Opening Letter to Students – HS Version

Dear ASD High School student,

Welcome to or welcome back to ASD! I hope your summer provided opportunities for rest, renewal, reading and other learning experiences. If you are like a typical young person of your generation, I’m sure you also consumed hours upon hours of digital content, but I’ll get to this later.

This past week, as the Richards family worked on getting over our jetlag, we watched “Ready Player One”. Steven Spielberg is a brilliant director, and it’s not easy to take a great book and do it justice on the screen (yes, Ready Player One started as a book by author and self-professed “full-time geek”, Ernest Cline). The dystopian world, less than thirty years into the future, is quite depressing, yet Spielberg and Cline give us a lot to think about: escape from reality through VR, real versus online relationships, and the influence of mega-corporations on us. Now, I know most people will just focus on the love-interest-driven plot, the awesome special effects, and who wins in the end. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but did you notice at the very end that Wade, now in control of the Oasis, turned it off on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. That made me smile, and also made me want to use this example to begin my annual letter to all students.

90:9:1

What is this ratio? You may have seen this before. It’s popular in technology circles, usually cited when describing people’s behavior using social media. However, to illustrate my point, I’ll use the ratio in the following way:

90 – the % of people who consume digital content

9 – the % of people who create digital content

1 – the % of people who curate digital content

Consuming digital content has its place both in school and in leisure. We all appreciate binge-watching Netflix on occasion, or checking Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter. The problem lies when this consumption becomes a distraction to forming real relationships, or it gets in the way of responsibilities such as completing your homework. In addition, if you were honest, you would likely admit that your consumption of digital media leaves you either wanting for more (like a sugar fix) or feeling strangely empty, after the ephemeral thrill is gone.

Creating digital content transitions away from passive consumption and in to actively building of something new. Creating takes thought and pays it forward (hopefully, through a positive impact). This might involve making a How-To video for YouTube, or joining an online forum that contributes ideas or codes algorithms to solve complex problems. You will likely find this type of contribution highly rewarding, and the impact may even last years and years.

Curating digital content is the highest order skill set, which allows one to create communities of learning and discovery (and even entertainment). You are organizing a digital platform that brings people together for a common purpose, whether it’s educating the world on an issue important to you, or simply networking with people who share common values and interests, but are geographically all over the world. Think Khan Academy, or Pinterest.

Which skills are employable (i.e. will allow you to make a living, independently, doing something you love)? Certainly not digital consumption. If that were the case, everyone in the world would be independently wealthy! Unless you are one of the very few YouTubers who can make videos that entertain the masses, you likely won’t make a living through digital creation (though these people seem to eventually crash and burn and get banned from the platform). A more realistic approach to this activity would be to treat it like a hobby. It is the curating of digital content that provides great value (and success) in the 21st Century. This is a skill that AI cannot compete with humans. And it’s something you can do from any location that has a decent wifi signal (like the Maldives!).

I challenge each and every one of you to reflect on where your own behaviors fall in this 90:9:1 ratio. The key here is to find the right balance to ensure your consumption or “escapes” do not dominate your wakeful hours. Why? Because there are so many amazing things to discover if you just unplug for a while. And then you can take these discoveries back to the digital realm and make the world a better place.

“If we teach today’s students like we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” (John Dewey)

John Dewey is a legend in the field of education, preaching over a century ago the importance of “hands-on” learning through confronting real-world problems. He believed that education is social and that students should be empowered to own their learning. He would surely be gutted to see that many classrooms have not progressed much since his day, still relying on memorizing facts and listening to lectures. I shared this quote with your teachers when we met on Saturday, because at ASD we aspire to offer you the most relevant learning experience we can. Our school mission pledges to prepare you to adapt and contribute to a rapidly changing world. Rapidly changing indeed this world is! We see opportunity in this dynamic reality, and are ready to meet the challenge.

The school has launched a three-year strategic plan that will disrupt aspects of traditional learning at ASD. It aims to make you “future ready”. The theme central to this initiative is personalized learning. This means we want to tailor your education to your interests and needs, because your future is unique to you. We will make available additional opportunities, content, and courses in future-ready fields such as technology, innovation, business, entrepreneurship, global issues, and the performing arts. We will create additional service learning experiences, particularly in Dubai. We will ensure every student has access to these opportunities, and shatter any glass ceilings that exist for highly capable students. This is our pledge to you. And we won’t make you wait! You will start to see some of this right away, this year, and then there will be much, much more to come.

What can you do to advance these efforts? Simple. Join your teachers in co-creating your school experience, for today and for tomorrow. Find your voice. Give us your ideas. Speak up for what you feel is right and appropriate. Advocate. Demand. Own your education. It’s yours, after all, not ours!

Finally, we welcome to ASD this year a highly-capable Principal in Ms. Nadine Richards who will work with you on the day-to-day goings-on at the high school. She will lead the high school faculty in its effort to improve. I am also available to support your learning and development. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself or say hello in the hallways or after school on campus (and you can always make an appointment with Ms. Gonsalves or drop me a note).

I look forward to meeting and seeing you in the coming days and weeks. Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and remember… Once a Falcon, Always a Falcon!

Dr. Paul Richards

ASD Superintendent

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