Educating for a Changing World

What kind of education is needed to equip students for the challenges of an unpredictable, complex, rapidly changing world? What’s the role of Educators? What can parents do to help?

In my travels around the globe as an education writer and journalist over the past five years, I have seen the discussion changing about what really matters in a child’s learning journey. There is more focus than ever before on the need for students to be globally conscious and to be self-starters. While knowledge remains the underpinning element in all education systems, technology has had a dramatic effect on how individuals are accessing that knowledge. Technological innovation, as well as other challenges facing our planet – such as migration, climate change, inequality and unemployment – have also fueled a broader intellectual discussion on what type of knowledge remains relevant for society today and in the decades ahead. The importance of four skills, or the 4 Cs as they are known in education circles – Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Colloboration – are the new buzz words and have become key learning goals on global boards. Great schools and informed parents around the world recognize that a holistic education is the best gift a child can have, but that it must begin in early childhood if one is to have any chance of achieving this objective. So what kind of a curriculum combines and balances the right blend of modern knowledge, soft skills and character building competencies that produce proficient 21st-century citizens? John Goormaghtigh, an international lawyer and holocaust survivor, became involved with the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate organization in the 1960s. His deepest wish was that no one would have to repeat his experience as a concentration camp victim. Goormaghtigh wanted to help create a world where understanding and peace would prevail, and he saw the IB, which centered on intercultural understanding, as the solution. Beyond its vision of promoting international-mindedness, the IB’s goals were to develop critical thinking and problemsolving skills – so that children would ‘learn how to learn’ – and most importantly to provide a widely recognized university entrance qualification. Today an estimated 1.3 million students in 150 countries attend IB World Schools daily. While visiting The Hague recently, I sat down with the IB’s Director General, Dr. Siva Kumari, to talk about global education, the work the IB has done to date, and the innovations on their drawing boards for learners in the future. Dr. Kumari joined the IB in April 2009 as its Regional Director for Asia-Pacific. A year later she was named its first Chief Operating Officer, and in 2014, its first female Director General.

Siva, at the end of the day, what are the most important things a child needs to get from an education?

Siva image optimized for web 600pixelsIt can sometimes seem an overwhelming task, educating children today to live in a world that is constantly changing and to perform in jobs that may well not even exist now. However, I believe that we will be preparing our students well if we teach them to think, to stretch and to develop themselves, on the basis of rational thought, self-discipline, meta-cognition, research and inquiry. These are habits that will be learned during the whole of their time at school and that will allow them to analyze and adapt their patterns of thought and how they act on them – in a conscious and reflective manner. Education must give students the tools they need to go out into the world, no matter the focus of their interest or their chosen field. Education helps create better lives and can inspire students to make the most of their lives and that of others.

How should learning be personalized in the classroom and in school?

This is a very important question. Learning should be meaningful to students, match their interests and give them opportunities to have a broad-based education, while aligning with their capabilities and the pace at which they learn.The IB program, for instance, asks the students to explore subjects at higher level or standard level, allowing them to challenge themselves through choice; requires of them that they learn a second language; and ensures that they are intellectually balanced by requiring that they study humanities, math, science and arts – language and otherwise – as part of the holistic development. Within these categories, we also ask students to choose topics that are of personal interest to them, which they can explore in further intellectual depth. In today’s world, children have so many opportunities to learn from each other while doing their school work, and technology gives them more aids with which to engage in formal learning, socially. They can also use the web, which has plenty of high-quality teaching material, to work through concepts that they may not fully understand in the classroom. With concepts like ‘flipped classrooms’, teachers can also suggest valid resources that students can use for difficult concepts. I’m heartened by the experiments in the use of technology to change learning, and as long as the teachers experiment along with the students, the education world will see the type of teaching needed for today’s world.

How can parents help, to support learning at home? What are the best IB schools using to support families in the learning journey?

Parents clearly play an important role in the well-being of the student. IB schools are asked to hold parent conferences to ensure that parents are fully prepared for the type of learning that takes place in IB classrooms and schools. Learning as much as they can about the program and teacher expectations is very helpful to parents as they help their children plan – as well as pace, motivate and counsel them as needed. The family also has to make the decision that the student will be supported during high-stress periods. This may be simply being aware, and giving them the comfort of removing all other obstacles, in order to ensure that the child knows that the parent recognizes the stress. I have childhood memories of my mother telling my brothers to turn the music down while I was studying for stressful exams. Just knowing she was aware and cared gave a lot of comfort.

What kinds of questions do you suggest parents ask their children on a daily basis about school?

The best gift a parent can give is to show interest in what the child is learning. And, these dialogues should not turn into corrective conversations which children may perceive as penalizing, but should enable conversations that reinforce the child’s learning, even if he/she has failed that day’s test. This is a hard lesson for parents to learn and I’m not sure I did well in this area myself. Questions such as ‘What did you find difficult in school today?’ and the ability to share their own frailties as learners and as adults will all foster confidence in the child to explore further. Relating what that child learned to world events will also allow that child to see why that concept matters. It’s about firing more neurons in your child’s brain so that more neural networks are formed on a daily basis. Parents should see this as a valuable opportunity, not to be wasted, in building an intellectual inheritance for the child. Most of us learn that lesson too late.

How is education changing and where can parents educate themselves about this change?

Understanding your child, and its needs and abilities, is a necessary step. The more parents educate themselves about what employers are saying is needed in the workplace today and the more they are educated about the changing conditions in the world, the better educated consumers they will become. The IB programs aim to produce a balanced learner who is well-rounded and ready for the intellectual and emotional challenges of an adult world. Parents should take the formative years of their children as prime value. It’s not what university the child gets into. It’s about focusing on producing a well-rounded healthy young person who loves learning, knows how to learn well, knows about human connections and knows its limitations. The goal of getting into a particular university or profession is a limiting goal – practically speaking – and can only make the child feel like a failure if not accomplished.

How should creativity, collaboration, innovative thinking and critical thinking be developed on a daily basis in the classroom?

Minutes and hours spent in the classroom should be valued by all the adults in the system. That includes insitutions like ours that set educational standards, as well as the parents who choose the schools, and the teachers and heads of schools who promote the type of classroom cultures that are most conducive to sustaining thinking and learning spaces. As our world changes with more information than the human mind can possibly take in, and as our children’s worlds become even bigger than before with borders becoming less relevant – except as passport checking junctures – one can’t imagine how our children can be prepared any other way. Allowing children to explore their ability to collaborate and to engage in generative discussions with information exchange of the highest kind in the safety of classrooms, will serve them well in a world flooded with pushes and pulls of a kind that we as parents cannot help them with.

What do universities believe about the academic standards and learning processes used by the IB, and how well the IB Diploma prepares students for higher education?

Reputed universities from around the world every year take in IB Diploma students from all over the world. This is a validation of the value they place on IB students. We consistently hear from admissions officers, university Presidents and faculty that they much appreciate Diploma Program students. They find IB students are better prepared for the rigors of university study because they are well prepared to think critically and independently about problems, and to work at a deeper, more extended level to solve them. They find that these students have a soft landing in their universities, but also contribute greatly to the conversation in their courses. Compared to other courses of study, they find the IB learner more primed to readily generate or participate in deeper discussions. I talk to IB graduates all the time and they tell me that university work was a breeze compared to the IB work; that they could immediately tell that other students were less prepared for university and had to spend time learning how to write a research paper or manage their learning. For example, several of the UK’s leading universities have reviewed their admission requirements in order to be able to recruit more IB Diploma students. We hear from universities all the time, for instance, recently from King’s College, that our IB students easily adapt to the rigor of their university. An independent study recently confirmed that the IB increases students’ academic achievement, as well as the probability of high school graduation and the probability of college enrollment, so we know that our students are well prepared to succeed in post-secondary settings. And, perhaps more importantly, they’re prepared to make important and inspiring contributions to help make the world a better place. And this is maybe what we, IB schools and parents, can be most proud of.

Do you believe the IB assessments are accurate in terms of how well prepared a child is for higher education or the workplace? How should assessments be designed so that they promote learning rather than simple measurement?

Indeed we do. We spend an extraordinary amount of time ensuring that the assessments are tuned to measuring meaningful output. We spend time evaluating essays and short answers, and also take into account the internal assessments conducted by schools. We do all this so that we can obtain an accurate picture of that students’ ability in that subject – so we are not just reliant on an exam taken on a given day.

We live in a rapidly changing world. What new education initiatives is the IB planning in order to stay abreast of this change?

You are right that the world is changing rapidly and I feel that the world, now more than ever, needs education that is truly international in nature and addresses the challenges and opportunities presented by an increasingly interconnected yet individualized world. Our programs continually evolve to ensure that they are current and relevant and we do this by a measured process of program review. For example, the Middle Years Program (MYP) has recently launched an innovative e-Assessment, unlike anything available elsewhere. True to the philosophy of the MYP, the exams are concept-based, disciplinary and interdisciplinary, and use rich media on-screen assessments. We didn’t just move from the same questions we had on paper to the screen. We thought through how we can assess in markedly different ways. Students respond to the questions which can include video and animations. They interact with the animations and simulations and can plot graphs or draw pictures. One of the participating schools told us: “Our learners hardly use pen and paper anymore. We have to move forward with the times, and MYP eAssessment does that.” Technology has the ability to change what has always been said about teaching – it’s been a closed door profession. But a project that is close to my heart is the enabling of the IB community (and beyond) to share resources, best practices and other learning materials with others around the world. Some key technology innovations, such as the principles of Open Educational Resources and Creative Commons Licensing, allow much wider access and use of content, aggregation of content for users and access to a broad range of digital collections of content, as well as the concepts of community-led reviews, validation and moderation of content. In the coming months, we will be working with organizations that are highly experienced in this field in order to refine our ideas for the project.

The award-winning series, The Global Search for Education, brings together distinguished thought leaders in education and innovation from around the world to explore the key learning issues faced by most nations. The series has become a highly visible platform for global discourse on 21st century education, offering a diverse range of innovative ideas which are presented by the series founder, C.M. Rubin, together with the world’s leading thinkers in education.

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