On the surface, the mission of BASIS Independent Schools is pretty simple. Ask any of us to repeat it, and like members of any mission-driven organization, we will enthusiastically share that “our mission is to raise the standards of our students’ learning to the highest international levels.” But what exactly does it mean to offer a program that raises the standards of learning to the highest international levels? What does global readiness look like?
Deep, Well-Rounded Knowledge… Earlier
To help get to the bottom of global readiness and what it means, I sat down with Julia Toews, former Head of School of BASIS Tucson, the very first BASIS.ed-managed school, which is also one of the top performing high schools in the U.S. (and world). Now BASIS.ed’s Vice President of Academics, she spends a great deal of her time cutting through the noise of “en vogue” education trends to get to the heart of what it means to be well-educated in today’s (and more importantly, tomorrow’s) world.
“I think about our graduates and how they know as much as I knew as a junior in college,” she says. “Why is it important to know things earlier than when I learned them? They are living in a totally different world.
I didn’t really get past mastery and learn how to think until I got to college. In a way, it is the future to focus on mastery in high school, but it is also the past. A high school diploma used to mean something, and it has been diluted. We are correcting that.”
Global readiness is, in a sense, going back to the well-rounded basics in order to look forward with confidence. We teach concepts and topics at BASIS Independent that have sneakily made their way out of typical classrooms– grammar and geography are two examples. Global readiness is also looking at what is going on in top performing countries around the world and bringing to our program what we think drives the best learning outcomes. One such “innovation” is teaching the three sciences – chemistry, physics, and biology – as separate classes for grades 6-8. This is fairly common in countries producing some of the greatest minds in science, but not a common practice in the United States.
Focusing on deep, well-rounded knowledge earlier enables students to pace between two to three years ahead of readiness levels of their grade-level peers – not just in subjects like geography, grammar, and the sciences, but in all areas of our program.
(There is a lot more to read about the deep, well-rounded BASIS.ed diploma on our website)
Knowing How to Use What You Know
Global readiness is more than bringing back content that has faded into the background and borrowing best practices from around the world. In fact, “problem solving and ability to apply knowledge is key to the global marketplace,” says Ms. Toews. “We don't even know what jobs there are going to be. Students have to be flexible and nimble in terms of skills and apply these skills across disciplines. There are parts of our program that explicitly focus on this, like Senior Projects, Connections, Logic, Economics, Latin, and we purposefully train teachers with techniques to push beyond memorization.” This combination of high-level content and opportunities to take ideas apart and put them back together in novel ways makes for students who are prepared for any unknown.
Understandably, many people associate global readiness and mastering the unknown with having computer science skills. Computer science skills are important, but as we do with all disciplines, our focus is on students mastering the building blocks that will enable them to work high-level in computer science fields, should they choose to do so.
“Whatever coding a Kindergarten student learns is going to be obsolete in few years let alone by the time they hit the job market, so it is more important for students to learn how to think, learn how to understand patterns and abstract thought, and think about how systems work.”
She continues, “if you look at the great tech geniuses and innovators in all disciplines, their brilliance boils down to their ability to think and take patterns and make something new of them.”
Picking Yourself Back Up
Outside of academics, there are some key character traits that make for students – and adults – who can be nimble, adjust to a world of a change, and tackle whatever is thrown their way. One of these traits is: resilience.
At this year’s annual Senior Project Presentations, resilience was on display and embodied by every student we came across. Ms. Toews says, “our students are not afraid of trying, failing, or asking for help. We don't teach character, our curriculum develops it. Whether through student hours or academic support, one of the fundamental things students in our program have to learn is it that it is OK to ask for help.”
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of developing resilience in the context of success in the BASIS.ed program, which is, quantifiably, among the best academic programs in the world. “In order to be successful in a challenging curriculum,” Ms. Toews shares, “everyone has to ask for support. Students develop close relationships with teachers because of the support they receive. When they leave our program, they won’t be afraid to go to office hours. There is no separation of success from asking for help.”
We invite you to come visit us and hear in-person what global readiness looks like at BASIS Independent Schools.