Re: Aitchison Developments Update
The redevelopment of Aitchison is taking place in four broad areas: Teaching and Learning, Administration, Boarding and Sport. My letter is to update you on each of these crucial operations. The Board of Governors has discussed and agreed to all initiatives presented here. Please bear with me as this requires a longer letter than usual.
1. Teaching and Learning
The whole school adoption of Cambridge has gone very smoothly and I am delighted with the academic achievements in Junior School and Prep School. There is clear evidence that improved pedagogy and a logical link between Homework, Progression tests and Term tests has brought logic and quick benefits. Teachers are gaining greater confidence in a more interactive teaching style and all are regularly enjoying relevant professional development. Later, this year, approximately 100 staff will be attending further Cambridge training in which a core group in all three schools will attain Cambridge ‘teacher-trainer’ status. This latter development will enable Aitchison to become self-sufficient in curriculum professional development. Cambridge trainers visiting the school will be from the United Kingdom. Of course, this does not mean we will turn a blind eye to relevant and necessary external PD.
The next step in our educational planning is to align the Checkpoint years with their correct schools, which could not be done this year. Accordingly, from the academic year 2017-18, E1 will move into Junior School and M2 into Prep School. This transition sits comfortably with International schooling models and Junior School has ample classrooms and designated playing spaces to comfortably accommodate the change. The logical outcome is that E1 becomes the Checkpoint ending for Cambridge Primary and M2 becomes the Checkpoint ending for Cambridge Secondary 1. Current M2 teachers will take up Prep School positions to ensure a smooth transition in teaching and matching O Levels preparation. I make the point here that Cambridge offers a seamless transition to IGCSE which starts in 2018-19.
As a result, Senior School will become an exclusive O Levels/A Levels or eventually IGCSE/AS and A levels school. This particular move will focus learning and maximize senior teacher deployment where it is most required at the highest levels. It will also reduce the impact of a large ‘bulge’ of enrolments moving through the Prep School, thereby lessening what would have been a ‘squeeze’ on Science facilities and resources in Senior School.
Other initiatives will include the adoption of Aptitude Testing in Prep School. Next year, all boys will be tested in English and Mathematics under the Pearson DAT at the beginning of the school year in order to gauge their entry level abilities in these crucial subjects at a crucial mid-point. These tests will enable the Academic Department to better target deficiencies and identify talent, as well as monitoring the impact of teaching and related strategies. Elsewhere, we will be offering Career Aptitude Testing for H1 and further developing the Harkness Table system in Senior School, which requires students to discuss learning at key stages in a way that is conducive to building dialogue and deeper considerations of learning outcomes.
In line with the Harkness Table initiative, we recently formed an Adjunct Faculty of interested ‘Old Boys’ to help develop a meta-cognition curriculum in Senior School; namely thinking beyond mere curriculum and the content of examinations. Our first meeting between this faculty, key staff and some of our brightest H1 and H2 students has already taken place. One of the great benefits of this has been students exchanging ideas with graduates from the world’s finest universities. Old Boy Salman Akhtar (MIT) has taken a lead role in this initiative and I thank him and his colleagues for their enthusiasm and input. My personal view is that Aitchison College cannot righty claim to be one of the best educators if it relies solely upon traditional curriculum. Experiential education and Meta Cognition aid transitional skills in thinking from school to university, and would be welcomed by top universities as exposure to critical thinking. The meta-cognition units should be launched next year.
We are also assessing the provision of SAT testing at the College for 2017-18 and expanding the department further to cater more easily for student needs. On that note, our University Counseling department is introducing a user-friendly online careers program that boys will be able to employ for résumé preparations, SAT score advice for university admissions, and MBTI personality testing to help identify most suitable careers. Naturally, the critical input of personal help from counseling will remain front and centre. Naila Burney will be hosting parent sessions for H1 in this new initiative.
We have begun the process of upgrading the College’s Management Information System (MIS) and will introduce ‘School Box’ to the Senior School from the commencement of the new academic year in 2017-18. This will be a gradual roll out through all three schools that should not take too long. The benefits of this integrated platform system are that it will not only improve record keeping and our ability to communicate with parents and students (including enhanced parental access to key school information about their child and his progress), but it has excellent teaching and learning applications beyond the classroom.
The other clear benefit of the academic realignment is that M2 -a misplaced group in the current system and caught between childhood and adolescence - can be looked after better. We can address the fact that M2 is slightly too young for Senior School and possibly so for senior boarding. In my experience, this age group needs closer attention in transitioning to senior expectations and greater opportunity to grow a little more before being placed into a larger ‘pond.’ Indeed, this has led many International schools to develop specialist programs for the ‘middle years.’ In response to this, M2 boarders will take up residence next year in a rejuvenated Bahawalpur House (adjacent Saigol House) but still under the outstanding headship of Squadron Leader (Retired) Major Sajid Hassnain, also a teacher in Prep School. M2 boys will take meals in Saigol House as the two houses are a mere thirty metres apart. Bahawalpur House will also have an attached Resident Tutor with family. I believe we can do some very exciting things with our boys -one of which will be to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme.
I am delighted to announce that Saigol House will receive a ‘make-over’ to its foyer, common room, hallway and side rooms as part of a sensitive modernization to be managed by ‘Old Boy’ architect Faisal Haroon. Faisal’s excellence can be evidenced in his superb renovations of the Senior Boarding Common Rooms and the Rab (Cricket) Pavilion. Another well-known ‘Old Boy’ Omer Saeed is leading the Class of ’87 in raising funds for this project, part of which will be to honour our only ever Olympic Track and Field athlete Arif Hussain, who competed in the Barcelona Olympics.
The College is committed to boarding as a priority and to making sure that boys receive kind and clear support in work and play. It is aimed at every boy being valued and respected as an individual and as part of a team. Boarding is a disciplined and happy environment moving in the right direction with sensible and necessary modernizations. In 2017-18, we are expected to reach close to 400 boarders. My interpretation is that while we continue to educate the DNA of Pakistan, boarding is ‘more than a bed’; it is way of educating. It is now well-known that boarders receive nightly academic support from specialist teachers who, because they teach at Aitchison, get to know boarders well and understand their individual needs. Weekend programs are also value-adding this experience. In addition, we will be providing leadership and public speaking workshops for boarders during the year. Developing confidence and a sense of ‘control’ and discipline in a boy’s life is crucial to each realizing that he also has control over outcomes.
All housemasters will be attending internal professional development sessions in boarding management over the long break.
After 6 months of strategic planning and a presentation to the Board of Governors, the College Sports Master Plan has the ‘go-ahead.’ A committee will now be formed to take this project forward and I particularly wish to thank Ashiq Qureshi for his indispensable advice and energy on this project. This will bring about massive change in the quality of our sporting facilities. Ideas include: new multi-purpose gymnasium sited at the senior swimming pool area with change rooms; modification of the Junior Swimming pool bringing it up to International standard with touch pads and computer results board; synthetic hockey pitch at the ‘Jafar Memorial Field’ and a 5 a-side synthetic hockey pitch for juniors in the Junior precinct; 400 metre tartan running track with Olympic sized football pitch on Zulfigar or Prep School field; 6 new hardcourts for the Tennis academy; and glass-backed Squash court upgrade at the ‘Monnoo Squash Centre.’ Cricket has already received its own upgrading with the ACOBA Cricket Academy. It was my pleasure to show Inzamam Ul Huq the new cricket nets and receive very positive feedback.
Along with these developments the College Sports Department will establish a sporting data base and individual sporting programs for all sports and age groups. This is essential in a large school. Recent discussions with an International sporting consultant have also prompted us to introduce the Heptathlon at Aitchison as a premier event. Shooting would be conducted at an electronic shooting range!
As parents will know, Aitchison regards sport as a pivotal part of its curriculum and I am delighted to announce that we will be hosting the National Junior Tennis Titles on our grass courts beside the Old Building, in February. We expect around 130 competitors. A number of our boys will be competing. I thank ‘Old Boys’ Rashid Malik for prompting the idea and Arif Saeed for committing funds towards the trophy and running costs of this prestigious event on behalf of the Saeed Family. We thank these gentlemen and encourage more Alumni to contribute donations to Aitchison’s continued development. Designated donations are a great way to give back to one’s alma mater in tangible and lasting ways. Information is available on the College website.
These developments, and others, will maintain Aitchison’s position as a top world school. We do this to prepare our boys for an increasingly inter-connected and competitive world; staying abreast of worthwhile educational trends and finding different and stimulating ways to teach and learn. Part of this is to discover how we can enrich education through languages, national and foreign; and reading quality works. Most boys are notoriously poor readers in what is a ‘time starved’ life these days. The College is holding discussions on this and I am hopeful of announcing some initiatives in this area before the end of the year. We feel strongly that more of our boys should be multi-lingual and exposed to other cultures through the sensitivity and intimacy of language.
The Board of Governors recently met to appoint our new Executive Committee (ubiquitously referred to as the Core Committee) and the members’ names will be announced shortly. I thank the new Board of Governors for their wise counsel, as I thank parents and alumni for their continuing support of this great school.
Sincere and best wishes,