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Thinking about our thinking at St George’s Preparatory School, Port Elizabeth

| August 22, 2018 | 0 Comments


Although the original manor house, Knockfernia, still stands tall in our corner of Park Drive and reminds us of our heritage (the school was established in 1936), St George’s Preparatory School, originally an all-boys boarding school, now a coeducational day school in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, certainly has changed.

If you have watched the popular YouTube clip, “Shift Happens”,1 you would have learnt that, as a global society, “We are currently preparing pupils for jobs that do not exist… using technologies that have not been invented… in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” The clip’s authors also claim that a student starting a four-year technical degree will find that half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study. This kind of contention is now commonplace. Critical thinking, for instance, is by now widely perceived to be a basic requirement for every citizen. Educators also now generally agree that the most important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to ask really good questions. I contend, though, that many schools today generally demand of students good answers, rather than more innovative questions.

Who is really doing what?

What would it mean to create an innovation culture in our schools? In their book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education, well-known educationalists Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica posit the following answer: “The challenge is not to reform education but to transform it. As we face a very uncertain future, the answer is not to do better what we’ve done before. We have to do something else.”2 New research suggests that the traditional “carrot-and-stick” approach, which focuses on rewards doled out for sought-after behaviours and punitive measures being used to discourage contrary behaviours, may actually inhibit creativity, diminish performance and result in short-term, narrow thinking. Dan Pink discusses this notion in his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, 3 proposing a revised approach to motivation that focuses on the innate human needs to direct our own lives (autonomy), to learn and create new things (mastery), and to do better by ourselves and our world (purpose). According to Pink, the 21st century can be characterised as the Conceptual Age. To succeed in the Conceptual Age, Pink believes we will need to complement our reasoning with six essential aptitudes:

• design – stretching beyond the creation of a functional product, service, experience or lifestyle to create something that is beautiful, whimsical or emotionally engaging
• story – going beyond data to persuade, communicate and create self-understanding by creating a compelling narrative
• symphony – seeing the big picture and figuring out how to combine disparate pieces into a new whole
• empathy – understanding other people’s perspective and responding with emotional intelligence
• play – seizing the health and professional benefits of laughter, light-heartedness, games and humour
• meaning – moving beyond material plenty to pursuing purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfilment.4

St George’s riding the waves of change

None of this is new or particularly surprising in education circles, yet I believe it is entirely possible that in some schools, little is actively being done about it. Where then does this leave us in the education space today? Whilst at St George’s Preparatory School we do not have all the answers, the one thing we do accept is that we need to become life-long learners, and we need to be brave enough never to accept the status quo to the detriment of the individual children in our care. At St George’s, we have initiated an intentional focus on our curriculum and, in particular, our learning spaces over the next three years, as we grapple with all of this information.

Reassessing and renovating

At St George’s, we believe that creativity certainly is a great place to start planning the future. For us, this means that we are reassessing the value of homework and questioning the merits of examinations. We now only require that examinations be undertaken in Grade 6 and 7 in mathematics, first languages and first additional languages. We are also addressing our methods of assessments and are moving into a more collaborative mode in this regard. We have recently embarked on classroom renovations to match our way of thinking. This project alone has been a wonderful exercise in collaboration, flexibility and agility, problemsolving and, of course, curiosity and imagination. As with many schools, budget limitations are the most trying in a process like this, and the need to get the “best bang for your buck” is always in the forefront of your governing body’s mind. We are blessed to have a forward-thinking board of governors who recognise that change is imminent, and who want to lead rather than follow. Whilst there are more and more retail companies entering the classroom furniture space that is suitable for our needs, most of them are European-based and with the exchange rate, quite frankly, they are not affordable for most schools. In addition, living in Port Elizabeth is wonderful, but it does present limitations regarding the availability of suitable contractors, suppliers, manufacturers, etc. A team made up of the principal, head of the senior preparatory school, head of the junior preparatory school and class teachers worked closely together to decide exactly how they wanted their classrooms to look. The addition of a designer and the manufacturing company’s founders, who supplied much of the cabinetry work and furniture, completed our team.

“The challenge is not to reform education but to transform it. As we face a very uncertain future, the answer is not to do better what we’ve done before. We have to do something else.”

We decided to embark on our journey with a local company that understood that for our school, creative and intelligent use of space were integral to both functionality and design. It also was a wonderful opportunity to support local business during a time where the economy, particularly in our city with many small businesses, is struggling.

Making sure that ICT is at the heart of it all

We have also been challenged with the pace of integration of information and communications technology (ICT) into our curriculum for a number of reasons, the greatest perhaps being suitable and sustainable bandwidth. Part of the vision to enhance collaboration for our staff and pupils meant that:

• first, we needed reliable bandwidth that would efficiently service all our needs on campus
• second, we had to ensure a robust firewall and Wi-Fi management system were in place
• finally, we needed to find a suitable learning management system, easily manageable for preparatory school pupils and staff.

We have finally been able to resolve all the abovementioned challenges and have installed fibre-optic cabling. Through our Palo Alto Network firewall6 and the ClearPass solution from HPE Aruba,7 we are now able to monitor which URLs are being accessed, and we can set clear policy that is unique to our pupil and staff make-up. We became an official Google Apps for Education School8 at the start of 2016, and the logical progression was to use Google Classroom9 for our learning management system. At prep school level, we found Google Classroom’s intuitive abilities and cross-device connectivity a perfect solution for our staff and pupils. We have been walking this journey for three years now, and we are very excited to have the types of learning spaces we wanted and the connectivity required. We are really looking forward to ongoing innovation, differentiated learning and hopefully collaboration at a higher level, not only not only between staff and pupils, but our parents, too. We really do hope our changes will begin to shift the way each of us thinks about what we are doing for our entire community, pupils, parents and staff.

Alex Hall is campus head at St George’s Preparatory School in Port Elizabeth.

1. See:
2. Aronica, L. and Robinson, K. (2016) Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education. New York: Penguin Books.
3. Pink, D.H. (2011) Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.
4. Ibid.
5. See:
6. See:
7. See:
8. See:
9. See:

Category: Winter 2018

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