Walking into a classroom at St Andrew’s School in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Australia, and it’s clear that the academic environment here is unique. These rooms have been redesigned to encourage and inspire the curiosity of young minds, turning a historic building into a hub for innovative education. Walls have been removed and creative zones introduced to create collaborative, flexible spaces that promote self-sufficient learning from children inspired to take ownership of their education.
“We see our classrooms as a third teacher,” says school Principal Deb Dalwood. There are bean bags and lounges to relax with a book, round tables for brainstorming sessions, craft corners to experiment with design, wet areas for painting and cosy nooks to discuss ideas for upcoming projects.
“There are times when it’s maths and you’ve just got to learn your times tables,” says Dalwood. “But there are other times when students, even the very youngest years, engage in projects that, for instance, explore how many boxes of water we need to fill a swimming pool or the impact on oxygen levels of felling a certain number of trees. That’s when the school’s flexible learning environment provides the ideal platform for a dynamic and diverse education experience.”
Unusually for a primary school – St Andrew’s caters to children aged three to 13 – students are given agency over their own education and encouraged to steer their education through the projects they pursue. “The idea,” says Dalwood, “is to allow children to individualise their learning so that they will be eager to engage with their studies.” In the younger years, this might be a market-day activity, where children are tasked with designing a product of their choosing and selling it for profit, passing the proceeds on to charity. Later on, they pick up the project again and open a bank account through the school to explore the commercial side of this venture and get a feel for the nature of profit and loss in the real world.
In year 5, students take on a project designed to have a positive impact, such as filling shoe boxes with daily necessities for families affected by natural disasters, or increasing awareness of low literacy rates in Aboriginal communities by raising funds to buy books. “St Andrew’s pupils want their actions to make a difference,” says Dalwood. “Staff and students try to ensure that the impact of these projects is never just tokenistic.”
LEARNING BY ERROR
The school highlights curiosity, integrity and celebrating success among its values but allows room for mistakes to be made as an integral part of the learning process. “Even from the age of three, students are encouraged to be problem solvers and risk takers,” says Dalwood. “It’s when you have a go and get it wrong that you really learn.”
Children also benefit from access to extensive facilities on campus. In addition to the gymnasium, the performing arts centre provides an inspiring setting for musical education – an important part of the curriculum. All students have music lessons written into their weekly timetable but there is also the option to have private lessons and everyone is encouraged to participate in performances with their peers, whether as part of the school orchestra, during a cabaret night or in a rock band with friends.
These activities feed into the culture of collaboration and cooperation at St Andrew’s, bolstered by a strong sense of belonging which gives young people the confidence and capability to go out in the world and pursue their ambitions from an early age.