stay for years. That’s why Walmart has some of the widest pay bands in the industry. Hourly associates who have been with us, worked hard and moved up in our stores can make more than $24 an hour.

Additionally, smart employers reward their teams well beyond base wages. We currently have an average total compensation and benefits for hourly employees of more than $17.50 an hour when accounting for regular and overtime pay, a 401k match, health care, associate discount, paid time off, and a quarterly bonus more than 1 million of our associates earned last year based on store performance. That figure amounts to $19.99 for full-time hourly employees.

The workplace is going to look different in a few years – not just in retail, but across the economy, and we’re trying to be thoughtful about that transformation and bring our people along. We have been very deliberate about our job offerings, and we will continue listening to our people and investing in the training, benefits and wages they tell us are important. We’re creating a company that is people-led and tech-empowered. Our people made the difference yesterday, just as they do today, and just as they will tomorrow.

Are you a ninja, a rockstar or an evangelist?

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Financial-services firm OneAmerica has been around since 1877. To freshen its image with young recruits, it recently came up with a new title for a data-analyst job: data wrangler.

Among younger workers, “the perception of the industry is that we’re old and crotchety,” said Todd Shock, vice president of data and analytics at the Indianapolis company. The newfangled title, on the other hand, suggests agility and willingness to take risks, he argued.

“If I can put ‘data wrangler’ on a guy’s business card, and that’s what gets him here and excited, why not?” he said.

As the workplace changes, more companies are sprucing up job titles as a way to attract talent in a tight labor market. According to a 2018 survey by compensation consulting firm Pearl Meyer, 40% of firms said they use titles to attract prospective employees, up from 31% in 2009.

In the aftermath of the global recession a decade ago, many firms tried to sweeten job offers through title inflation, tacking on words like “executive” or “vice president” in lieu of more cash. These days, said Rebecca Toman, vice president of Pearl Meyer’s survey business unit, firms are using titles to show “you can have an impact or make a difference,” especially for younger workers. 

The standard “human resources” title, for example, has increasingly been replaced as companies seek to pitch the role as one more focused on employee well-being. In the past four years, the percentage of job postings seeking “head of people” has jumped more than threefold, according to job site Indeed.com. 

Meanwhile, ads seeking ninjas or rock stars—think “customer service ninja” or “sales rock star”—also have shot up. 

Joe Hill, 39, recently worked as a “developer evangelist” at a Virginia-based web application firm, helping educate potential clients about the company’s products. He said the term made him laugh, given that he once planned to become a minister. But he also said he thought it spoke to deeper desires among today’s job seekers: “I want a job to mean something.” 

While some changes in title amount to merely a rebranding, some businesses are establishing new roles to reflect changing workplace mores. More companies, including tech firms such as Salesforce Inc., now have a chief ethics officer, for instance. The job is a twist on the traditional chief compliance role, focused more on helping companies navigate the complex terrain of how their business intersects with society and politics than just complying with regulation.

Paul Wolfe, Indeed.com’s senior vice president of human resources, said the trend runs the risk of narrowing the applicant pool because many job seekers—particularly older ones—might not search more out-of-the-box terms as they scour job listings. Mr. Wolfe also cautioned that workers with more atypical-sounding titles on their résumés may find it more challenging to translate their work experience to new prospective employers.

Still, Mr. Wolfe noted that Indeed.com hires “recruitment evangelists,” a title he said reflects the “passion and energy we want someone to exude in the role.”

Many businesses using more distinctive titles argue they can attract the right candidates. At San Francisco-based print company Scalable Press, marketing head Julia Li is hiring for a “growth hacker,” a title that has gained popularity among startups in recent years. She said she is seeking candidates with less traditional marketing backgrounds. “If someone self-identifies as a growth hacker, they typically come with a different skill set: more of a technical background, not afraid to break a few eggs,” she said. 

Some argue that rethinking titles can give jobs the dignity they deserve. In Philadelphia, Oliver Frazier, 71, runs a chain of shoeshine stands with the help of around a dozen “shine artists,” as he calls them, who dress in jackets and ties. “They used to call us shoeshine boys,” he said. “I wanted to change that image.” 

Identifying his workers as “artists” lets him charge customers a premium, he added. 

Expect more companies to allow employees a say in what their titles ultimately look like, experts say. According to Pearl Meyer’s survey, 6% of firms give employees wide latitude in establishing their working title, up from 3.6% in 2009. “If you define your own title, you start taking ownership a lot more immediately,” said Thomas Schoenfelder, senior vice president at human-resources consulting firm Caliper. 

Chris Farley, 43, did just that in a recent job, giving himself the title of “public-relations ninja” while working for a Minnesota-based gaming company. “I’ve always been one to push the envelope,” said Mr. Farley, who found the title to be a good icebreaker. “I just wanted to be a little creative.”

What the schools of the future could look like

Schools are places for learning. Places where the next generation is educated and prepared for the future. The current school system was designed in a different context to meet the needs of the previous century. If we want to prepare children to live and act in the future society, it is not enough to improve literacy and numeracy. 

Changes in our society like globalization and digitalization together with the increasing demand of people who can innovate and collaborate means that we have to rethink education and reinvent schools.

Students need a foundation of basic knowledge, but as information can now be found anywhere it is even more crucial to know how to apply the knowledge. Practicing skills like creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration requires new school concepts that relates to the educational model and support the new way of learning.

1. Elementary Schools – Scaled to perfection

We think it is important that schools for our youngest learners provide spaces that are welcoming and ease the delicate transition from home to school. Scale may be the most important factor in creating an unintimidating and familiar space. Scale means understanding details, from the size of the furniture to the incorporation of the appropriate technology. It could also mean organizing the facility into smaller, more comprehensible components better suited to small learners. 

The design of 21stcentury elementary schools requires attention to myriad interrelated issues from pedagogy and technology, cognition and perception, demographics, budget, community to cultural goals and values. The overarching need is to ensure the future of our communities by educating our children in facilities that are welcoming, safe and supportive. 

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2. Middle Schools – Transitional environments for engaging minds

Creating the best learning environment for the middle school years – a time when students are going through physical, intellectual, emotional and social changes – requires thoughtful design. We believe middle school facilities should provide a natural transition between the self-contained world of elementary school and the high school world that inspires both academic and personal exploration.

Research has shown that when young adolescents are engaged in their own learnings, they are much more likely to achieve at higher levels. A strong priority on collaboration, vision and culture should be placed during the planning process in order to design middle schools that promote engagement among students.

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3. High Schools – Innovative environments for the opportunities of the future

Today's traditional high schools must be nimble enough to evolve into the high-performing schools of tomorrow—not only for their students and teachers but for entire communities. Secondary schools are called on to prepare students with the perspectives and skills they need to succeed in the future. 

Solving real-world problems, using industry-standard tools, and enjoying mentorship by real employers, students experience sustainable growth and make lasting contributions during their formative high school years.

 

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To introduce a new school concept is not a small operation and is of course followed by several challenges. For example, how should the projects be assessed and translated into individual grades and how can already practicing teachers adopt the new way of teaching? Rethinking schools is also highly political and includes actions on different levels. Is it possible to redesign schools on a grass root level or will it have to start from a national directive?

What will schools be like in the future? What will be considered relevant competence and how are these learned? Questions like these cannot be answered, but we can be relatively sure that schools will not be what they used to be and teaching in the future schools will not be the same as teaching has been in traditional classrooms.

For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us: www.urbanknowmad.com

Berlin Hustles Harder: The After School Edition

From artificial intelligence to making salads, After School Hustle offers free skill-building workshops for high-schoolers.

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A central aspect of happiness is the feeling of self-worth. Unfortunately a perceived lack of abilities can manifest itself early in life. After School Hustle wants to change this. Their aim is to shape the next generation to be more confident and aware of all the opportunities that life has to offer. How? Pawel Mordel, founder of After School Hustle, shares their story. 

Tell us about After School Hustle - where did the idea come from and what is your mission?

We are shaping the next generation to be more confident and aware of all opportunities that life has to offer. The traditional school system in Germany is very important, but it has certain blind spots. For young people aged 13 through 18, we are building an additional educational program which teaches them new skills and exposes them to inspirational biographies. Thus we hope to lead them to more fulfilling lives and having a positive impact on the community.

Your work is grounded on fostering well-being, what does well-being mean to you and how can it be cultivated?

A central aspect of happiness is the feeling of self-worth. By creating, people manifest themselves in the world and can be proud of their accomplishments. A perceived lack of abilities results in feelings of shame and sadness. The central aim of After School Hustle is to guide young people through the frustrations of learning and showing them why their effort will ultimately pay off.

You provide free skill-building workshops for high-schoolers in Berlin - can you tell us a little more about the workshops and exactly what kind of skills you aim to help students develop?

Essentially we are looking to develop a desire to learn and grow in young people. The topics of our classes are almost incidental. As we are just starting out, we focus on workshops that are easy to understand and do not require too much commitment. So far we had one-day workshops in rather obvious disciplines such as photography, illustration and DJing. But we already have concrete plans for diverse topics such as entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence and making salads.

Who are the coaches? Do they undergo a training or certification process?

The central contribution of After School Hustle is to increase the supply of people who teach. Our coaches therefore are all volunteers who are accomplished professionals in their fields. We help them to develop the format of their workshops and are always present when they interact with our young people. Quality control is a major concern of ours, so we will continue to look into more formalized training and certification for our coaches as the program matures.

What has been your social impact to date?

The only thing we can say with certainty so far is that a couple of dozen kids had pleasant Saturdays. They consistently give us positive feedback, come more than once and bring their friends. Research indicates that after school programs indeed have positive impact on young people on multiple metrics. But this can only be the starting point for us. As we scale up, we need to be more systematic about measuring not just the outputs, but also the outcomes of our activities.

You’ve mentioned that you’re approaching developing After School Hustle with a startup mindset - what does this mean and what’s next for ASH?

Most important in this regard is leanness and agility. We are designing products for young people, for coaches and also for our donors. So we need to continuously test our assumptions about what they really want. Certainly we have a vision for the next ten years, but as people smarter than us have been saying for a while: “Planning is guessing.” Other tenets are that building is better than talking, and shipping is better that perfecting. This mindset sets us apart from many people, especially in the social sector. Every day we are getting faster and more efficient at what we do, which ultimately should lead to a significant social impact.

How can people get involved or support your work?

After School Hustle would not be possible without the many supporters we already have, from coaches and advisors to people who provide spaces and supplies. We are always looking to involve more people in our adventure, so of course we reply to every email and take every meeting. Get in touch with us to discuss opportunities to collaborate. Needless to say, a quick fix for your desire to contribute is the donate button on our website.

Youth unemployment and the Future of Education in the GCC

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Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have made tremendous progress in the past decades, building cities at the forefront of innovation, becoming global leaders in select industries, and continuously expanding their global aspirations. However, even with decades of economic expansion and extensive investments in education, infrastructure projects, and economic diversification, high youth unemployment rates persist.

Experts acknowledge that youth unemployment is a complex phenomenon emanating from a multitude of converging factors. However, there is a wide agreement that one of the major factors in the GCC is due to the lack of alternative educational systems.

Our current world is evolving more rapidly than the capacity of any existing educational system. The challenge of learning is getting even harder for the next generations. According to one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. 

In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends—and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.

The current educational system fails to provide young people with the skills necessary to build a generation trained to solve problems. This leads us to the question; what should the school of tomorrow look like? Here are some ideas:

  • Imagine students accessing multiple learning pathways in a school that will empower a new generation of environmental and social change makers.
  • Imagine students in a school where they learn to think like designers as they acquire complex skills and knowledge.
  • Imagine students conducting high-impact research alongside educators and experts in a school that builds community by saving the community.
  • Imagine students in a school that looks and feels like a research lab or design studio, where curiosity is cultivated to unlock endless discovery.
  • Imagine students in a school committed to unlocking their individual potential, creating new academic opportunities and connecting them around with local businesses.
  • Imagine students in a networked school, where educators and community professionals guide and support them along a uniquely designed learning path.
  • Imagine students in a school within the local museum, actively learning from the region's history while contributing to the revitalization of their own city.
  • Imagine students in a school at the forefront of emerging technologies, where the core of their learning experience integrates humanities, STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and global citizenship.
  • Imagine students in a school that gives displaced and disconnected youth powerful pathways to college, career and life.
  • Imagine students in a school that engages them in local and global challenges while inspiring both social-emotional and academic growth.

Tackling these challenges needs the concerted effort of all stakeholders in society. While governments must create the enabling environment that promotes inclusive growth and employment, facilitates quality education and skills development, and provides safety nets for those that are marginalized, it is critical that business, civil society and the education and training sector are also engaged in identifying and implementing solutions.

I hope that this article will serve as a call to action to more stakeholders to join the momentum towards solutions to an issue that is critical to our future. Ultimately, its through collective actions that change can can occur and that unemployment disrupted.