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In this blog, Ian Munro, Rector of Dollar Academy, discusses how independent schools are equipping pupils with the skills to succeed in post-school life.


The belief that students require ‘21st century’ skills to succeed in today’s world has gathered great momentum amongst educators, politicians and business leaders.

I often explain to my students that life becomes interesting at the meeting place between opposing schools of thought; whilst it is surely true that we live in revolutionary times which dictate new ways of thinking, many of the skills that students require to flourish in the 21st century have been around for a very long time.


A lesson from history

For example, critical thinking and problem solving are two skills vaunted by many as prerequisites for success in today’s world, however, they have been as important throughout history as they are now. Fossilised bones show us that we first picked up tools roughly 3.4 million years ago. It could be argued that the ability to create tools, and use them, demonstrates critical thinking and problem solving in action. The use of bones to create early tools perhaps also points to the importance of creativity and innovation - skills which I place great importance on in today’s world, but which again are not unique to the 21st century.

Edward Jenner in 1796 also showed an ability to solve problems and think critically when, in taking pus from a cowpox pustle and placing it on a boy’s arm, he created a smallpox vaccine. Given that his work was widely ridiculed by critics for two years after his discovery, he showed great resilience and grit to pursue his research up until the point that it was finally published. Again, I often speak to my students about the current day importance of grit, perseverance and of picking yourself up after a fall, but these skills are perhaps no more important to my students than they were to Jenner.

If Jenner had discovered the world’s first vaccine in 2021, opposed to 1796, he would have shared the news on social media. He might have even created his own website to celebrate and publicise his discovery. As I said previously, meeting places are important. Whilst many necessary 21st century skills find their foundation in the past; there are some that certainly belong to the present and the future.


Embracing the digital landscape

Digital literacy is surely a compulsory skill for effective 21st century living. The internet has largely changed the way we communicate, not only on a day-to-day basis but also at times of historic change, as evidenced by the role played by Facebook and Twitter in the Arab Spring. For Jenner to publicise his work, neat handwriting would not cut it. Instead, an ability to communicate digitally and perhaps even to code would be required.

Subsequently, as educators, we should perhaps be making as much room for Alphas, Betas and C++ as we do for ABCs. After all, digitisation has the power to disrupt traditional industries. Uber is the largest taxi company in the world, yet it does not own any cars. Instead, it connects drivers and passengers directly through an app – a clever piece of software that has redefined an industry. Similarly, Airbnb is arguably the world’s biggest hotel company, despite not owning any property.


A versatile set of skills

The class of 2021 must possess a diverse set of skills to succeed in the world beyond school. Some of these, such as digital literacy, have indeed been born in the 21st century, however, others, such as critical thinking have been around for a long time. Enduring qualities such as care, compassion and kindness also have pivotal roles to play.

Although it may be difficult to reach agreement upon a definitive list of prerequisite skills for school-leavers, it is certainly true that past generations have left them many challenges to tackle. Climate change, rapid population expansion and growth in the number of displaced persons are but a few examples of issues that school-leavers will need to face. To do so, they will require a broad skill set, an open mind and a sense of collaboration that can transgress international borders and faiths.


Widening online learning accessibility with Dollar Discovers

Dollar Academy has been at the forefront of Scottish education ever since it was founded in 1818. Central to our principles has always been a core belief in the transformative power of education, and our responsibility to support as many young people as possible in their development.

The virtual learning content created by our teachers during the COVID outbreak cemented our belief that pupils can be taught effectively, in certain circumstances and subject areas, via engaging digital resources. We are now sharing some of this content openly with a number of young people from across Scotland through our digital Dollar Discovers platform. Pupils need to register for the courses, but, importantly, there is no cost to take part.

There are two key strands to Dollar Discovers, the first being current SQA courses. Dollar Academy offers the widest range of SQA subjects in Scotland, so we will be offering some courses which may not be available in other schools, starting with Higher Politics. By doing so, we are playing our small part in addressing the inequity of curricular provision across the country.

The second strand is Discovery Courses. These are multidisciplinary courses, framed around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. They bring together leading figures from industry, NGOs and academia to create exciting content exploring relevant, real-world topics. The courses, which were created in partnership with the pioneering NuVu Studio in the USA, are designed to allow students to develop their curiosity and critical thinking, in order to better understand the world around them and be an active force for good. The first two courses are ‘Activist Fashion’, which has been supported by Johnstons of Elgin, and ‘Design for Wellbeing’ which is backed by Andrew Whalley, Chairman of Grimshaw Architects.

A number of new Discovery courses are being finalised with various partners from industry and academia, and these will be launched in Easter ‘21. With pupils from Dollar and throughout the length and breadth of the country taking part in the initiative, we look forward to what lies ahead...


Many thanks to Ian Munro, Rector of Dollar Academy, for his contribution to this blog.


Dollar Discovers can be found online at:

Ian Munro tweets @ianhughmunro


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@ rector, is it not cowpox rather than coxpox? [Sh1]