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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Rise of Alternative Education and Studio Schools


Jae Brieffies

Student Engagement Officer

COVID-19’s impact on education is undoubtable - schools were forced to move to complete online delivery in many cases, thereby adapting they way they taught, assessed, and understood student success. 

Tertiary access also changed - not only were students suddenly completing whole degrees online en masse, but the disruption to the ATAR school year saw more institutions offering students entry based not on ATAR scores but alternative entry pathways, such as portfolio entries or specialist in-house programs. 

This has renewed debate about the effectiveness of traditional ATAR and VET pathways into further education, and sparked interest in a relatively recent movement of alternative education solutions, in the form of studio schools and alternative learning hubs. 

These schools and centres are offering innovative pathways into the workforce and further education for those students who may fall somewhere between the gaps in traditional ATAR and VET pathways, and are fast becoming the face of a more inclusive and comprehensive future in education. 

What makes these schools significant is that they place great emphasis on preparing students for the modern world of work. Prioritising flexibility, digital literacy, and emotional intelligence for the careers of the future, these institutions are preparing students for the onset of tech in workplaces. 

Many also implement some form of project-based learning, a technique used across Scandinavian countries which involves the inclusion of a major project or series of projects into learning processes, providing students with opportunities to apply their learnings firsthand. These project-based learning techniques are aimed at facilitating students’ integration into the workforce, requiring the use of higher-order critical thinking skills such as ideation, creation and evaluation, and centring inquiry, problem solving, collaboration and research. Furthermore, project-based learning places the student at the centre of the learning process, encouraging personal responsibility, autonomy, and investment in learning, and recognising and pushing students’ individual strengths and unique abilities. These learning styles represent a marked shift away from reliance on standardised testing, which often fails to capture the unique talents and capacities of individual students, and a greater focus on a bespoke, individualised curriculum.

Youth Inc. is one Adelaide-based school changing the face of education. An independent senior secondary school for those aged 17-24, Youth Inc. offers an institution in which students can complete their ATAR or VET qualifications through an 18-month long curriculum which incorporates traditional education styles, social learning through team trips and ventures, social enterprise and business training, work placements, and art media projects. The school had a marked focus on emotional intelligence and life skills, aiming to build resilience, wellbeing, and strong mental health practices in their students. Youth Inc. is an organisation centred around value for diversity and tolerance, and is an accommodating space presenting opportunity to those who struggle to succeed in a traditional school model. 

The Studio School, set for launch in 2022 from its CBD campus in Fremantle, Western Australia, aims to harness students’ strengths to turn them into qualifications. Subverting the traditional classroom model in favour of a student co-working space, the school allows students to build a bespoke curriculum based on online subjects, project based learning, peer-to-peer communication, and practical work placements, in order to unlock potential career and further education pathways post-graduation. Success is measured not only through ATAR or VET attainment, but also through the tangible achievements of student-led projects, and the development of essential skills in collaboration, teamwork, and leadership. Project-based learning forms anywhere between 20-75% of their curriculum, and is embedded amongst a personalised suite of ATAR courses, VET qualifications, work placements, and micro-credentials. The school aims to uniquely position students to work in innovative workplaces of the future, requiring all students to undertake three core units: Design Thinking, Project Management, and Writing a Business Case. 

Crimson Global Academy is a global online high school for academically high-performing, highly-motivated students. Based off the internationally-recognised AP, International GCSE and A-Level curricula, the academy offers part-time positions for students who want to supplement the learnings they receive in their brick-and-mortar, and full-time positions for students who wish to complete their education online. The Academy prides itself on its focus on the implementation of edtech into the classroom, in order to advance learnings, and train students to become digital natives equipped for a digital future. Their suite of cultural, sporting, intellectual, and leadership opportunities offered within a global classroom with a low student-to-teacher ratio form a unique educational experience for high-achieving, academically-focussed students. Available to all with an internet connection, regardless of location, Crimson is priming students all over the globe for entry to world-class universities and institutions in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. 

Education is continually forced to adapt to prepare students for a rapidly-changing future. It is often difficult to prepare for what we do not yet know exists, and forecasts are only so accurate. Yet alternative education models, encompassing bespoke curriculums, and work-centred learning, may be one part of the answer to preparing students to be resilient, adaptive, innovative leaders of future generations. 


Additional Note: This article was written by,

Jae Brieffies

. This author is a member of YLAA's Youth Advisory Board. As our organisation continues to evolve, we want to make sure that we continue to represent and empower the voices of youth in their own affairs, that’s why we have created our first Youth Advisory Board - not only to ensure that our students’ interests are at the core of every aspect of our organisation, but also to give the young people we serve the opportunity to develop themselves personally, whilst contributing to our mission of ensuring a sustainable future for all youth.

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