Education beyond 2020: The school our society needs

June 29, 2020

Sophie Poisel – Innovation Leader K-6 (on leave) |


2020 may have felt like a series of rolling catastrophes; there has been unbelievable heat, unbreathable air, enormous protests and a sense of democracy in crisis. The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used again and again to describe new challenges in all areas of life. But these challenges are united by the lessons they teach us. They show us that the systems we have built will not always function properly or serve us well. They show us that the problems of the 21st century will look nothing like the problems of the 20th. They show us that the next generation of Australians, indeed humans, will need to be flexible, ethical and ready to respond to things we haven’t yet dreamed of.


We’ve seen the rise of authoritarian leaders while “democracy is in retreat”. We’ve witnessed a rise in fake news, even coming from world leaders. Global social unrest dominates the news. Environmentally, in Australia alone we’ve seen severe drought and bushfires, dust storms and floods. The COVID-19 Pandemic has shown us the importance of community and the unnecessary excess of consumerism. It has shown us that we are reliant on things we take for granted. It has highlighted the gap between rich and poor. While our students have been lucky to have ongoing access to their learning, this has not been the case for all students in NSW and across the world. For these challenges, and the challenges of tomorrow, society needs active citizens who question their leaders and demand change. Society needs deep and critical thinkers who can apply their understanding to their actions – ethical and responsible citizens who understand their privilege and strive for a more equal world.


We need to keep thinking deeply about the purpose of our schools. Gert Biesta argues that school is ultimately “a space and place for the next generation to have an opportunity to meet the world and themselves” and a time to “try, to fail, to try again and fail better.” If this is the case, then our curriculum must respond to context, the individual and the community. Our students need opportunities to “meet the world”. They need time to think and learn about the world, to find and solve real problems. They need time to develop solutions to these problems – to test them, fail, try again and fail better. Our students need opportunities to “meet themselves”. They need time to develop a set of values they actively embrace, to build their own moral compass. They need time to develop the skills and dispositions that they will use now and in the future. They need time to develop character, citizenship, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Our students need these opportunities, so they enter society understanding their world and their place in it. We are not able to predict all the problems they will face, but we can ensure they respond to them critically and ethically.


COVID-19 has shown that schools can innovate very quickly. Our staff have demonstrated an incredible capacity to innovate in response to the challenges of remote learning, while maintaining a broader mindset of positivity, openness and purpose. The existence of Innovation roles here at Emanuel – which are not common in schools of our size – is proof of our commitment to this. We embrace every possibility to build real world problems into learning experiences. We embed processes such as Design Thinking across the School to foster students’ creativity and ability to solve real world problems. We showcase these projects at our annual Innovation Festival. We develop programs focused on preferred futures and changing the world, where students learn from experts and develop new technical skills. We actively embrace values education and support our students’ character, critical thinking and ethical global citizenship when they are involved in initiatives and activism. I think back to Emanuel’s 2019 in-school student-led climate rally, facilitated by Primary Teacher, Gabrielle Wynhausen. David Whitcombe, HSIE Teacher, held up a rally sign that said it all: “this is a performance of understanding”. The number of students who gave up their lunchtime to march around the school shows how active, empathetic and in-touch with their world our students are. Rather than by results in NAPLAN or ATARs, it is through our students’ involvement with these issues that we see our strength and success as a school.


Emanuel’s students have continued to have wonderful opportunities amidst the uncertainty of 2020. Our students are connected to their world. They have developed their own political, environmental and social views from their educational experiences, aligned with their personal moral compass. We are the only pluralist, egalitarian Jewish school in NSW. It is our School’s steadfast values of respect, integrity and justice, amongst others, that are practised daily and ensure that Emanuel students step out into the world as compassionate and responsible Jewish, Australian and Global citizens.

All Of Israel Is Responsible For One Another

Talmud: Shvuot 39a
כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה - Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze B'ze

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