Dr Kevin House Education Futures Architect, Education in Motion

Kevin House introduces SE21, an innovative new approach to schooling that aims to accelerate students beyond traditional curricula by re-evaluating academic and experiential knowledge, skills, and competencies with greater equity

SE21, why now?

The Dulwich College International school group began around 2005. Our main purpose was to pioneer the best British-style international education in China and the wider Asia Pacific region. The educational aim was to offer young Asians and expatriates what is commonly referred to as a ‘well-rounded’ education, founded on the traditions of the four-hundred-year-old Dulwich College, London. However, twenty years into this new century our group believes humanity faces a burgeoning set of complex problems that were way beyond mainstream consciousness twenty years ago. These challenges threaten the stability and wellbeing of the next generation. Therefore, we at Dulwich believe that schools must redesign education to better equip children with the skills to build purposeful long-term solutions while enjoying fulfilling lives. 

It is with pressing urgency, therefore, that we decided to make a statement of intent in private schooling by welcoming Green School International into our family of schools. Yet, even before this inspiring event, we had begun building a new and innovative high school concept called SE21. 

The aims of the school are twofold: First, appreciate the need for more agency in 14–19-year-old’s learning so that they can explore the environmental, economic, and social complexities they face; Second, to furnish each student with a comprehensive set of tools with which to build a contemporary understanding of where possible solutions lie. Ultimately, this model of schooling redefines the knowledge, skills and competencies that must be nurtured if young people are to be the change-makers and actionists of the future. 

Moving beyond academics

SE21 breaks the mould of traditional high school education by single-mindedly innovating in four core areas of its educational provision

In the first two decades of this century, global policymakers and think tanks have been warning us that the twentieth-century’s narrowing of knowledge, skills, and capabilities, means we now face an employment crisis. More importantly, in much of the world we have inadvertently built hierarchical, two-tiered knowledge and skills systems. Currently, most societies value abstract, academic knowledge to the detriment of skills-based, experiential knowledge. Over the last two centuries, this knowledge apartheid has evolved in most education systems that rely on industrial-scale academic examination regimes. Today, these are used to socially engineer many of the disparities causing untold psychological, economic, and environmental damage. Addressing this begins with changing our learning and credential models. 

SE21 consciously aims to accelerate students beyond traditional curricula by re-evaluating academic and experiential knowledge, skills, and competencies with greater equity. Young people need to find actionable, not abstract, solutions to problems we have created with our binary approach to education. This requires both abstract and experiential knowledge to exist on an equal footing. It is for this reason that SE21’s learning model addresses not only the complexities of systems thinking, circular economics and sustainable citizenship, but acknowledges the need to balance disciplinary knowledge and skills with soft skills for the future. In short, SE21 breaks the mould of traditional high school education by single-mindedly innovating in four core areas of its educational provision.

1. From curriculum to learning design

Transdisciplinary Literacies

First, we are rethinking SE21’s learning design by curating new and traditional disciplines and drawing on the cross-disciplinary and interdependent nature of concepts.

Dynamic Literacies

Next, we have distilled what are often referred to as 21st Century skills into a range of capabilities that are interwoven with transdisciplinary literacies. Moreover, all learner engagements evolve and develop beyond simple grading by drawing on a variety of feedback methods.

Provocation-based Learning

Finally, provocation-based learning forms the spine of all learning engagements. The methodology involves working with a range of external partners drawn from industry, tertiary and NGOs who lead students through real-life case studies of problems that have been solved. From this experience students develop and explore their own provocations which are shared with the whole learning community at the end of a ten-week sprint. These knowledge artefacts form a permanent digital portfolio of extended student work that demonstrates the literacies being used in a range of contexts. 

2. From assessment to evidencing learning

We have set out to actively challenge the traditional pre-tertiary credentialing industry by creating a holistic student transcript, digital portfolio, micro-credential, and badging wallet. This intentional approach removes traditional emphasis on gambling everything in a young adult’s school career on a single point at the terminus of a programme of study. The SE21 approach empowers students to become more agentic when evidencing longitudinal learning growth and individual accomplishments. The rigour of SE21 evidence of learning is validated by internal and external experts from the field of assessment and evaluation.

3. Academic selection becomes learner selection

SE21 has developed a new approach to student admissions by focusing on what we call learner selectivity. This means we have created a multidimensional selection process that is not focused on simply academic metrics. Instead, the process requires students to engage with various collaborative activities, interviews and edumetric evaluations to ensure that they can thrive in all aspects of their lives whilst at an SE21 school. In other words, the student selects the school because it is right for them rather than the other way around.

4. Recruitment becomes educator growth

We have established a research-informed recruitment process that draws on psychometric growth profiling of educators to demonstrate they have the dispositions, values, and beliefs necessary to also thrive in an SE21 learning community because this is as important as teaching credentials. In addition, the profiling helps educators collate creative and differentiated professional learning futures that nurture their own lifelong learning desires and aspirations. 

Where to next?

Currently, SE21 is still in its concept phase but its future development is bold. The twentieth century was all about economies of scale and education was no exception. Many school cohorts run into the thousands with private school teacher-student ratios often 1:25, and much higher in the public sector. Hemant Taneja wrote of the need to ‘unscale’ many of the industries we inherited from the last century, with education being a key one. The aim with an SE21 high school is to keep the learning community as small as is economically feasible; in the region of five hundred students with four grade levels, although a slightly larger K-12 model is also being developed. Additionally, SE21 places a lot of emphasis on learning pathway diversity by fostering a wide range of adult-student relationships with its industry, university, and NGO partnerships. 

Our intention is to build a scaled network of face to face and blended schools that can exchange learning design and credentialing with a flexibility not seen in the current model of large suburban campus schooling. This means being an SE21 student will look and feel very different. But this also means being an SE21 educator is more expansive than current models in the profession without losing the value of expertise. SE21 simply broadens the range of expertise we offer to young people in the final years of schooling so that they are better prepared for their future. Finally, this innovative model of education also calls for a different approach from parents. In an SE21 school, parents are valued as learning collaborators, and encouraged to be mindful of our generation’s binary experience of standardised education and the values and aspirations it has given us. This is crucial if we are to build healthy learning communities, and the intrinsic motivation young people require to tackle their demanding yet wonderful futures. 



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