The Southport School (TSS) is an Anglican day and boarding school on the Gold Coast for boys from Preschool to Year 12 with boarding available from Year 7. TSS aims to provide a balanced and holistic approach to boys’ education, with integrated programs of academic and an extensive co-curricular program.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a senior executive within a school of this size, scope – are the challenges unique to TSS or do you see them across the sector?
A key challenge for all schools is to ensure that students are being equipped with the knowledge and skills they will need for their future, a future for which many aspects are unknown. At times, this knowledge and these skills are at odds with the prescribed curriculum and the somewhat narrow aspects of education that are tested in national assessment, from which then whole school performance is ‘judged’.
What are the biggest challenges for your teaching staff?
The greatest challenge for teachers is the growing complexity and intensity of their roles in schools and finding ways to improve efficacy and efficiency in optimizing the cognitive development of their students.
How do you see edtech playing a role in improving or accelerating the learning experience for your students?
Edtech has become fundamental to learning and has enormous potential in improving and accelerating learning. The challenge is for schools and teachers to have access to suitable and easily integrated edtech tools for their programs.
What are some examples of edtech that you’ve been impressed with – either in your own school or elsewhere.
TSS was one of the first schools to adopt the BYOD model in 2009, and at the time, BYOD opened the learning horizons of every student and transformed learning and teaching opportunities. BYOD is now commonplace in the Australian education landscape, which illustrates its impact on learning and pedagogical practices across all educational sectors. Engaging an eLearning coordinator at TSS from 2009 to upskill teachers in edtech capacities and tools accelerated the exploration and uptake of edtech by teachers, further accelerating learning and teaching. There is an abundance of edtech tools including Learning Management Systems, both open source and proprietary software and websites, apps and games that promote and optimise learning, and the only constant in these offerings is change as new edtech emerges rapidly. Khan Academy is one resource that stands out as a remarkable resource for schools and in fact anyone who is motivated to learn almost anything!
You recently joined the EduGrowth mission to the US to attend the ASU GSV conference, along with side trips to meet edtech founders in San Francisco and New York. What were your impressions of the US market, what can we learn? What were your highlights?
A truly unique experience, the ASU GSV conference and the EduGrowth side trips to Edtech start-ups in San Fran & NY illustrated the enormous potential for the partnership of edtech and VC funding to transform education and schools. A strong impression was the challenge facing edtech to break into schools, which can be perceived as ‘fortress-like’ to edtech opportunities. This is not due to a lack of schools’ interest, but more to the competing pressures of a crammed curriculum and the expectation on schools to deliver social and emotional programs on top of dense curriculums, whilst being measured for success on National or Common testing regimes, which test somewhat outdated regimes of knowledge.
There were so many highlights of the experience including; visiting start-ups and speaking directly to founders and leadership teams and hearing their journeys, ‘warts and all’; remarkable conference speakers from across the globe, including Finland, which performs towards to top of PISA testing every year, yet does no national testing; futurist panel sessions expounding visions for education of the future; and attending pitches of up and coming edtech start-ups.
What edtech initiatives are you hoping to implement at TSS?
As a direct consequence of the EduGrowth partnership and ASU GSV experience, TSS is now collaborating with Murdoch University to trial Virtual Reality as a vehicle to develop empathy in students. Further, TSS is incorporating gaming into programs to enhance the leaning of quantum physics using the newly launched game ‘Big Bang Legends’ and the teaching of coding using Minecraft.
How do you encourage uptake of edtech across the school?
Developing teachers’ skills and supporting them with Professional Learning to encourage the seeking of new opportunities to innovate learning and teaching are fundamental to driving uptake of edtech. Examples of opportunities at TSS that have come to fruition include; a partnership with Lego, enabling a TSS robotics teacher to deliver teacher workshops across Australia and overseas; partnering with industry to provide drone licensing opportunities to students; a comprehensive K to 12 Robotics Engineering program; cohort-wide coding programs; and engaging with Griffith University in facilitating students to study Information technology subjects at tertiary level whilst at school.
Entrepreneurship is an increasingly popular skillset for graduates. How are you preparing your students for a workforce that encourages entrepreneurial thinking, where an ability to create jobs rather than simply rely on established occupations, will arguably lead to a more fulfilling and successful career?
TSS enjoys the support of a strong entrepreneurial community and parent body, with small to medium business ownership a significant proportion of parent occupation. We take every opportunity to collaborate with our local and wider community to provide opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurial experiences. Just this week year 9 students participated their own small business trials offering products and services to the wider student body as part of a program to plan and bring their business idea to market and then reflect on its success or otherwise!