“So many refugees are an untapped resource. We need to recognize their potential as agents for change and social transformation. You can help give them to tools to help rebuild their home countries when the time comes.  Instead of being seen as a drain on resources, you can help the world to see them as the resource that they are. Just like you don’t put a cap on the ambition, aspiration or potential of your own children, there should not be any for refugees.”

These are the words of Anna Lord, Chair of the Board of Governors of UWC South East Asia, Sky School’s partner school, to 43 participants at Sky School’s most recent curriculum hackathon event hosted by the school. The United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA), based in Singapore, is Sky School’s founding school partner and is wholly committed to bridging the gap in quality education for displaced youth. What began as a conversation between co-founders Polly and Mia, and UWCSEA’s Stuart MacAlpine, just over two years ago, has turned into an incredible commitment and contribution to enabling refugees to access transformational learning.

UWCSEA is a K-12 school in Singapore that boasts an over 5500-strong student body and 500 teachers spanning two campuses. Being a UWC school, UWCSEA advocates a mission to change the world through educating people for a peaceful and sustainable future. UWCSEA’s commitment to cultural diversity is reflected in its community of 90 nationalities.

Sky School co-founders Polly Akhurst and Mia Eskelund Pedersen conceptualised the idea for Sky School in 2016, when they discovered the lack of access to secondary education for young refugees while working on a refugee scholarship programme. Polly and Mia knew that they would have to work with others with educational expertise to make the idea a reality, and they immediately thought of UWCSEA. Mia Eskelund Pedersen says, “we were keen to work with UWCSEA right from the time we came up with Sky School. The combination of their expertise in teaching and learning, their social mission to make the world a better place as a UWC school and the fact that they deliver education at scale meant that they were the perfect partner for us”.

Sky School is on a mission to develop transformational learning for refugees, including a recognised high school diploma programme. To this end, UWCSEA has lent the expertise that it developed over a six year curriculum articulation project to guide the curriculum development process of Sky School. This effort has been led by Stuart MacAlpine who is Director of Teaching and Learning at UWCSEA East and is also Director of Education for Sky School.  In order to combat Sky School’s challenge of developing curriculum in a range of areas with minimal resources, the team decided they needed to get a group of educators together in the same room in order to do rapid curriculum development.

Through this idea arose the ‘curriculum hackathon’, a process developed by Stuart MacAlpine that brings together educators and refugee youth to develop new course curriculum for Sky School over a weekend. The curriculum hackathon gives educators a chance to work together in diverse and energetic teams, as well as to be a part of something meaningful. Above all, UWCSEA’s experience with teaching students of different nationalities and backgrounds is incredibly valuable to Sky School. Mia agrees that “it’s allowed us to create a curriculum that is globally relevant, and that can be contextualised, through a concept-based teaching and learning approach”.

UWCSEA’s commitment to Sky School is truly community-wide, running through the entire school, from the students and teachers to school leadership. A recent hackathon hosted by UWCSEA saw 43 attendees, including UWCSEA’s own teachers as well as others from schools across Asia who came  together to develop curricula. Four Sky School courses have been developed through hackathons at UWCSEA, and another three courses will be created at a ‘curriculum hackathon’ in June 2019. Four of Sky School’s course leaders, who lead the development of individual courses, are based at UWCSEA. Course leader Louie Barnett reflects on his experience working with Sky School and the future, “I see us constantly reflecting as a self-transforming organisation who continues to conduct action research, look for evidence of impact and search for evidence-based strategies that can make a positive impact in the education of refugees and internally displaced people.”

In addition to hackathons, UWCSEA East campus students have created a student focus group to raise awareness of Sky School across the campus and support its everyday work. Tomoko, one of the focus group leaders, reflects on her experience, saying that “Working with Sky School gives me hope...Working with the student group at UWCSEA East as well as Polly and Mia has helped me develop a greater sense of agency and vision. Even as a high school student at a school like UWC, I often have moments of doubt about the difference I can make in others’ lives. I can’t even begin to imagine the difference the support and education Sky School provides can make on the mindset and hopes of refugee learners.”

The school has also committed Stuart to work with Sky School for one day a week to develop Sky School’s Diploma Programme this year. Shruti Tewari, University Advisor and English teacher at UWCSEA Dover campus, is leading a group of university advisors to identify higher education and other opportunities for students who will graduate from the Sky School Diploma Programme. The UWCSEA communications team is also supporting Sky School in developing a strong brand identity.

UWCSEA’s engagement with Sky School stems from the knowledge that they are in a position to contribute their expertise and that it is the right thing to do. As Stuart states, “At UWCSEA, we have the ability to develop transformational curriculum to help make a better world. Through our partnership with Sky School, we can help to offer refugee youth high-quality  teaching and learning in their community”. When speaking of the partnership and UWCSEA’s commitment to Sky School, Anna Lord acknowledges this in saying that, “It seemed to us, as a Board, that we had a duty to lend our support to our incredible staff and students who are taking action to make a difference in the world”.

Working with Sky School allows UWCSEA to build their expertise in blended learning and curriculum development and to improve student learning in their own classrooms. Educators who have taken part in hackathons have been inspired to use curriculum hackathons to develop new and different curricula.

“We are hugely grateful for UWCSEA’s commitment and contribution to Sky School and are looking forward to deepening our partnership in the years to come. Together we can enable both Sky School and UWCSEA students to make the world a better place through education”, says Mia. Sky School could not have achieved its initial dreams without its partnership with UWCSEA. Ultimately, it is the shared mission of the two organizations that make this a successful collaboration.