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Want To Reimagine Education? Look To The Horizon

30.5.2018 | BY LAUREN WILSON

“Transforming education is possible,” says Xavier Aragay, Founder of Reimagine Education Lab and former General Director of the Jesuit Schools in Barcelona, the innovators behind Horizon 2020. “All you need is a passion for education, leadership and a methodology of the process of change.”

Sound easy? Even for the most passionate educators and ambitious leaders, transforming school culture and adopting new pedagogies can be a daunting prospect. We wanted to know what it took for Aragay to commit to transforming the school experience.

“Observing everyday life at school, I realized that students got bored and we weren’t able to impact on the most important thing: educating the person, shaping their character. School was (and unfortunately, in its majority it still is) grey, individualistic, little inclusive, and still anchored in knowledge and its memorization. I realized that school killed curiosity and creativity, it did not help to grow connected and conscious students.” It was time to make a change.

From this realization, Horizon 2020 Reimagine Education was born. This approach isn't about implementing small innovations in the classroom – it's about changing the entire system to focus education on the individual and place the student at the center of all that happens at school. 

This educational methodology strives to incorporate fresh discoveries in pedagogy, psychology, and neuroscience, to equip young people to succeed now, as well as to thrive in an unpredictable future. Horizon 2020 schools in Barcelona have adopted a student-centered approach with the aim of fostering well-rounded, competent, conscientious, compassionate, creative and committed individuals. The results speak for themselves – whilst academic results have remained consistent, the outcomes of social-emotional learning and skills-based learning have improved.

Schools following the Horizon 2020 methodology have core principles in common; they place the student in the center of the learning process, define the model of person they want to educate for and establish the desired impacts and outcomes, committing to constant evaluation. What’s more, these schools change classroom practices to include learning-by-doing, active learning in a collaborative and interdisciplinary manner and encourage a participatory process with all the educational community (students, families, educators, teachers and their social and economic environment). 

Drawing on progressive pedagogies and innovative theories of learning, Horizon 2020 schools gravitate towards project-based learning. Students identify project areas that interest them and teachers then work collaboratively to design projects which integrate a range of skills and subject disciplines. Whereas traditional school timetables are structured around subjects, Horizon 2020 schools build their timetables around projects, allowing for deep exploration, flexibility, and continual evaluation.

It’s not only the school day that’s structured differently, the structure of each learning session breaks from tradition, too. These schools use team-teaching, with teams of two or three teachers leading large groups of up to 65 students.

Team spirit permeates all areas of school life, too. From its inception, Horizon 2020 has involved parents and the local community in a participative process, taking their views on the future of education into account along the way. The school reports that dialogue between students and their families seems to have improved and the students eagerly share their school experiences with parents at home, putting an end to the perennial shrug when asked ‘how was school today?’. It’s no wonder that parents are eager to send their children to these schools.

Horizon 2020 also reports that teachers feel more connected to their vocation, perhaps down to a shift away from being a subject teacher, to becoming part of a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team. The bonus of this approach is that students have excellent role models when it comes to skills like communication and collaboration, as they witness their teachers in the act every day!

Horizon 2020 is becoming one of the leading programs in the world to show the path towards an effective transformation of school. “We have had thousands of visits both online and offline”, explains Aragay, “we have become a point of reference for more than 25 countries, and inspiration for hundreds of schools that are applying the same vision and methodology.”

Everything that happens at the school is aimed at equipping young people to thrive in the modern world.  We asked Aragay how best educators can prepare students for the 21st century. “As far as I am concerned, Education today is, essentially, as it was in the 19th century, but today’s world has evolved a lot since then... So, it’s critical to reimagine Education in order to adapt it to a changing world, a “liquid” world in constant evolution”

“The key point to prepare students for the 21st Century is to center education in the person: this means to guarantee that the learner is at the center of the learning process, and to help each of them to build their own life project.”

“In order to achieve that, we will have to challenge the mindsets and mental frames of the managing team as well as some of the teachers, professors, and families of our educative community. Often, some of us live stuck in the past and only consider what worked for ourselves… but our students will live in a totally different world, so they need a deep transformation of Education that prepares them to face this changing world.”

Aragay advises educators to consider the future, have a holistic view of the whole 15 years that a student will pass through in the school, to go beyond ‘soft skills’ and to equip themselves with a methodology of change. His parting advice for anyone inspired to implement this approach? “Keep going, this is like going to the gym… We are only at the beginning!”

If you’d like to know more about implementing the Horizon 2020 methodology, visit the innovation page.