Tomorrow’s learning, today.

ESTHER HILL is director of Djoowak: The Beyond Boundaries Institute at All Saints’ College. A researcher and thought-leader in educational innovation, Ms Hill has led the team, powered by All Saints’ College, in the development and establishment of The Studio School, Fremantle. Last week she toured potential sites in Freo with education experts Peter Hutton and Jan Owen AO, and college vice principal Peter Allen.

FREMANTLE has a rich history of going beyond the boundaries of standardised mainstream education. 

From The Community School, Port Community School and, of course, Lance Holt, Fremantle’s eclectic, diverse and progressive community supports and nurtures innovation and will see the emergence, in 2022, of a new model of senior secondary education in Fremantle: The Studio School. 

The studio model is new to WA’s education ecosystem, however it has existed for years in progressive communities in the US, UK and Europe – think High Tech High, The D School and NuVu. 

This model responds to the changing nature of work and society, and sees some radical shifts away from the traditional ‘grammar’ of schooling – the structures and paradigms of an industrial model – to the growing need for agile, flexible, self-determining young people who thrive in our VUCA [volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous] world.

The studio model offers four significant challenges to the current model: these challenges focus on where students learn, what students learn, who students learn from and the ways in which we measure success. 

In challenging where students learn, TSS sees the traditional school with its hallways and classrooms replaced with a co-working space for students, staff and mentors: students are free to move between learning spaces where they can focus on individual work, working with a group or engaging with online learning. 

Not hidden away on a separate campus, the studio model is integrated into the heart of the city, in this case Fremantle, seeking to connect with what is often called, in education, the ‘real world’. 

A CBD campus studio model invites the community into the space, with opportunities to share their work, exhibit their art, run and participate in meetings with local organisations – the campus is the real world! 

The studio model challenges what students learn by moving away from a standardised one-size-fits-all model of education to a bespoke and personalised one. With learning organised around the students’ interests and passions, the curriculum is co-designed with the students and it is negotiated, flexible and agile to the changing interests and opportunities that young people have. 

Key to this is a shift in our understanding of from whom students learn. 

Whilst the studio’s mainstream curriculum is facilitated by teachers, online platforms and peer-to-peer learning, the focal point of each student’s learning program is the projects, the experiences and qualifications in which they engage. 

A long way from decontextualised classrooms in traditional high school environments, students pair with mentors in industry, social enterprise and community, and their learning is ‘real world’, from people with relevant skills and connections. Learning on the job, learning in flow, learning connected to experts. 

Another challenge to the current education model of education are the success measures applied to the studio’s graduates. While still attaining the standard measures of success – grades and (if desired) an ATAR, the studio focuses on:

The tangible measures of success. These real world outcomes may include an e-portfolio, demonstrating students’ engagement in a project, or evidence of the success of the social impact strategy for reducing plastic use, composing and recording an album of original songs, designing a website and so on;

A shift away from knowledge and skills toward capabilities essential to thrive in the new world of work – collaboration, organisation, creative thinking and problem solving. Success can be measured by growth and development in these essential capacities, with authentic opportunities to explore and showcase these.

Opening in 2022, The Studio School affords a glimpse into the education of the future. With the decline of the ATAR in our current system, and with clear evidence of the alarming increase in the mental health and wellbeing issues for young people, we offer an alternative vision of tomorrow’s learning that has, at its heart, the flourishing of our youth. 

TSS’s model attends to the moral imperative of an education that supports and nurtures our young people to be robust and active contributors, to be citizens in the here and now – not just when they graduate – and to make a positive difference in our world through their engagement, action and contribution.

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