Future School Leaders, Elfyn Jones

Future School Leaders

This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders

It’s perhaps not hard to understand why the team at Nord Anglia International School Dubai (NAS Dubai) nominated Elfin Jones for our Future School Leaders series. Elfyn was a SchoolsCompared.com Top Schools Awards Secondary School Teacher of the Year 2021-22 Finalist and his bespoke Design, Innovation, Computer Science and Enterprise curriculum (DICE) has just been awarded the Innovation and Creativity in Learning Award from the 2022 International School Awards. We wanted to find out more about the teaching that goes on behind the accolades.

Elfyn, why do you think you were nominated as a Future School Leader?

I have never believed that all classrooms have four walls, and that’s where I come from in terms of innovation. I’m always trying to extend the curriculum beyond the classroom. I want to ensure we teach our children value skills, not just to pass exams. Lots of children might get top grades in their exams these days, so how do we differentiate between them? For me, one way we can do that is in the challenging projects we involve them in. That is breaking the mold.

Can you explain the new curriculum you have created at NAS Dubai?

DICE stands for Design, Innovation, Computer Science and Enterprise. When I first started here, I noticed a lot of student switching courses in year 9, perhaps because they hadn’t experienced subjects like Business or Computer Science before, and were unprepared for them. At the same time, I was trying to make the Design Technology curriculum more modern than it is back in the UK. We don’t make bird boxes here!

DICE came about by creating projects that unite these subject areas. It’s been a collaboration between a number of our team, in particular myself and my colleague Daniel O’Hara.


Elfyn Jones and colleague Daniel O’Hara, some of the innovative NASD teachers behind the DICE curriculum

Our Year 7 students are making wearable technology. They learn to design and make the item, code it in Computer Science and then market their product as an enterprise project. In other year groups we have asked students to look at how we might reduce anxiety at NAS Dubai, which resulted in our student wellbeing hub. We’ve also collaborated with Dubai Cares on an app designed to help more girls get in to school in Nepal. Another group are currently looking at food consumption. Our school has a fantastic partnership with MIT [the world renown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and we try to look at what they are doing and work it back into projects within the school.

It’s interesting working this way within the context of the UAE. If you are trying to solve a problem, your solution needs to begin with empathy and respect for the person or group you are designing for. Respect is deeply embedded into the culture here, and we find that really aids the whole design process.

Who or what inspired you to become a teacher?

My Dad is a carpenter, so he got me interested in design and creating things from home. I also went to a great school, where I was allowed to take an idea I had a right through to it becoming being my own graphic design business. They supported me and let me use the school’s facilities and platform. What I really want to do is to give back to students in the same way.


NASD students working on some of their designs

Why teach in the UAE?

When I was about 15, and I saw the Burj Al Arab on a documentary channel. I have always been interested in design and architecture and I knew then that I would love to see it one day. I’ve had two stints teaching in Dubai, first time around straight out of university, Then, after a few years at home, I think all the excitement and innovation around Expo 2020 drew me back again.

I love that the culture here is international and in terms of things like innovation, AI and just making connections with people, Dubai is a great place to be.

What are the challenges of working in the UAE?

On a personal level, of course it’s family, being away from home. But when you work in a school like this, which has the best community feeling, you build your own family around you.

I’m also still running my graphic design business, and eventually that is something I would like to spend more time on. For now though, there is plenty going on to keep me here for a long while yet!

Has teaching in the UAE changed you as a teacher?

I think teaching in the UK is very different to teaching here. In the UK there is a lot more emphasis on getting students to just pass exams, whereas here you can do more that is beyond the scope of the usual curriculum, like DICE.

What is different for your generation of teachers?

Technology has played a big part in changing life for young people and in schools. A good example is that we recently discovered one of Year 8 students has a YouTube channel with more than 150,000 subscribers and over 1 million views! She was so casual about it, their generation are real experts in these powerful tools marketing tools like YouTube and TikTok. I think we need to embrace what they are doing outside of school too.

Do you have any advice for younger teachers here in the UAE?

I’d say that just because something is one way, it doesn’t mean it has to be that way for ever! Push hard and be innovative.

What is next for the DICE curriculum?

Well, since we won the award, we have had several other schools in the Nord Anglia network reaching out to find out more about it, which is great! I want to make sure we keep connecting with other subject areas, like languages ​​and English, Maths and Science. We will be taking DICE into our primary phase as of next year too. I’m pleased about this, as I took a lot of inspiration from what goes on in our Early Years department. In Early Years, if a child wants to be innovative, they just do it! I want to make sure we retain that spirit throughout their school career.

In the future, we’ll have even better connections with industry and more industry mentors for our students. On a practical note, we are building brand new, open work spaces, where our Year 7 students will be able to see what our Year 13 students are working on. I think that will be fantastic.

Eventually, what I what DICE to become is a more than a curriculum. I want it to be a ‘DICE Pack’ that students can take with them past school, to help them bring their amazing ideas to fruition.

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