By Graeme Lawrie
In January 2019, I joined the executive team at ACS International Schools as Partnerships Director. ACS International Schools is a group of international schools with three UK campuses and a fourth campus in Doha, Qatar. The school became a registered charity in September 2018. My role is to drive ACS’s charitable mission to advance the education of its students and also the wider community, by working locally and internationally, sharing expertise and resources, as a valued partner to schools, businesses, and communities.
Introducing the Future Impact competition for school children
This school year, the launch of our inaugural ‘ACS Future Impact’ competition has been integral to this work; an opportunity that has enabled children from both our own schools and state schools, situated locally to the ACS schools in the UK, to develop their science and mathematics capabilities, while thinking more deeply about how we can help to tackle the climate crisis. It is an exciting competition, which has seen children aged 7-11 working in teams to develop strategies and proposals for how their schools or local communities can reduce their environmental impact.
At ACS, we believe that the environmental agenda should take priority in every child’s educational journey and, as such, much of our efforts are directed at helping to achieve three sustainable development goals (SDGs) as set out by the United Nations (UN), which we have identified as our current priorities: SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing, SDG 12 Responsible Consumption, and SDG 13 Climate Action. School initiatives such as ACS Future Impact can help to connect the bright minds of tomorrow with environmental challenges such as these and enable the younger generation to learn about the impact of climate change, while thinking creatively about possible solutions.
Achieving sustainability development success through the school curriculum
Although environmental connections are important, the key to success for any school competition currently is to connect to and support what students are learning in the curriculum. Through ACS Future Impact, students are able to put into practice valuable skills, such as research, teamwork, creativity, and cooperation, and are also given opportunities to build their confidence in science and mathematics through real-life application of what they are learning in the classroom.
Throughout the weeks of the competition, students have gained fundamental science knowledge as they researched the causes of climate change and what can be done to mitigate it, and have also applied their mathematical knowledge when, for example, calculating the estimated cost for putting their proposed solution into action.
While the competition provides endless possibility to bolster students’ learning, I won’t be the first to admit that in the current climate of staff absences and reduced resources in schools, we have had our fair share of hurdles to overcome to ensure that as many schools have been able to participate in the initiative as possible. We wanted to make sure that minimal teacher support was required and so we provided all schools with an information pack which included everything the students needed to develop their proposals. This, we hope, has instilled confidence in teachers during a difficult time and has enabled schools to involve students without having to worry about lack of time or teaching resources.
How inter school competition leads to collaboration
Even in our first year of running the competition, we have seen some highly inventive student proposals which have focussed on a range of issues and solutions, from protecting local endangered hedgehogs and creating compost heaps to reuse food waste, to increasing cycleways to encourage greener transport in the wider community. Importantly, the projects have not only enhanced the students’ learning opportunities, but have brought benefits to their wider school communities as they now have a series of ideas that can realistically be put into practice.
The competition was designed to fully embody our approach that at the heart of all partnership activity is a reciprocal collaboration, the pooling of resources, and a solid support network for everyone involved. To make the initiative even more valuable, next year we hope to offer industry mentoring support, which, due to the impact of the pandemic, was not possible this year. This will allow students to enhance their projects and make them applicable to the real world, while giving them an unmissable opportunity to learn from those who are driving the sustainability movement across the globe.
Why school and workplace partnerships matter
I can’t stress enough how invaluable school partnerships can be for students. Any type of organisation, from private companies to universities and charities, can get involved with schools by offering their expertise, resources and facilities, providing skills and entrepreneurial know-how, ultimately helping to narrow the gap that exists between the education system and the world of work.
Despite hurdles, this year’s ACS Future Impact has been full of excitement and learning; it has raised awareness of the broad range of environmental issues threatening the planet, while recognising that the ideas of young people have the potential to change the world.
Graeme Lawrie MBE is Partnerships Director at ACS International Schools
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