Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Star International School Mirdif is a bespoke English Curriculum school in Mirdif, Dubai, and is part of the International Schools Partnership (ISP). We spoke to Neal Oates, principal at Star International, about the school’s journey with CENTURY, from implementation for distance learning in the pandemic, to integration with face-to-face classroom learning today.
Why did you choose CENTURY?
Personalised or adaptive learning are big buzzwords. Personalisation is a real challenge for teachers if you have 28 students in a class. AI, and CENTURY in particular, showed us the pathway toward that: it works like a personal assistant to help the teacher. AI is the next transformational step for teaching and learning. A lot of people are worried about AI, but the way we use it is really important. We spend a lot of time in education focused on mundane, administrative tasks, that are really important because we need data on where students are, but are also a drain on teacher time. That time could be spent using that data to plug gaps in the classroom. For students as well, their time is better spent doing personalised questions rather than work set for the whole class. CENTURY is a big step in the right direction, and we can have a better impact on students as a result.
There was a longstanding admiration for CENTURY and the mission. When Priya (Lakhani, CENTURY’s Founder and CEO) first presented CENTURY to us she was incredibly inspiring, and you could see it was way ahead of anything else out there. But this was pre-pandemic and the investment wasn’t seen as a necessity. It is really cutting edge, but what also drew me to CENTURY is that it is not trying to sell a silver bullet. There is no snake oil stuff, saying “this will completely change the way you teach”. CENTURY said that it will support teachers to help them focus on teaching and learning, and improve the quality of the data. It is a company you can work with, it has the right aspirations, an incredible backstory and altruistic aims. It was ahead of its time, and the pandemic has made it come good.
What were your expectations for CENTURY?
Every time I have brought technology into a school there was always a fear factor and resistance to change. But in the pandemic every teacher across the globe had to adapt at the same time and could immediately see the purpose of technology. We needed CENTURY because: (A) it meant that we could do digital distance learning a lot better immediately; (B) it gives you data to help you teach more effectively; and (C) it keeps children learning. Teachers embraced it and have integrated it really well, initially virtually, and now in the classroom. During the pandemic every company offered software for free, but a lot of that has fallen away. We have only retained quality technology that we saw impact and have grown stronger from. CENTURY is a big part of that.
We want to achieve personalised learning. Some children are motivated to go further. CENTURY gives them the tool to go beyond the classroom with their learning, and we wanted to give them that opportunity. Most engagement with CENTURY is intrinsic, as our students are positive and proactive. They have a really good attitude to learning, so you can put them in front of a platform that will personalise learning and give them opportunities to learn or test themselves. We have termly rewards for the most time spent on the platform and the most nuggets. There is a direct correlation between the students doing the best in each class and the ones with the most CENTURY usage.
It’s a positive for new teachers who come into primary education fresh from training and may be less confident. They can use CENTURY to swot up on certain aspects of the curriculum - I’ve certainly done it. It gives comfort and helps with subject knowledge. It's an interactive learning platform for the curriculum: you can test yourself, you can go back through things, and there are worked examples you can use in class. The other advantage is reducing workload. We spend a lot of time doing assessments. CENTURY has reduced the marking workload and teachers use the data better. CENTURY is good for parents too. Some of our parents want their children to do more homework and go further into a topic. This is a tool for them to do some of the actual work with their children and understand what they’re learning.
How did you implement CENTURY?
We rolled it out virtually at first, starting with a secondary maths teacher who had a good look at the platform with students and gave us feedback. They really bought in and said it would add value. Then we transitioned to hybrid learning, with some children at home and some in the classroom. CENTURY was perfect for that as we could work on the same nuggets together, in real time, and have the same learning experience. Since everyone has come back face to face it has been pretty natural. We might set a nugget for pre-work or flipped learning before a lesson, or a teacher will fire up a nugget for a worked example in class. Sometimes, we allocate CENTURY time on a particular topic, or set a diagnostic at the start and end of a topic to measure where the students are and how much they have learned.
CENTURY helped with the transition back to in-person schooling after the pandemic to an extent. In Dubai we went from online, to hybrid, or offline and in person. Having a unified platform being used for teaching and learning was a really nice stepping stone going back into the classroom. It was pretty seamless. Teachers utilised CENTURY in the classroom in a similar way to how they had been virtually. While CENTURY certainly helped in the transition back, we didn’t change how we used it because it was pretty well embedded in our teaching practice then anyway.
Has CENTURY achieved your goals?
Yes. Our students are ambitious and want to do well, so their engagement is very high and has been consistent over time. CENTURY is not the only reason for this, but we have seen improvements in our GL attainment and progress data over the last three years. Our internal data shows that we've improved in core subject areas.
Our Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) progress results were very good in all core subjects in primary, and secondary has improved too. We had our first ever British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection and they were really impressed with how the students use CENTURY. Teachers use the platform as a resource too, they include it in planning and have conversations about it. And parents are more engaged, they have taken it on board. So we have achieved those goals.
It has helped plug knowledge gaps. We do a lot of mandatory external standardised testing like PISA and PIRLS. It has had an impact because CENTURY has a similar style of question. It’s helped the students familiarise themselves with the type of question and the curriculum coverage. The feedback from both of our inspections was very positive. CENTURY is having a good impact in the school.
Find out more about how you can integrate CENTURY into your classroom here. Book a demo here.