Broadening horizons beyond the classroom

“One of the greatest limitations that has undoubtedly been felt within schools across the board has been the removal of opportunities for young people to broaden their horizons beyond the classroom”

For the past 18 months, lockdown restrictions have had a huge impact on young people, arguably more so than any other generation, with schools for the first time in living memory closing their doors in 57 countries across the world. In March 2020, 682 million students worldwide had to continue their studies from home, writes Keith Birch, Principal of Westminster Campus at Southbank International School.

It’s no surprise therefore that the ‘Big Catch Up’ was a hotly debated topic in the UK and around the world, with students from some schools missing out on a huge amount of learning, whilst others less so thanks to the early adoption of tech capabilities and resources to support remote learning.

But whether or not young people missed out on lost learning, one of the greatest limitations that has undoubtedly been felt within schools across the board has been the removal of opportunities for young people to broaden their horizons beyond the classroom. School trips, whether to local libraries or community groups, to national museums or landmarks, or to visit cities or communities in other countries, have been all but cancelled since the start of the pandemic, taking away valuable life experiences from young people, the opportunities for learning new skills and for collaboration with others.

Yet, after a summer of continued uncertainty surrounding international – and even domestic – travel, the new school year is well underway and provides a renewed opportunity to plan engaging experiences for young people, to nurture their thirst for discovery.

This is something we place great importance on at Southbank International School in London, where I am Principal of the Westminster Campus. At the start of the Autumn term our students aged 11-16 were sent to various corners of the UK as part of our annual Discovery Week, which is a time for students and their teachers to leave London, explore new places, and undertake ambitious, extra-curricular activities beyond the classroom. This year students took part in challenges under the supervision of specialist instructors, with the emphasis throughout the week being on developing the skills of teamwork, cooperation, problem solving and decision-making. Activities ranged from abseiling and archery in Shropshire to surfing in Norfolk and orienteering in Essex, with students learning new skills and fostering new interests in a diverse range of activities.

With students from over 70 different countries attending our school, what Discovery Week also encourages is a greater sense of international collaboration and an understanding and appreciation of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. It’s about supporting young people to become global citizens, respectful of perspectives that may be different from their own but united in their vision for a more tolerant and collaborative world.

Learning beyond the classroom has innumerable benefits for young people in developing soft skills such as team building and communication and in developing self-esteem and confidence. And it is also hugely valuable for enabling the acquisition of knowledge and information.

When you live in a city like London, with such vibrant multiculturalism and rich history, why spend all your lessons in doors when you can be out and about absorbing the world around you? Subjects like history are made all the more interesting and engaging for students when they are given the opportunity to actually see famous landmarks or to visit historical buildings. They can put themselves in the shoes of the people they are learning about, visualising the moment, imagining the atmosphere, the noises, the smells and the sentiments felt by people at the time. Similarly, when studying art, biology or drama, there is no substitute for seeing paintings with your own eyes, studying nature within parks or watching plays live on stage. Galleries, museums and landmarks hold such significance within the history and multiculturalism of London and the truth is, there is simply no equivalent for visiting them in person.

While the pandemic is far from over, it’s important that we don’t forget the invaluable lessons and life skills that learning beyond the classroom can bring to young people. The new school year is the perfect time to reignite their thirst for discovery and provide new opportunities for learning and collaboration. It is primarily through real life experiences that they will become global citizens of tomorrow.

About the author: Keith Birch, Principal of Westminster Campus at Southbank International School in London.