By Andreas Economou
Have you ever wondered how many students attend high school each year? What about how many of these children will make an impact in the future? Right now, our teachers may be teaching the next Einstein or Curie, and we may not even realise. What if we, as educators find a way to unleash that – usually hidden – potential before they leave high school?
The pool of minds and talent that are unseen in plain sight within schools are probably outside our comprehension and cannot be altogether measured or fully appreciated within current standardised approaches and traditional ways of assessments.
What I have seen at teaching high school science at the American International School in Cyprus (AISC), is that this potential may materialise when students are allowed to tackle complex issues outside the scope of the curriculum and surprisingly, with no reference to grades, or outdated measurements, as long as our efforts intrigue student curiosity and our schemes of work and expectations for outcomes are connected with real-life issues. Are grades really a necessary incentive or driver?
This year, students at AISC performed admirably in a number of global competitions even though there was not a clear ‘prize’ in the form of a grade at the end. They received honourable mentions in the Stockholm Junior Water Project in 2017 and 2019; AISC was short- listed in the 30 most influential proposals in the CERN BeamLine for school competitions in 2018. In 2019, a student proposal on use of micro-organisms as bio-indicators of quality in water systems, was rewarded with the Gold medal by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Each time students were aware that their work was not going to be graded – but they engaged anyways – isn’t that lifelong learning at its best?
The success stories of our students in receiving honorable mentions and gold medals in some of these competitions is not the focus or the reason that we participate. Rather it is to provide the experience of high-level, engaging, real-life, global challenges to our students.
Likely, the most important aspect of these projects is that people, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, when working together under a common cause with shared passion, can make the world a better place.
And if schools do not teach this simple ideal, then who will? I’m proud to be working at a school that values these principles.
Andreas Economou is a Grade 10 and IB chemistry teacher