In the last decade, we have seen a massive boom in technology, which has created and replaced jobs, revolutionized the way we receive information, and changed the way we communicate with others. Despite these changes, the educational model—with few exceptions—has remained relatively static. For the most part, students are situated in 20th century classrooms and stuck with 19th century tools and models that simply won’t prepare them for the 21st century workforce.
It’s undeniable, our world is becoming increasingly more globalized, and with the current educational model, students will not have the skills necessary to navigate the global market. To overcome some of these challenges, there have been small pockets of innovation and change in the education sector. However, the projects are not scalable and under-resourced. And while governments and citizens alike want to do the right thing when it comes to education, it’s proven to be difficult to make change happen on a large scale. Educator and entrepreneur Chris Whittle is looking to tackle some of these challenges with Whittle School & Studios. As Chairman and CEO, Chris believes education is stuck in the past, and hopes to modernize and revolutionize it by creating a global network of schools.
In 2019, the first of many schools will open—one in Washington, DC and one in Shenzhen, China. Each campus will serve about 2,500 students ages 3-18, with boarding options as well. Students will have the opportunity to engage in a global community with a uniform curriculum across all campuses. The curriculum will focus on preparing students for the upcoming challenges of the 21st century, with project-based learning, personalized education, language immersion programs, and opportunities to study abroad at the other global campuses.
Surprisingly, while undertaking such a massive project in reimagining education, the biggest barrier has been people’s mindsets. In a conversation with Whittle, he pointed out that in most other sectors, “old is a negative, and new is a benefit. In the world of school, it’s the reverse, in that old is viewed as a positive.” When it comes to education, it is challenging to change people’s mindset, and it’s difficult for people (especially parents) to visualize what a modern school should look like. “Part of the reason that’s true” according to Whittle, “is that parents haven’t seen new done right.”
The effort of modernizing education takes more than educators and thought leaders—it takes a team of people, from engineers and carpenters, to architects and designers to create an environment that caters to the modern student’s needs. While touring the Washington, DC campus, it was apparent that an enormous amount of work has gone into creating the school. The 650,000 square foot building had previously been home to Intelsat since the 1980s. Now the building is undergoing construction and renovation to transform it into a contemporary campus.
In the conceptualization and construction of the schools, technology has been a major factor. The classrooms will be completely modernized, and students will have the contemporary tools necessary to learn in a modern and global environment. Further down the line, technology will also play a role in creating a robust counseling system for the students—a system where counselors will be able to better understand every student’s individual needs and interests by having a substantial database to rely on.
This counseling system is a part of a bigger philosophy of the Whittle School, which is that quality faculty is the key to quality education. Recently at the Meridian Global Leadership Summit, Whittle pointed out that “every piece of research about education shows that there’s one thing that matters more than anything else in terms of the quality of a school, [which] is the quality of a faculty. And that if you get that right virtually everything else tends to fall in place.”
When asked about his role was in the changing landscape of education, Whittle reflected on his experience being in the education sector for more than 50 years. He said, “seeing cycles, actually seeing ebbs and flows of reform, seeing fads come and go, seeing how things didn’t work—the perspective is important. And I think the biggest thing I bring to this is humility. What I mean by that is I have a sense of how hard this is.”
Whittle made a connection between education reform and mountain climbing. As someone who has done some mountain climbing in his day, he reflected, “one of the things about guides—when they’ve been up a mountain, they respect the mountain. So, I have a lot of respect for how hard this is, and therefore it helps me organize where we need to put extra oxygen.”
Reimagining education is indeed a mountain that is not easy to climb. But Whittle Schools & Studios strives to be a breakthrough in redesigning a modern and global education that will prepare students to successfully navigate the 21st century.