HowNow: The Dominican Republic ranks 76 out of 77 on the PISA rankings [the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment] so that’s quite a mix.
Kate: Yes, you’ve got the most privileged people in the world who yacht around dipping their children in and out of the Green School in Bali [and places like that]. And then we have local Dominican children, six or seven years old, who’ve not been to school before, who don’t read or write. The Hive School brings together people who would never normally meet.
HowNow: How have you created the curriculum?
Kate: It’s designed around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, goals we need to achieve by 2030. These are the things we feel as a global community we need to have addressed. We talk about why the oceans need to sustain the life below them – with people who live on an island, for whom it’s incredibly important that the oceans are clean and that they produce fish, and that we can work with them safely without overfishing. Everything we learn has a direct impact on somebody. So the curriculum isn’t a thought exercise; it has a real world application. We’re teaching about living in harmony [with the planet] and sustainable development, going beyond that to a regenerative way of thinking and living.
HowNow: How does the mix of people work in the classroom?
Kate: It’s fascinating to watch them playing in different ways, to watch what they bring in for snack time, when we are picking one another up from each other’s houses to go on excursions together, understanding that some children don’t have smartphones – and, in fact, they don’t have electricity in their houses or the internet. Or that they haven’t been to school yet. And yet, they’re climbing the same trees and eating the same lunches and playing the same games and doing the same work at school. Their lives are completely different but, at the same time, they’re not really so different.
I’ve struggled to have that conversation with adults about refugees and migrants; trying to explain “these people are not different to you, they just lead different lives, and it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of natural disasters or wars or whatever.” Adults find it very difficult to make that leap when they see someone living a different life; to see themselves in one another’s experiences when they appear so different on the outside. Now, it’s just normal [for the children] to notice that people live differently and yet they can still be friends and work on the same things at school. It feels like a really small thing but it’s a really big thing at the same time because of where that thinking can lead.
Right now, [the world] is trying to solve problems for people we don’t know, in countries where we don’t live and in situations we don’t understand. And then, we get a bit mystified when we can’t get it right. We pump huge amounts of money into trying to solve enormously complex issues. But we don’t understand the people inside the issues. [With The Hive School], I want to see if we go in at the ground floor and bring together all different kinds of people and live together effectively every day for 10 years, whether that changes the way we view one another.
HowNow: I sense you don’t teach in a classic classroom style.
Kate: In a traditional model of education, kids are often very passive. They know the teachers are in charge. They know that, if they miss the mark, the teacher is going to help them get there in the end – which is why you see exhausted GCSE teachers dragging teenagers over the line against their will. In the Hive School, they become self-directed. They know where they want to go and that what they’re learning is going to make a difference. We ask questions every day such as ‘what difference did it make to you as an individual to learn about that? What did you learn about yourself through doing it? What difference will it make in the world?
This is an inquiry-based model. We start with a big or essential general question, such as, for example, “What makes a hero?” Then we look at the skills and knowledge we need to understand that question; what we need to know about heroes and people – and what tasks we are going to do to gain the knowledge? And it’s the children who think about that; the teacher simply guides them on their learning journey.
We prompt them with questions; we bring in our knowledge and understanding to help them. If they decide to do something we’re not sure about, we’ll have a conversation afterwards and ask, did that get you where you wanted to go? And if not, why not? All the way through, they are encouraged to understand the cause and effect of the decisions they make. It’s a very conscious way of learning. It’s active, not passive.
HowNow: The other big concept in the world right now is ‘adaptation’, coping in the face of difficult changes. How do you address this in the context of the Hive School, particularly on a personal level?