How teachers can be at the centre of innovation in secondary education

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  • Innovative teaching practices gain traction
  • Nationwide educational policies refocus teaching priorities
  • Embracing the potential of blended learning
  • From blended learning to the flipped classroom
  • Examples of innovation in teaching

Introducing innovation into the teaching profession, and secondary education more generally, is done to encourage students to explore, study, and make use of all the tools available to them to either discover (or create) something entirely new. If we are to see greater innovativeness being encouraged in students, we must first ensure that teachers are adequately trained and equipped to impart this. A whole array of new technologies are increasingly being incorporated into classrooms around the world, bringing with them boundless new opportunities for students to engage with subject matter more directly than ever before.

Innovation in teaching is being pursued in various ways and in a myriad of settings. From flipped classroom models and blended learning, to personalised learning environments and project-based learning, the new methodologies, technologies, and tools being implemented promise to forever change the way teaching is conducted in secondary schools, and beyond.

Innovative teaching practices gain traction

In several new teaching methodologies, the role of the teacher is itself being redefined. For example, in adaptive learning (also known as adaptive teaching), the design and structure of lessons is deliberately made to be flexible in order to adapt to the needs of learners. This is very similar to the idea of a personal tutor, but can be much more widely used thanks to new technologies like AI.

This is a big part of encouraging students to take charge of their own learning, with teachers’ roles becoming more hands-off. This, in turn, necessitates that the classroom be redefined and reconfigured to encourage and allow for innovative new teaching methods to be implemented.

Some secondary schools are experimenting with the greater adoption of project-based learning. This aids students in acquiring collaboration skills, as well as being a great way of directly engaging them with subject matter. Innovation can be easier to cultivate when students are handed the tools to create something of their own, in a very real sense, with teachers guiding and mentoring them, in addition to ensuring safety. Perhaps more important than any of this is the fact that teachers need to find their own passion for teaching, or rekindle it in some cases, to bring about true change and innovation within the classroom.

Nationwide educational policies refocus teaching priorities

The government of India set out a new doctrine for approaching education called the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. This recentres education to conceive of students as being the primary stakeholders, and placing upon teachers a duty to help create and maintain a learning ecosystem that helps learners pursue and achieve their dreams and aspirations. It may not be particularly new in this sense, but this is an important reaffirmation of the whole point of education. This is particularly relevant to secondary school learners, who are on the cusp of entering either further education or the workforce, and therefore have some of their most important decisions just around the corner.

Where the NEP does start to introduce new ideas is in its implementation. For instance, NEP places a heavy emphasis on learner-centred teaching approaches. This is based on the belief that traditional, face-to-face learning is inadequate to the task. Instead, new methodologies need to be combined with 21st century technologies to help teachers bring about an environment geared towards developing key, globally desirable competencies. This increases the employability of students, while also engaging them in the learning process differently. Blended learning is an important part of this change, and the example set by India may serve to inspire other countries to follow suit.

Embracing the potential of blended learning

Blended learning (sometimes abbreviated as BL) is a teaching methodology that enables teachers to approach their role as educators in more than one way. It combines conventional, face-to-face teaching settings with other activities through digital connections and devices. By blending online learning with face-to-face learning, students have a source of educational monotony disrupted, which can have great implications for student engagement. And by requiring students to pursue certain educational activities by themselves, it encourages greater responsibility for learning outcomes. This is especially useful for secondary education, as primary school students may not be ready for it, whereas the former may soon be off to university.

Blended learning is also more flexible, and therefore lends itself to certain circumstances, such as large distances to school or school closures. It might also be used to rotate different years and classes, therefore alleviating overcrowding in certain schools. When combined with other effective methodologies, as well as educational technologies, blended learning can contribute to more innovation, continuous learning, knowledge retention, and experiential learning.

From blended learning to the flipped classroom

As the name implies, the flipped classroom takes the conventional approach to teaching and turns it upside-down. However, it can entail a great deal of additional work for teachers, at least when setting up these educational systems. It is also very dependent on technology, which can be problematic for schools in parts of the world where internet access, and access to connected devices at home, is not widespread. But when properly implemented in an environment that can maintain it, the idea of the flipped classroom can yield extraordinary results.

One can conceive of the flipped classroom as switching homework with classwork. A teacher would develop a whole array of online resources for students to learn about the basic concepts of a class, much as they would have done within a classroom. But in the flipped classroom, the student would learn new material at home. When they go to class afterwards, they will be expected to apply the knowledge they gained at home in exercises, projects, quizzes, and more. Teachers can therefore help guide students with the application of the knowledge. Naturally, this makes the flipped classroom an excellent complement to blended learning. The problem is the amount of time it would take teachers to develop entire syllabi in online form, and then also devise ways of applying it in the classroom. Thankfully, there are companies out there that can provide these solutions to schools, thereby allowing teachers to focus on adapting and implementing it.

By exposing students to the practical application of the knowledge they’ve encountered, teachers can more greatly engage their students. This can develop greater immersion, knowledge retention, and emotional reactions to learning experiences.

Examples of innovation in teaching

There are many examples of teachers and others introducing greater innovation into the learning process for students, and more are popping up every day. These are accompanied by increasing numbers of startups and established companies offering EdTech solutions that are catered towards new teaching methodologies like blended learning, the flipped classroom, and more besides.

The Innovative Teachers Fellowship, UK-Nigeria

This initiative is a collaboration between the United Kingdom and Nigeria, within the framework of the UK Nigeria Tech HUB and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) International Tech Hub Network (ITHN). To help address the lack of digitally competent teachers in Nigeria, there is a six-week capacity-building initiative. This is a training programme, held virtually, that enables 300 Nigerian teachers to acquire the skills necessary to offer a proper digital education to their students. Participants of the training programme also receive certification from the Tai Solarin University of Education in Nigeria.

Bangkok Patana School, Thailand

In Thailand, the Bangkok Patana School has managed to turn a crisis into an opportunity by combining face-to-face with online teaching. The school thereby managed to identify key areas to focus on, such as the relationships that define student characteristics, teaching styles, and learning outcomes. By examining these interconnected relationships within a new setting, the school was able to identify areas of weakness and of opportunity. This was all done in pursuit of lifelong learning and student development. Indeed, this is embodied in the school’s name, as ‘patana’ is the Thai word for ‘development’.

Bangkok Patana is Thailand’s first, and largest, British international school and parents understandably have very high expectations when they send their children there. So far, it appears that both the parents and school children have been happy with how Bangkok Patana has adapted to the new normal.

Western High School, United States of America

Physics teacher Jacob Bowman has expanded how he has approached learning using the data collection solutions of Vernier, an American EdTech software solutions provider. For instance, Bowman organised activities for his students around a physics concept, encouraging his students to actually design and pursue their own investigations. This boosted student engagement, and even led to a substantial increase in enrolments for the school’s physics courses. He also received a prize for his efforts, which he intends to use to acquire more equipment with which to empower innovation in his students. 

Both within the classroom and outside of it, teachers the world over are experimenting with new ways of introducing innovativeness in the classroom, in hopes of encouraging students to become more innovative themselves. This has led to a rethink of the role of teachers, which naturally followed from forays into blended learning, flipped classrooms, and similar experiments. In some cases individual teachers have taken the initiative, and elsewhere large organisations or international cooperation are at work. Whatever form it takes, the change is already underway, and teachers stand to be at the centre of a radical, innovative rethink of the way secondary education is carried out.

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