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Metro x St Cuthbert's

Empowering Young Women for the Future

Metro x St Cuthbert's

Aug 14, 2023 Schools

‘Teaching for the Future’ is at the heart of a wider vision to Make Girls’ Amazing, at St Cuthbert’s College. We chat to Principal, Justine Mahon, and her passionate teachers, to learn more about the unique programmes that enable students to be future-ready – including their approach to digital innovation and the emerging world of AI.

You don’t often see people’s hands on a Zoom call, but today, St Cuthbert’s Principal Justine Mahon raises hers in the air, and leans into the screen, “Everything we do as educators must help to set girls up for the future!”

She explains that their overarching ‘Making Girls Amazing’ vision is like an anchor point, to help grow and empower the next generation of female leaders and change makers. “And ‘Teaching for the Future’ is one of our five core principles,” she says.

So, how exactly do their academic, sporting, cultural and pastoral programmes contribute to supporting each girl to achieve her personal best? And what does being future-focused actually mean, day to day?

Firstly, Justine hails their rigorous ‘Knowledge Rich School’ approach, as an important framework across both Junior and Senior School cohorts.

“It provides a structure which supports every student to develop a strong desire for intellectual growth,” she says. “Our teachers, all experts in their fields, are committed to developing a deeper level of subject knowledge to ensure girls have a firm grasp of fundamental concepts”.

An example is the recent move to introduce the College’s own Year 11 Programme, replacing the radically revised NCEA Level 1, being introduced into all schools in 2024.  The bespoke ‘St Cuthbert’s Diploma’ aims to deliver a better academic grounding and more variety than what is being implemented by NZQA,

“As a Knowledge Rich School – we are expected to deliver the curriculum in the most coherent way possible, which is intellectually rigorous and challenging,” says Mahon.’’ Our Year 11 Diploma will ensure our students are well prepared for higher learning in their later school years, and beyond.

Another way St Cuthbert’s sets girls up for the future, is to prepare them for the rapidly changing face of tech. Teachers are encouraged and supported to embrace digital innovation with students, from a young age.

In the Junior School, the innovative STRETCH programme introduces Nano Girl and Little Robots, and girls (and teachers alike) are exposed to advanced tools and learning methods through being an official, Apple Distinguished School.

Justine also emphasises their robust safety considerations. “We’re proud of our digital citizenship (online safety) and technical literacy programmes, which help girls navigate the digital world safely and confidently.”

At the Senior level, digital technology is also a key area of investment for the College.  Inspired by MIT’s ‘FabLab’ initiative, classrooms and breakout spaces have been reimagined into dedicated Digital CoLab spaces, and state of the art tools and equipment await – such as Resin 3D printers, drones, robotics and a dedicated VR hub.

Head of Technology, Sam Langatuki, is ecstatic about what the new Labs offer, “It’s not just about learning code, or working with the latest tools, but it provides stimulus, support, skills and materials, to nurture the inventive and innovative spirit of the girls.”

And of course, emerging AI, in its various iterations and complexities, is also being considered across different faculties. 

Technology teacher, Michael Zhang, has taken up numerous professional opportunities to educate himself on AI and the opportunities that will, no doubt, be further integrated in his classroom.

“Just this morning we talked about emerging models of teaching, such as AI-assisted tutoring, and how it could assist neuro divergent learners, for example. I’m grateful to have the support at St Cuthbert’s to explore AI, and to understand how we might adapt. It’s unchartered territory and we have the opportunity to lead … but we also need to proceed with caution.”

Head of English, Amber Lloyd admits it’s complex, as things are emerging quickly. But she believes the opportunities are wholesale.

“We need to start thinking about what an enlightened use of this technology looks like, that will still be grounded in fundamentals, such as critical thinking skills, or the ability to build an argument,” she says.

A conundrum for many onlookers, is if a student can get Chat GPT to write a better-than-average essay, on say, ‘the key themes in The Merchant of Venice’, then where are the opportunities for learning? Not to mention the plagiarism issues.

“We could use ChatGPT as an informed sounding board, to test our arguments and ideas on Shakespeare, to use that example. We can use it as a research tool, and to help us synthesise information,” she says.

When viewed this way, Amber believes that AI tools offer incredible opportunities to teach critical thinking and to develop new kinds of argument and writing styles.

UNESCO’s recently published Guide to Artificial Intelligence in Education, emphasises that public policies may not be able to cope with the pace of innovation, and calls for more involvement from institutions and researchers, to address issues such as ethics, sustainability, and equity of using AI in education.

“Yes, ethics is a big one,” emphasises Amber. “We’re working with researchers, policy makers, as well as our teachers and students, to consider adaptations to AI but with the lens of safety and ethics.”

Despite the push to encourage digital prowess and academic advancement for her students – Justine Mahon wants to be clear that there is also much more to ‘teaching for the future’ at St Cuthbert’s.

After sharing many of these great examples, she sits back and looks contemplative.

“At the end of the day, I strongly believe we must take an holistic approach to future-focused education. We want to set girls up to be resilient, caring, grounded and well-rounded global citizens. It’s honestly such a privilege for me to see this in action”. 

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