Martin Hall, Head of School at ACS Hillingdon International School


As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, a survey commissioned by ACS International Schools found that three quarters of nine to eleven-year-olds believed that they would travel into space during their lifetime.

Interestingly just three per cent of the same age group claimed they had never looked at the night sky, while 45 per cent believed that there is life on Mars. 

Despite this obvious fascination though, only one in five had any idea how far away the moon is (238,000 miles)!

In just a few years this cohort will be entering further education and, as the space race enjoys a new lease of life, what can we do now to ensure our students are ready for it? 

One thing that has been really interesting about the recent moon landing anniversary coverage is recognition of the huge breadth of skills needed to make that mission a success, and just how much further we’ve come since those pioneering first expeditions – not just from a purely technical standpoint but everything the astronauts did from fitness training and dietary controls through to leadership and communication skills.

But if we as educators are to build on this interest and fascination with all things lunar, it is vital that our schoolchildren are students of the STEAM approach (integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths plus the Arts.)  Because only through such a multi-disciplinary approach can students develop the complete set of complex problem-solving skills and ability to take risks that could see them ‘boldly go’ and face brand new possibilities. 

At ACS, we do all we can to foster learning that recognises that our students need to learn creative skills and attitudes, as well as the more traditional subject disciplines. An education focussed on science and Maths is vital but studying the arts is also important and relevant in industries that rely on innovators and creative minds to generate new ways of thinking about our world – and beyond. 

Participation in the arts boosts leadership confidence

A study by the University of Sydney found that active participation in the arts increases students’ motivation, engagement in class, self-esteem and improves their personal wellbeing. These attributes equip students with the skills and confidence to pursue careers in leadership roles, both in and out of the arts industry.

Sadly, academic students are often discouraged from taking arts subjects onto the latter stages of education, with many being pushed towards the so-called ‘shortage subjects’, requiring (alleged) greater academic rigour. Not so at ACS, where the arts are considered an integral part of a fully rounded education, regardless of specific specialisms.

Our Middle School integrated approach uses projects to engage students in a variety of problem-solving and critical thinking learning activities. Examples of the types of learning activities our students engage in during the academic year are a Mission to Mars Space Challenge, where teams of students create a space rover using Lego robotics to complete several mission tasks. Other integrated, authentic projects involve Film Making, where students explore cinematography, developing animation through coding, and explore sound and light design to create short films. It is these types of learning experiences that support the development of our students’ creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills.

As with any engaging learning environment, our students are enthusiastic about getting involved in additional opportunities to develop their skills as scientists, engineers, coders, artists, and mathematicians. Our STEAM-related clubs are another way for students to build upon their love of learning and interests while exploring the world around them. Some of the clubs our students are involved in are art club, STEAM club, eco-club, critical thinking club, math club, and magazine club. These clubs offer a fun and unique spin on developing our students’ knowledge and skills while fostering further exploration into STEAM-related ideas.

Arts study nurtures creativity

The International Baccalaureate Visual Arts Programme, offered at ACS Hillingdon, also fosters creative thinking and a critical mindset and is a consistently popular subject. 

Teachers of the IB Visual Arts course work to the premise that art enables students to develop an appreciation for expressive diversity. This allows students to become more understanding of different cultures, ultimately giving them the skills to live and work anywhere.

Visual art is often a self-lad subject, with students determining their own innovative ideas. This encourages independent thought, an attribute that universities often cite as lacking in many students. The ability to evaluate their work as they go teaches students to approach problems with patience and inventive thinking.

ACS Hillingdon's IB Visual Arts students showcase their artworks to friends and families through special exhibitions. Displaying projects in this way rewards students’ dedication to their work, and often draws upon their own personal experiences such as moving from one culture to another.

An arts education within school is one of the few programmes able to create an environment which encourages collaboration across all ages and nationalities and every year, ACS Hillingdon showcases a production in its Auditorium. 

Students who take part in drama, music or the visual arts develop the imagination needed in pioneering industries. Gwen Musial, an ACS alumna, now a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at the University of Houston said, “In research and development, creativity is a useful tool for thinking of unique solutions to difficult problems.”

Ready for an exciting new world

Collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, independent learning and creativity are all attributes that can be developed through courses that integrate science, technology, Maths and the arts. Our dedicated approach to ensuring there is a wide variety of arts education available at ACS will, we believe, help create a new generation of creative leaders, willing to innovate and persevere into the future.

As well as this, if the arts help students to understand themselves and instils in them a sense of achievement, that is justification enough to make arts education a vital part of school life. 

The future will be about people who can truly synthesise ideas and create new and exciting options for solving problems in every area of human experience. They are the ones who will be sought by employers globally. So, by encouraging students in drama, music or the visual arts as much as we do in traditional sciences and Maths, we can truly help them develop the imagination needed for the pioneering industries of the twenty-first century.

An exciting new world awaits our children, it is our job to ensure they’re ready to make the most of it.

Martin Hall, Head of School at ACS Hillingdon International School

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