Category Archives: Leadership Blogs

The Future is Being Created Now!

Discussions on the Future of Education

At dinner with a group of friends last night as we were all catching up, early conversation focused on one of our friends in the automotive industry who had been very busy working 7 days a week. We felt sorry for him until we realized that meant attending last week’s CES (Global Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and he proceeded to captivate us with stories of the latest hi-tech wizardry and how it was shaping a revolution in the car industry. He clearly described five phases of development that will get us to a 2023 future where cars are redefined from simple tools for transportation to become electric powered, autonomous travel pods that were total ecosystems featuring holograms to replace the touch screen console and personalized by ultra smart artificial intelligence (AI), complete with facial recognition that can tell if you’ve had a tough day and gets to know you (predicative intelligence), what music you might want to listen to and where you want to go for dinner. Linked with the Internet of Things it’s all about the journey, not the destination. It reminded me of the iPhone revolution of the last 10 years and made me think about all the other ‘ecosystems’ in our lives: our homes, offices and schools.

An overseas visitor in our group was then introduced to the life-transforming wonders of shopping on Tao Bao, complete with demonstration of its photo search feature. Another immediate convert! She was however, puzzled by the experience of sharing the cost of dinner by WeChat payment, but felt better when our car friend explained further about how quick China is in adopting new technology, and that Beijing is one of the world’s three great technology hubs, alongside California’s Silicon Valley and Israel’s Silicon Wadi.

Inescapable was the reminder that we are living through what is now commonly dubbed the 4th industrial revolution – with its pervasive disruptors: technology, automation, artificial intelligence, abundance, globalization, big data and social media. Last week, a message on a friends social network advised us that education futurist, Professor Yong Zhao would be speaking at Beijing Normal University the next day, presenting in Chinese, so we quickly rescheduled plans and took the opportunity for as many people in our new school start-up office (from academic staff to secretaries) to go along and listen to his messages on the importance of education to be part of ‘leading the way’ by embracing the future, and being part of creating it rather than always trying to ‘catch up’. (Read this week’s ORIGINS article from Grace Yang for a recap and link to a recording of the presentation).
At dinner, my friend in the auto industry told me about their strategies for headhunting top talent in their last year at university, or those who recently graduated, and how they were doing away with the tried and tested MBA industry standards of setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to work towards. Instead, new employees are expected to come up with new ideas – they are expected to be creative. A similar message comes from Yong Zhao, who challenges schools to change their old notions of assessment and curriculum – ideas that are holding our kids back from learning the skills and attitudes that they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Change in our work life can be hard for all of us, but when it comes to shopping or booking a holiday it comes surprisingly easily. One thing is certain: we need to look forward at the possibilities. Technology is changing work: 50% of today’s jobs will be gone by 2035, and the 60% of new jobs that will replace them haven’t been invented yet. However, a lot of future jobs are already out there today and are highly paid, valuing skills not experience. Industry giants and start ups are snapping up kids with high level skills in creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, social communication, and of course all things technology – and they already can’t find enough talent to meet their needs.
At some point, all dinner parties touch on politics, and everyone enjoyed the irony being played out on the world stage this week: with President Xi Ji Ping talking at Davos about a future based on globalization, whilst America’s new president-elect focused on tweeting how he will build walls – physical and economic. My auto industry friend was pretty clear about the future: it is full of uncertainties, and it’s happening fast; it’s exciting and it’s full of opportunities. The details are being worked out as we go, but the trend is unmistakable.

In education, we need to heed Yong Zhao’s words and learn from what’s happening around us in the real world while embracing the future. We need to give our kids every chance to develop their creativity, to be involved in exploring their interests, to find their passions, to tinker with technology and engage in finding solutions to real world challenges. In China, parents are looking for education to provide their child the edge in being ready for the future. In the boom of new private school openings, there is a rush to develop a new model of schools. This is a golden opportunity to create ‘schools for the future’ and engage our kids in the future today. This requires innovation, building on what we know and have and creating new and better ways of doing things. At ORIGINS, I am working with a team of passionate, committed people who are trying to do that – it’s not easy but it’s exciting and it’s where we want to be. Just like my automotive industry friend, everyone knows how to build and operate great schools for 10 years ago, but we know there won’t be much demand for them in the next 10 years!

Inspiring good reads by Yong Zhao:

Catching Up or Leading the Way

Catching up or Leading the Way

Never Send a Human to do a Machine's Job

Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes

Is Your Child’s English Development on Track?


Is Your Child’s English Development on Track?

Determining your family’s “right language-fit”

English language schools have grown considerably over the past 10 years with the increasing demand for English in China, and world-wide. Since English is the preferred language for employment in aviation, media, computer programming, diplomacy and tourism, parents are looking to provide their children with advantages needed for future employment. Likewise, parents are beginning to understand that 21st Century job skills will require the workforce to be able to read, write and speak in English in order to gain employment with multinational companies, both within China and abroad.

What are the Options?

English language centers are the go-to choice for parents  because they are readily available and can cater to both the child’s and the parent’s specific needs. Schools too have identified the need for English and are offering more English language learning time within their curriculum. Private and International schools, many of which identify as bilingual, have hired foreign teachers to teach English as an isolated subject.

For learning basic social English this method of teaching English has been successful, but progress is slow. With such a base, students will be able to hold a reasonable  conversation but never progress to the higher levels of academic English required for most jobs in the future. The question remains: “How does one get to the academic language level?”


Achieving Academic Language Proficiency in Two Languages

In recent years, bilingual schools have gained greater prominence in China and worldwide. These schools teach in their mother tongue language and then gradually transition to English as a second language. As students transition to English they gain more academic English vocabulary, as classes are typically all taught in English by the time students reach middle school. Unfortunately, the mother tongue is often not reinforced, and students fall behind in academic language development in their first language. Accordingly, this language model does prepare students for study at western universities but does not support academic language development in their mother tongue.

Planning for the Future

Having social and academic language skills elevates job prospects for learners graduating into a workforce where  communication, creativity, innovation and critical thinking skills are crucial. As parents, we need to decide on the quality of English language learning our children require and look for options that best prepare them for future entrepreneurship. While there are many language centers and private schools in China that are providing English language learning, we as parents need to be asking the right questions as to the quality of English language learning we want for our children!


Connecting a Love of Books and Play-Based Learning


Connecting a Love of Books to Play-Based Learning

Helping Spark Children’s Inspiration

Research shows that reading for pleasure promotes imagination, creativity, relaxation, improved self-esteem, intellectual pleasure, enhanced general knowledge, emotional intelligence and mental health benefits. In addition, reading for pleasure has been found to enhance social interaction and personal relationships; empower children to become active citizens, to improve a sense of connectedness with the wider community and to further tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

The connection between reading and play-based learning is perhaps less obvious. Indeed, some find it hard to imagine that play is one of the most important methods of learning for young children. We know, however, that through play, children learn to make sense of the world around them. Rich experiences of play provide ever-expanding opportunities for children to think critically, develop problem-solving skills and express thoughts and feelings. But did you know that play is also important in the development of language and literacy skills that will help children as they learn to read?


Making the Connection

When we provide stimulating books that children explore independently (with limited or no adult intervention), play-based learning experiences can be enhanced. Thought-provoking books can help guide and support a child’s wonder. Examples include illustrated cookbooks for “kitchen play”,  picture books for “home play” and visually-appealing nonfiction and fiction books that build on a child’s natural curiosities.


Ready to spark your child’s life-long love affair with books?

Take the first step: Provide a world of wonder for your child in your home. Surrounding your child with provocations that inspire them to wonder (and later explore, create and connect), is the first step to setting them on a path of natural and engaged learning.

Need to find more books to support your child’s interests? Libraries open up new worlds, spark imagination, encourage reading, help develop critical thinking and prepare and support children in school and life. Parent groups are another great way to share resources and find opportunities for engaging literacy-supporting activities.

Need more ideas or support? Be sure to follow our social media accounts for future articles or contact us at at any time to get more great ideas.


The fun way to build skills for life


Play-Based Learning

The fun way to build skills for life


Background: Why Play-Based Learning? 

The play-based learning movement, now commonly found in the teaching philosophies and practices of schools around the world, has been developed from:

  • an understanding of the processes involved in children learning the basic skills needed to support complex learning, and
  • an understanding of how students develop knowledge based on their own, always-present creativity and curiosity.

What does it look like?

Whether guided by a teacher or not, when children are immersed in their own creative play or adventures, they are engaged in play-based learning. Examples of this could include a child playing with toys while imagining a conversation, children working together to build a boat out of blocks or a house out of boxes, or friends building a fairy garden from things they find in nature. What’s key in each of these situations is that children are immersed and engaged in activities that are important to them, allowing them to commit to all the learning that occurs.

How is this learning? 

Through activities such as the ones listed above, children explore big ideas in mathematics and language, while also developing their social interaction skillsets. What’s more, as they interact, they continue to better understand themselves as thinkers and to develop their ability to sequence, order and plan. These higher order skills, needed for more complex tasks, are thus developed and mark important steps in their learning journeys.

What does play-based learning look like in schools? 

In the play-based learning ‘classroom’, wherever that happens to be, the teacher’s role is to make the learning visible to the child and to the community. It’s important to note here that play-based learning is not just play. On the contrary, educators MUST be accountable to learning needs and curriculum standards, and must document and collect data to ensure students are gaining the necessary academic skills and meeting established and expected outcomes. The child’s role, in contrast, is to be curious and industrious, to be a problem solver and be prepared to try new experiences. What a life!

In the play-based learning environment, teachers scaffold and support children in their play by making connections to content that builds knowledge. They ask questions to support children in solving problems and encourage them to recognize the process and the learning that has occurred. A young child engaged in building a boat out of blocks will be equally involved in reading a book all about boats to support the development of his ideas. In this way, they naturally become immersed in text, developing reading skills, building knowledge of boats historically and mechanically. With more scaffolding, the child could become engaged in drawing a labelled diagram of his boat and would now be writing and building vocabulary. Asking them to find the length of the boat using pencils as units of measure engages Mathematics. Asking them to explain their creation to the visiting adult in the room develops their ability to synthesize and summarize using oral expression. At this age, the rate of learning is staggering!


Knowledgeable teachers recognize what children of all ages need to learn from the curriculum and are able to identify the skills students need to develop in order to be successful learners. They also recognize the learning that is occurring through play and are able to assess and identify children’s milestones as they cover the curriculum. Rather than start with the curriculum and outcomes, good teachers start with the child.

ORIGINS recognizes that play is a form of inquiry and that people of all ages can use play to learn because it offers opportunities to ask questions, to create and most importantly, to practice skills and develop knowledge across subject areas. Students involved in play-based learning get to trial what they have learned and in doing so, get to authentically practice important skills in a real life context.


Play-based learning helps students to be independent learners, to be students who solve problems, self start and are committed to tasks. Join us in recognizing the importance of recognizing ‘play’ as a rich and meaningful learning engagement that authentically develops skills and knowledge – not only for small children but for people of all ages. After all, are we all not students?

Kids as Leaders – Today!



Why we should be focusing on leadership and action today, not developing leaders for tomorrow.

In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.

The United Nations Global Goals provide a strong push for all humanity, and hence all of us in schools, to focus on what is important and urgent for us to be addressing and to identify the needs to be woven into our curriculum as ‘main ideas’ and areas for inquiry, innovation and action. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminds us of our shared humanity and rights and the Goals provide real world challenges for us to investigate, and to take action in order to effect change. And, while it is easy to be skeptical that individual action can make a difference, anyone who has ever heard Jane Goodall speak will appreciate the power of her ‘roots and shoots’ metaphor: individual blades of grass can, over time grow up through the cracks in a concrete path and overwhelm it. Working individually and together with a shared purpose can change even the greatest barriers.


In our globally connected world we need to collectively own our issues; in our schools we need to focus on what kids can do and empower them to innovate and take action. In the International Baccalureate (IB), this strong thread is articulated in the various ‘Service and Action’ programmes across the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the Diploma Programme (DP).

We live in a world undergoing an exponential transformation under the influence of globalization and technology, but yet too often in schools we focus on teaching tech skills as a measurable end in themselves and we control what should be learned and when, rather than focusing on the power of technology and social media to empower kids to be inquirers, thinkers, innovators, and leaders.

Young adult or teen high school or college student entrepreneurs are building drones using components in school library or makerspace. Students are using laptop computer and digital tablets, adn are taking notes while working on project. Hispanic and Asian young women are studying latest technology.

Young adult or teen high school or college student entrepreneurs are building drones using components in school library or makerspace. Students are using laptop computer and digital tablets, adn are taking notes while working on project. Hispanic and Asian young women are studying latest technology.

In contrast to this practice, George Couros describes the term ‘Digital Leadership’, defining it as “using the vast reach of technology to improve the lives, well being, and circumstances of others.” To this definition I suggest we add the concepts of “improving our environment” and “creating the future.” In a recent blog post he challenges us to focus on the fantastic things that kids are doing with technology right now that is making a difference. Take for instance the teen who created the “Sit With Us” app, to help students find welcoming students to join during lunch. Or the 9 year old, “Little Miss Flint”, becoming a voice of a city and educating people about the water crisis in her city of Flint, Michigan.

Read the article here

Couros’ stories are inspiring and remind us of the importance of sharing and celebrating these success stories. Couros challenges us not to talk about developing “leaders for the future”, but to support kids get on with being leaders and entrepreneurs today. He also challenges us not to think about these examples as “exceptional” or “remarkable”, but rather as what should be the new “normal” to expect in our schools.

What Should Personalized Learning look like? 


Education all over the world continues to grow and evolve to best suit student learning but we must also ensure we are supporting students to be prepared for the future, to contribute to society and to be true problem solvers and innovators. As we collectively work to best prepare students, schools must spend time observing and learning lessons from around the world in designing curricula and programmes and in re-structuring and re-imagining how students best learn in different environments.


Today, schools all over the world are taking up the challenge and are, in different ways, preparing students with future-ready skills to succeed in a high tech, collaborative work environment that will require thoughtful problem solvers and innovators. Such positive change is core to discussions within ORIGINS Education too, and we are active participants in conversations surrounding personalized learning and preparing students for the future.

As we work, we challenge ourselves to think about how we as educators can support our students in becoming autonomous and self directed, in becoming true innovators and problem solvers and how we can ensure they contribute to developing and improving an ever changing world.


Be sure to follow ORIGINS as we work as part of this global leading edge to re-imagine schools and to support personalized learning and follow the links below (English) to learn more about some of the work being done in this worldwide movement:

Hobsonvillepoint School Curriculum

Computational Thinking in the Early Years


In education, Computational Thinking refers to developing behavioural traits and linking skills used across a given curriculum to support students in patterning, sequencing, planning and processing, and then in evaluating problems or constructing ideas and projects. Ultimately, the value in developing these thinking skills and potential in application of traits is vast, and in no way limited to just coding or mathematical processing.

Starting in Early Years


By supporting young learners in connecting their everyday thinking skills, problem solving skills, and computational thinking skills to real life AND technology, we can further support and generate a more global learning approach in the early years.  No longer does planning and building a structure out of blocks, or applying strategies for writing an unknown word sit in isolation as play or literacy, but rather these tasks serve as important pieces of a fundamental skillset which will be developed over time. These same fundamentals, developed through to elementary, middle and high school,  can be layered and augmented to later attempt much more complex tasks, such as coding, space design and data analysis.


We know, in fact, that computational thinking occurs in everyday experiences in play, discovery and creation as children practice their ability to plan, to sequence and to logically connect their ideas. By improving their creations, they also review and make authentic improvements, known as debugging in computer science and core to computational thinking. By more deliberately making these connections we are supporting students in being more proactive in their creativity and more purposeful in their solutions.

Plan, Do and Share

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Teaching young children to think sequentially and to value a plan prior to creating helps them to develop awareness of processes and to develop thinking and organizational skills. As teachers, when we ensure students reflect and share their experiences in a visual representation, an oral expression or photo they are developing their ability to communicate the process. This offers crucial experience in thinking and logically linking ideas that allow them to build their computational thinking skills with greater awareness. Plan, do and share!


The Path Ahead

As education becomes more broad and simultaneously less about content and more about skills and access, the idea of computational thinking has relevance in classrooms over and beyond previous understandings. For teachers it is about facilitating learning for students – helping them access the relevant information and supporting them in facing challenges by logically connecting ideas, creating solutions, reviewing outcomes and utilizing the tools and content available to them. In doing so, children begin to value the many ways in which computational thinking can help them learn!

Your Brain on Multiple Languages



Image: REUTERS/Chris Helgren





Developing the custom ORIGINS Education Language Programme ignites within each of us a passionate and deep-seated response. ORIGINS believes that having control of languages, especially the English and Chinese languages, is fundamental to the future success of today’s youth. As any school that undertakes building or refining such a programme can attest however, constructing a dual language programme is a complex and challenging task. This challenge, and the magnitude of its ramifications drive us to scrutinize our own personal experiences, our hopes for our children, and our expectations of what tomorrow will hold – for all of us.

Over Half the World Speaks at Least Two Languages

In this week’s “Good Read”, we direct your attention to an article titled “Why being bilingual helps keep your brain fit” posted on the World Economic Forum website. The article states:

Around the world, more than half of people – estimates vary from 60 to 75 per cent – speak at least two languages. Many countries have more than one official national language – South Africa has 11. People are increasingly expected to speak, read and write at least one of a handful of “super” languages, such as English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish or Arabic, as well. So to be monolingual, as many native English speakers are, is to be in the minority, and perhaps to be missing out.

Two thirds of Working Age Europeans Know a Foreign Language


As both physical and digital technologies make the world smaller, and people travel more for work or leisure, the ability to converse in a second language, especially if that language is English, offers all of us opportunities for richer connections and engagement across our interactions.

We also know, thanks to improving neuroscience, that adding a second (or third) language can have a profound effect on the brain itself. An excerpt from the article below highlights how the bilingual or multilingual brain is in fact in many ways different and more robust than the monolingual brain, while also showing resiliency to diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, and benefiting from increases in executive functioning.

As neuroscience has developed, research findings increasingly show that learning a second (or third language) can have a profound effect on the brain itself. In a recent article published on the World Economic Forum website, with an excerpt below, highlights how the bilingual or multilingual brain is in fact in many ways more robust than the monolingual brain.

In fact, says cognitive neuropsychologist Jubin Abutalebi, at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, it is possible to distinguish bilingual people from monolinguals simply by looking at scans of their brains. “Bilingual people have significantly more grey matter than monolinguals in their anterior cingulate cortex, and that is because they are using it so much more often,” he says. The ACC is like a cognitive muscle, he adds: the more you use it, the stronger, bigger and more flexible it gets.

Bilinguals, it turns out, exercise their executive control all the time because their two languages are constantly competing for attention. Brain-imaging studies show that when a bilingual person is speaking in one language, their ACC is continually suppressing the urge to use words and grammar from their other language. Not only that, but their mind is always making a judgement about when and how to use the target language. For example, bilinguals rarely get confused between languages, but they may introduce the odd word or sentence of the other language if the person they are talking to also knows it.

“My mother tongue is Polish but my wife is Spanish so I also speak Spanish, and we live in Edinburgh so we also speak English,” says Thomas Bak. “When I am talking to my wife in English, I will sometimes use Spanish words, but I never accidentally use Polish. And when I am speaking to my wife’s mother in Spanish, I never accidentally introduce English words because she doesn’t understand them. It’s not something I have to think about, it’s automatic, but my executive system is working very hard to inhibit the other languages.”

Research into the positive effects of language learning is fascinating, and we encourage you to follow the development of the ORIGINS Education Language Programme from our website and other media channels, and to extend your understanding of bilingual learning and its effects through reading and discussion.

Read the full article (English) on the World Economic Forum website

More on the bilingual brain in youth can be found in this EduTopia article: