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Keno Mario-Ghae

Keno Mario-Ghae headed a team that travelled across Australia in a team-built, solar-powered car

Keno Mario-Ghae is leading a team 3,000 kilometres (over 1,850 miles) across Australia in a solar-powered car built by his team from Cambridge University, UK. His current ambition stems from his first school, run by Shell, in Warri, Nigeria.

“We were taught in a way to inspire our curiosity and make us want to find out more for ourselves,” says Keno.

The teachers followed a curriculum designed to engage children in original ways, broaden their minds and help them better remember new information.

Keno explains that his early education also helped him to fit in quickly among students from around the world when he arrived at Cambridge. The curriculum does not focus on national history, but gives pupils an international perspective: “We learned, for example, about Aztecs, Romans, Mayans,” he says.

It also encourages pupils to think about what people from other countries might do, say or feel.

Becoming brainier

11-year old Ryscal uses a mindmap at school

11-year old Ryscal uses a mindmap at school to connect what he already knows to a new topic

This approach, called the International Primary Curriculum, was first developed by Shell together with Fieldwork Education for Shell’s own schools.

It draws on research into the way we learn, such as how children need to place new information in the context of something they already know.

Each new theme starts with a creative and practical approach to inspire pupils. In one case, a school moved a life-sized rocket into its playground for one day to spark conversations and launch the theme of space.

Research also shows that repeating experiences allows them to become fixed in our brains. While traditional teaching methods often clearly divide subjects, this approach threads the same theme through a range of subjects and for many weeks to reinforce the lessons.

At one school in the Netherlands that has adopted the curriculum, 11-year old Ryscal finds that this approach helps boost his memory.

“It helps information stick in your mind,” he says.

Education for all

Interest from non-Shell schools around the world continued to grow so, in 1999, Fieldwork Education took full responsibility for further developing the curriculum. This allowed the success to spread to state and private schools across the globe. To date around 1,600 schools in over 80 countries have adopted it.

As yet, no formal research has been done on the long-term impact of this approach to education. But Mary Hayden, Director of the Centre for the study of Education in an International Context at the University of Bath, UK, refers to numerous anecdotal examples of positive feedback from teachers and parents.

A recent survey of 17 schools using the curriculum carried out by an IPC teacher recorded a marked increase in motivation among pupils. Successful individuals like Keno may provide the best evidence that this creative approach to learning early in life could lead to a brighter future.