LAHORE (PR) – One of the most difficult decisions parents will face at some time is which school to choose for their child. So how much more difficult does that decision become in a country where English - so important and in the global village is a second language? And in Malaysia, English is not simply the second language, it is one of several. Striking the right balance between the undeniable need to stay true to the country’s tradition and heritage, while at the same time recognising the status of English as an international means of communication, is crucial.

But it isn’t just a question of language. Malaysia is moving towards its goal of developed nation status and the success of this transition is dependent on the strengthening of the foundations of its economy and society. The country’s human capital plays a pivotal role in this process and ensuring that the workforce can hold its own in what is rapidly becoming a technological and knowledge-driven world can only come from providing quality and widely-accessible education.

The government is now taking rigorous steps to meet the challenges of the competitive global market. Encompassing all aspects of the educational spectrum, from access to basic education, professional development for teachers, leadership management, to school improvement, the initiatives firmly embrace the responsibility to support and equip students and teachers alike with the skills and knowledge to become responsible and productive citizens who will provide the momentum for the transformation.

The spirit of these initiatives is embodied in a major School of Tomorrow conference being held in Kuala Lumpur on 20-21 November. Organised by the Beaconhouse Group, the event will use plenary and ground breaker sessions as well as workshops to focus on innovative approaches and methods for early childhood and primary education. Significantly, it will also focus on the building of effective learning communities, and explore strategies for leadership, learning and collaboration. Also reflecting the government’s emphasis on lifelong learning is the underpinning theme of the conference, ‘Empowering Lifelong Learners’. In this global environment, learning can no longer be confined to the time spent in a classroom and needs to be a lifelong process of personal and professional development.

The Beaconhouse School System is one of the largest of its kind in the world and operates in nine countries. It has had a presence in Malaysia since 2004 and now runs 10 schools in and around Kuala Lumpur. Although firmly established, it is a dynamic and constantly evolving organisation which continues to reinvent its educational provision to meet the needs of future generations. It has an exemplary approach to social responsibility and has responded to the need to surmount socio-economic restrictions with a parallel school network that provides standardised quality education at a fraction of the fee of its flagship network.

The development of human capital has always been a high priority for Beaconhouse and its professional development programme for teachers has been developed in conjunction with leading UK universities.

Learning from Life -Empowering Lifelong Learners

The issue that every country - developing or developed -faces today is how to prepare children and adults alike for the future. In this rapidly globalising and knowledge-driven world of work, anyone who is an innovative and creative thinker, open to new ideas and the vast opportunities for bettering themselves, is ahead of the game. Being a lifelong learner is no longer an option, it is a necessity.

The key to being a lifelong learner is curiosity. As children, we are constantly amazed by our surroundings, fascinated by everything new. As adults, we tend to lose that childlike inquisitiveness and cynicism often shuts our minds to the opportunities for learning that exist all around us, the dynamic element of life that presents situations “and circumstances that help us acquire skills, knowledge and understanding that extend beyond the classroom.

It follows, therefore, that the foundations for lifelong learning are in the early stages of education where children can be inspired to become, above all else, enthusiastic learners. Early Years education needs to be truly holistic, engaging children in stimulating and challenging experiences in the context of their physical and social surroundings, and recognising that children are capable initiators of their own learning.

A high quality early childhood programme that encourages active learning, problem solving, effective communication, creativity, social adjustment and participation has huge significance for their longer-term success in education and as future citizens.

Children who are given this fundamental start in life will, along the way, develop the essential social and interpersonal skills, as well as independence and self-confidence -all of which they will need as they progress through their academic journey and beyond.

The success of the Beaconhouse School System lies in its experience of operating in 9 countries across the globe and the wealth of knowledge that comes from recognising and understanding the commonality of the educational challenges faced by” all. The School of Tomorrow conferences are just one example of how Beaconhouse has taken the initiative of identifying challenges and, more importantly, proposing solutions. The series of conferences brings together leading international educationists, thinkers, professionals and classroom practitioners to share ideas and experiences and to explore and examine new ways of teaching and learning and how to implement them in schools.

Developing an understanding of how children learn and develop i& central to interpreting children’s responses to learning experiences. Children bring with them prior experience of a variety of social, cultural and learning contexts, and they construct personal understandings through active exploration of their environment and interaction with the people and things that surround them.

The experience in schools is a way for children to develop relationships or organise and make sense of their world, and they bring to it diverse background experiences, developing identities and perceptions about their own and others’ social and cultural experiences. Even on a basic level, they draw on their own experiences and perceptions of others to create contexts in which to play and their own experimentation and exploration has to be recognised as their personal voyage of discovery. With experience and encouragement, this basic interaction changes as they become more socially and intellectually complex and make the transition to being adept and independent individuals.

To survive and thrive in this competitive world requires the ability to adapt to and keep pace with every advancement. Lifelong learning is a continuous process of personal development that gives us the competitive edge essential for personal fulfillment and employability in the prevailing knowledge-based economies.