The Curriculum of the Future at Online Schools: Four Questions

Leading online school Minerva’s Virtual Academy discusses how curricula can change to suit an increasingly diverse and connected world, and why online schools will lead the charge.

In our everyday lives, it’s rare that we ever think, work or act inside the siloed terms of school subjects. Everything we do comprises a mixture: a bit of what we call ‘Biology’, ‘Maths’, ‘English’, ‘Geography’ or ‘History’, all mixed up in various tasks, jobs or ideas.

It’s often a challenge parents face when trying to persuade children to sit down to the homework of their least-favourite subject: “trust me, you’ll end up using Aspect X of Subject Y every day of your life.” Whilst this is true, it’s certainly not the isolated world of abstract formulas that we encounter at school: each subject is animated by how it intersects with others.

A curriculum is the term for the subjects that make up a course of study in a school or college, and curricula around the world are, it’s fair to say, slow-moving, slow-to-change beasts. In the UK, where our pioneering online school Minerva’s Virtual Academy is based, the curriculum has experienced surface level changes – some subjects coming and some going, or various exam boards like the IB or iGCSE models enabling different emphases within subjects – but the form of it hasn’t changed for centuries.

Which is why the curriculum needs a rethink, and why, at Minerva’s Virtual Academy, we’ve begun this process. Below, we’ve boiled down this fascinating subject into four key questions: what it means for a curriculum to be truly ‘global’, how that will mean future curricula will change, why are online schools implementing these changes more easily and what are the benefits for the students themselves.

Why does your child’s curriculum need to ‘go global’?

A global curriculum means a curriculum that is not limited to the ideas and perspectives of a single country, its education system and its culture. In our incredibly connected world, it is the norm for students to interact with people, ideas and practices from around the world on a daily basis, and a global curriculum reflects the idea that our learning should equip us for this experience.

The concept of a global curriculum has already stirred up universities and is now affecting students across the entire school system.

Our answer to the question is, then, simply that the necessity for a global curriculum can no longer be ignored: any culture, any career and any passion that schooling will enrich and prepare students for will entail the interconnection of cultures, perspectives and ideas. A student that wants to succeed and thrive in the future is a student who has not only learnt the rules within their subject, but experienced as many different perspectives and applications of these rules as possible.

How will curricula change in the future?

After appreciating the concept of, and the necessity for, a global curriculum, we’ve been asking ourselves: what does this change really look like? How will the students of the future embrace the possibilities entailed by knocking down the old walls built around geographical, sociological, historical and cultural delimitations?

The answer is two-part: firstly, the very lines around our ideas of ‘core subjects’ will change. Subjects will be split up in different ways; the curriculum will not be separated so rigorously into ‘English’ versus ‘History’ versus ‘Geography’, but rather re-deploy multiple aspects of these subjects under more intuitive, real-world and practical lessons. We’ll see subjects like entrepreneurship or leadership that apply each of these things in context and as a result, the curriculum will diversify, become more specific, more applied.

The second thing that will then change is the way the curriculum is examined. It is still, ultimately, the exam boards and exam system that dissuades and holds back the curriculum from changing: students still currently need to be funnelled back into their silos in order to achieve recognised qualifications.

So the curriculum of the future will have not only a far wider range of recognised qualifications but a whole new value system placed on the application of skills, which’ll look less like the traditional, timed-based examination situations and more like coursework or work-experience based models.

Why are online schools leading when it comes to changing curricula?

Traditional, physical schools are slow moving things, whereas a school like Minerva’s Virtual Academy has to be — and thankfully can be — much more agile. Whilst this of course poses questions about the balance and maintenance of steady spaces for teaching and learning — and the requisite embedding and stability this requires — it means online schools are in the privileged position of being able to do things like construct their timetables from scratch, hire and mentor top-level teachers who are seeking to expand their repertoire and source professionals from around the world to teach specialist subjects and ideas online.

This is not to say that there are not visionary staff in traditional schools around the world who have wanted to make changes: it is only that there’s a reluctance to overhaul a fixed system when it would affect so many set parts. Online schools, due to their very nature as emerging, flexible institutions, are different.

What are the benefits of a global curriculum for students?

A global curriculum benefits students in three ways: they are better prepared, better qualified and better critical thinkers.

A global curriculum facilitates students who can make links: often pupils learn silo-istically and the idea that there’s interplay between two or more subjects seems complicated, but this is the kind of thinking that starts at A Level and University — so why do we take so long to introduce it? It makes learning a lot more intuitive, fun and real-world relevant, encouraging better problem-solving, communication skills across cultures and interpersonal skills as students better understand the limits and advantages to various perspectives.

This will result in students who have a better understanding of why and how their learning matters for life after school, and who’ll be far better qualified for an ever-diversifying and forward-slash-focussed job market as a result.

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Minervas Virtual Academy

Minervas Virtual Academy

Minerva’s Virtual Academy is an online independent school for pupils aged 11 – 18. Pupils study the British Curriculum from the comfort and safety of their own home, wherever they live in the world, receiving an affordable, world-class education to rival ‘mainstream’ school for the first time. The school enables its pupils to thrive both academically and socially online whilst helping them to develop the skills they need to succeed in the modern world.

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