Designing a broader curriculum for future-proof careers

The pandemic demonstrated that no one has control over the future — be it organisations or individuals

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File photo

By Abigail Barnett

Published: Wed 2 Mar 2022, 11:49 PM

The GCC nations are going through an accelerated pace of economic diversification and digital transformation, across all sectors. It is clear that education must equip citizens to take their rightful place in this increasingly digitalised world. Globally, 75 million jobs are expected to be displaced in the coming years, with digitalisation predicted to create 133 million unique jobs – further widening the skills gap.

The pandemic demonstrated that no one has control over the future — be it organisations or individuals. How can schools prepare students for future-proof careers? What skillsets will give them a competitive advantage in an increasingly digitalised world? How can schools support students in their education journey, help build resilience against adversity, and recognise when they need to self-seek help? These questions have moved to the top of educators’ agenda given the events of the recent past.

When teachers and educators are empowered with the resources and tools to promote and model behaviours, values and inclusivity, it helps build a stronger, safer and more inclusive school communities, supporting everyone’s wellbeing and improved learning outcomes.

The demand for certain skill sets has evolved significantly over the years, and the degree to which certain skill sets are valued over others has changed. Indeed, as various industries mature and new industries usurp traditional ones, a more diverse skill set is valued in a wider range of industries. A McKinsey report (2018) predicted that as automation transforms the skills companies need, demand for creativity will rise sharply by 2030.

A good example is the term Knowledge Worker; as part of the Knowledge Economy. This economy requires people who have developed a faculty for critical, independent thinking, which is valuable no matter what else they study, or what segment they work in.

The United Nations designated 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. Around the world, partly due to the pandemic, people are drawing on their creativity like never before to find innovative creative solutions to the problems and challenges we face.

This rising demand for creative skills in industry, and the positive response by 81 countries to the UN creative economy this year, emphasises how important creativity is for today’s global economy. Therefore, we must help young people to develop their creative skills from an early age in school.

I have seen first-hand how the arts can make self-starters and help children to develop emotional intelligence. Creative subjects require students to set their own agenda from within themselves and explore unconventional areas of thought.

However, creativity is much more than just learning to paint or dance, it is about generating new ways of thinking. Hence, it is also really important to help students to develop their creative thinking in all subjects.

Cambridge International recently revised its Primary and Lower Secondary curriculum to encourage seamless progression throughout school years. Four new creative subjects were introduced to the curriculum: Art and Design, Digital Literacy, Music and Physical Education. Six core subjects were revised to develop creativity, expression and wellbeing amongst learners aged between five and 14 years old. More than 2,000 schools in around 120 countries currently offer the Cambridge International Primary programme, and over 3,500 schools in nearly 140 countries offer the Lower Secondary programme to their students.

The new expanded pathway enables students to start developing skills for life like resilience, evaluation and problem solving. It also aims to develop confidence and the ability to adapt to a changing world. These types of skills have been essential over the past year, with students experiencing new ways of learning during the pandemic. A broader and well-balanced curriculum will help develop globally minded students with higher level thinking skills, creative confidence and valuable experience of working independently and in groups with their peers.

How and what students must learn to best prepare for the future has changed significantly in recent years. Young people can and should have the opportunity to develop a global outlook on topics such as the environment, culture and human rights. The growth of digital means students should be equipped to spot misinformation and develop sound judgement. The need for creative skills on entering the job market has never been greater.

The arts, including film and music, are a powerful force in shaping trends and popular culture. Art and Design in the curriculum helps learners to communicate visually, with this course aiming to support progression into many other creative subjects.

Music has a positive impact on performance across other subjects taken at IGCSE and O Level. Research from Cambridge International found there is a clear positive effect of taking GCSE music on overall GCSE attainment. The size of the effect was equivalent to improving by one grade in one of six GCSE subjects taken. Music helps creativity and self-expression, complementing other skills such as mathematical abilities. Playing a musical instrument not only promotes mental well-being, it can also be a career choice.

Physical education benefits students in many ways. It improves motor skills, co-ordination, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness, also developing children’s understanding of good social behaviour and teaching them winning is not everything. Excellence in sports or music can win scholarships to prestigious universities when grades might not be enough and be a viable career choice afterwards. Physical Education develops transferable skills promoting physical, cognitive and social development and encourages students to become independent, critical and reflective movers and thinkers. Research by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found an important connection between doing PE and sport in school and increasing concentration levels in other subjects.

Young students in 2021 can and should have the opportunity to discuss and debate the biggest issues facing the world today. Sustainability, culture, human rights and conflict are just some of the topics young people might look at within the Cambridge Global Perspectives programme (a PLS subject). Exposure to global topics should now be a staple part of the curriculum worldwide, in the same way traditional subjects such as Mathematics or English are viewed.

In classrooms across the world, we are now seeing surging demand for creative skills, such as problem-solving, across a range of industries. When developing the PLS programme we also learned that creativity can positively influence performance in other subjects and future career paths.

Each subject helps to develop different kinds of skills and this is especially true of Art & Design. Different students respond to different subjects, so having more breadth and balance in the curriculum means we have a better chance of catering for all students’ interests.

Abigail Barnett is deputy director of curriculum programmes, Curriculum and Qualifications at Cambridge Assessment International Education

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