Headmaster Stefan Horsman’s Think Piece: Lighting a Fire

It may be an unfair division to characterise education as belonging to one of two approaches – the ‘filling of a pail’ or the ‘lighting a fire’, but with major reviews into Scottish Education and the future of the exams system just about to report, now is a good time to examine that debate and to ask what our children and young people are going to need to prepare them for life.

For centuries, our education system has been fairly narrowly focused on ‘filling the pail’ – the acquisition of knowledge and the relentless drive towards passing exams – at the expense of critical thinking, curiosity, and creativity. With the advent of AI, a rapidly-changing workplace and potentially significant changes to the educational landscape, all that may be about to change. For too long, we have viewed education through a purely academic lens with a singular focus on exam success. And whilst exam success is undoubtedly a necessary stepping stone in the journey to a good education, it is by no means sufficient on its own.

Of course, many who achieve strong academic grades in their exams do go on to further success and to lead happy and fulfilled lives, but there are also a number who, despite stellar exam results, do not find happiness or success beyond school. At the same time, we can all point to examples of people whose exam results were less than stellar, but who have, nevertheless, gone on to great things and to lead fulfilled, productive and ‘socially useful’ lives. As Harvard University Professor David Perkins puts it, ‘A high IQ is like height in a basketball player. It’s very important, but there’s a lot more to being a good basketball player than being tall’.

Here we are getting into a debate between raw intellectual horsepower (IQ) versus Emotional Intelligence (sometimes called EQ). It is my belief that it is these so-called ‘soft skills’ that are equally as important as, if not more important than, IQ. In fact, employers are very clear about the skillsets, aptitudes and attitudes they are looking for in the workforce of the future, many of which would fall into the category of ‘soft skills’. Take, for example, the list below of the World Economic Forum’s Top 10 Skills from their Future of Jobs Report:

Many of these skills are developed within the classroom, but many more are developed outside it: on sports fields; in concert halls and theatres; or on mountains. For example, just think about what our youngsters experience when they perform on stage: creative thinking; resilience, flexibility and agility; motivation and self-awareness; curiosity and lifelong learning; dependability and attention to detail; empathy and active listening; leadership and social influence. And that’s just the skills on the WEF’s list (seven of the ten) not to mention their ability to deal with pressure, learn from mistakes, work effectively in a team, and much more besides.

The reality is that the skillsets and mindsets our children will need for the future will be developed both inside and outside the classroom. If we are serious about ‘educating for life’, we must provide the platforms and experiences for our children to develop these future-focused aptitudes and attitudes in all areas of school life which is exactly what we are doing at Albyn and is one of the clear and intended outcomes of our Strategic Vision launched in the last few weeks.

Above all else, our Strategic Vision is focused on ensuring our pupils are prepared for the fast-changing world beyond our granite walls, ensuring that they have the attitudes and values needed to make a positive impact in the communities and workplaces in which they will go on to in their adult lives.

We recognise that the world is changing very fast, and as much as this is a challenge it is also an exciting landscape of opportunity and possibility. Our Strategic Vision and our key refrain of ‘educating for life’ is, therefore, a vision rooted in the imperative for education to be about lighting fires in our youngsters: fires of awe and wonder; fires of confidence; fires of innovation; fires of imagination. With the right kindling and careful tending of the flames, we have the opportunity to let our youngsters blaze brightly, boldly, and brilliantly.

So, let’s throw out those pails, and start lighting some fires!

– Stefan Horsman, Headmaster

Back to All News Next Article