Updated: Jan 19
As parents, we all want our children to succeed. It’s in our DNA. But what does success actually look like? How do you go about defining it? Is it about scoring straight As? Getting into a top university? Landing a high-flying career? They’re all commendable achievements, but are they really the be-all-and-end-all in today’s hyper-connected, rapidly changing world?
“Academic success used to have a lot to do with memory,” says Renee Boey, founder of a new progressive school in Hong Kong, Bloom KKCA Academy. “The person that had knowledge and memorised a lot would be considered more academically successful. We’ve moved away from that now. These days, we all have Google at our fingertips and there’s an overwhelming abundance of information available. Now, it’s about how you bring together the different lenses, the different disciplines, and synthesize them in a way that is meaningful.”
Interdisciplinary and bilingual project-based learning
It was this understanding that helped shape Bloom’s innovative, flexible, project-based curriculum. At Bloom, subjects aren’t taught in silos – they’re integrated through STEM, with each topic offering learning opportunities across the academic spectrum. A project on planets, for example, isn’t just a science lesson – it’s an opportunity to learn about maths (distance, measurements, scale etc.) and Chinese language (the names of the planets provide a number of radicals that form the basis of myriad Chinese characters).
The approach is fun, it captures students’ imaginations, and it reinforces concepts without being stale or repetitive. According to Renee, one of the biggest benefits of engaging students in this way is that it helps nurture a lifelong love for learning, something that’s key for ongoing success and personal development.
Weekly field trips: using the city as Bloom’s campus
Another method employed by Bloom to strengthen learning is linking units to real-life scenarios, thereby making them relatable. As part of this, the school makes the most of Hong Kong’s rich local heritage. The accessibility of everything around the city makes regular field trips possible, and the school takes full advantage of the many opportunities that it generates.
One rather delightful opportunity that presented itself recently was inspired by a family of wild boars who, much to the students’ amusement, took a dip in the water outside the Bank of China building in Central. Armed with newspapers and notepads, the children headed into the city to investigate the scene, analyse photo angles and determine where the pigs might have come from, retracing their steps in reverse. Once back at school, the students used what they had learned to create illustrative maps. The result was a learning opportunity that sparked their innate curiosity and got them thinking laterally.
Preparing for the future from primary school
STEM programme director Mei Chen, a former Silicon Valley scientist and engineer, says this type of learning is very much future focused in that it helps students develop strong critical thinking skills. “When you have a very set curriculum and testing schedule, a lot of this interesting learning doesn’t get into the classroom,” she says. “But if you’re allowed to be flexible and integrate different topics, it’s amazing the level of understanding the students attain, regardless of subject.”
“You have to give children time to wonder,” adds Renee. “If you are bold enough as a school to take that time and let them mull over things before giving them an answer, to be patient with their confusion, great things can come out of that confusion.”
Mei explains that Bloom highly values student-led learning, though she cautions that it doesn’t mean the teachers take a hands-off approach. “Student-led learning doesn’t mean the students get to pick the topic,” she says. “We actually need to give structure and constraint to a problem before allowing the students to recreate it. If there’s no constraint, there’s no creativity. Just look at Hong Kong’s interior design projects – the lack of space is what drives the creative solutions.”
What student-led learning does involve is asking questions – lots of them – and that’s where Bloom’s STEM programme really shines. Where traditional school experiments follow a pre-defined path and set of instructions in order to create an expected result, Bloom gives students more time upfront to analyse the problem and develop their own hypothesis. “That’s a real experiment,” says Mei, “because even the teacher doesn’t know the answer. You are actually collecting real data and contributing to the scientific community. Children have more questions about the world than anyone; they’re sponges, and as long as you don’t discourage them, they will continue to learn.”
It all combines to equip children with key skills for success in later life – critical thinking, computational thinking and a desire to make a difference: the cornerstones of progress. By stepping away from the standard, exam-focused way of teaching, the team at Bloom is able to break free of the constraints traditional curricula impose and to focus on developing the whole child.
Failure is the mother of success
Of course, with experiments come failures, so how do you prevent children from becoming disheartened when things don’t go quite to plan? Mei stresses that failure isn’t a bad thing – quite the opposite, in fact. “If you don’t allow for failure, you create student disinterest,” she explains. “You’re basically saying ‘you’re not competent’ or ‘that person is better than you.’ Having that mentality is stifling. The terminology – the word failure – it’s final, and it has an impact on the ego and self-worth. But if you change that terminology, if you call something a prototype or a hypothesis, that can change a person’s mindset infinitely – it offers so much more possibility. It’s all about how you frame it.
“We’ve integrated positive education in our curriculum, and we emphasize learning from failure in terms of having the right attitude and the right self-reflection.” Mei explains that to support this, time is dedicated at the end of each experiment to gathering feedback and working through an improvement cycle. Did something go wrong? Why did it go wrong? Were any of the assumptions flawed? What key learnings can be taken from this? “Most people don’t spend enough time on that side of things,” she laments. “Too many people are in a hurry to tick the checkboxes without really paying attention to the actual learning behind things.”
“Failure is inevitable in life,” adds Renee, “so the sooner you know how to pick yourself up, the faster you’re going to move on and reach success. Mei always says ‘if you can’t fail in primary school, when can you fail?’ I would much rather my children make plenty of mistakes now and learn that it’s OK. It doesn’t always feel good, but it’s normal, and it’s best to learn that while the stakes are lower.”
What the world needs now
The truth of the matter is that the world of work we parents entered a couple of decades back is nothing like the business world of today. Rigid corporate processes have given way to concepts such as ‘fail fast’, where the big players – Google, Amazon, and so on – actively encourage experimental developments. If something doesn’t work, they cut their losses, learn from them and move on. If Industry 4.0 is already living that, shouldn’t we be educating our children accordingly? Renee and Mei certainly think so.
Watching our children fail is hard. We want to swoop in and fix things; we want to help them. But by reining in our instincts and framing the situation differently, failure can become the best thing that happened to them. Humans remember painful memories much more vividly than happy ones. By teaching our children to deal with that pain and learn from it, we can set them up to handle whatever the future throws at them.
If there’s one lesson that we as parents should have learnt over the last 12 months, it’s that academic success isn’t everything. The world is so uncertain right now, and wellbeing is more important than ever. What separates us from the machines is our humanity – our ability to care, to reflect, to ask questions, to identify the problems that we need to solve and to find creative solutions. That’s how our children will ultimately succeed.
JOIN AN INFORMATION SESSION - If you are interested in learning more about Bloom KKCA Academy, we highly recommend registering for one of their information sessions. Meet key members of the leadership team, Ms. Renée Boey, Founder and Head of School, Dr. Minh Tran, Head of Admissions, and various Directors of Primary, STEM and Chinese. The presentation will cover their unique bilingual, project-based curriculum and explain what life and learning at Bloom KKCA Academy is really like. Next Date - 26 January 2021 REGISTER NOW