Empowering Future Education

By Dr Nicole Bien, Director of Learning & Teaching, International Baccalaureate

Even before Covid-19 broke, there was a growing perception that traditional education is no longer fit for purpose—if we accept that one of education’s key purposes is to equip students with the skills and dispositions they need to thrive and to be happy in their life beyond school.

Covid-19 has accelerated many trends that were latent before, and it has made even clearer how outdated and irrelevant some aspects (but by no means all aspects!) of traditional education have become.

These accelerating trends and drivers of change are sometimes called the Fourth Industrial Revolution but, no matter what we call them, they involve a spread of interconnecting factors: technology, demographics, climate, mobility, and social justice/equity, to name just a handful.

Put simply, these global transformations which confront students today—as well as everyone else—are shaping a future that is unpredictable, interdependent, and complex.

But most students today are taught to face this future using yesterday’s pedagogies.


So, how can education prepare students for such a world?

More than anything, students need the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help them embrace opportunities and solve challenges for a better world. In addition to cognitive ability, they need broader competencies, such as teamwork, critical thinking, social and global awareness, time- and life-management skills—attributes not taught by traditional education.

And these attributes and competencies can be taught to students of all ages. At my own organization, the International Baccalaureate, our curricula are designed to support students aged 3-19 to develop these enduring competencies —and we are delighted to see a similar approach in many aspects of the new education policy in India.

Inquiry- and concept-based learning are at the very heart of our pedagogy, because they encourage students to be curious, to identify creative ideas and solutions, to make connections between concepts, and to practice systems thinking to contribute to solving the world’s complex problems.

Student agency—voice, choice and ownership—is a natural outcome of an inquiry-based education and is key to encouraging and motivating curious and independent thinkers.

Critical thinking—the ability to think independently and proactively, is essential: it helps students become lifelong learners who can explore solutions to complex problems that will face coming generations. Critical thinking can be stimulated with a learning pedagogy that is transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary.

Schools and teachers can better support students’ development of enduring competencies by working within an education framework, rather than a prescriptive curriculum.  A framework offers teachers agency and honours their professionalism.  It enables them to explore and deepen areas of study and interests relevant to their students and learning contexts, and authentically incorporate national or local standards into their curriculum designs. When teachers have agency, they are motivated to shape their teaching practices to meet the needs of individual students and transfer their enthusiasm to encouraging students to shape their own learning.    

In this connection, the new age group structure is a welcome approach to address the unique developmental stages of students from 3-18, particularly when incorporating hands-on learning as an element of future standard pedagogy.  In the pre-primary years, for example, the IB advocates play as a developmentally-appropriate way to learn, because hands-on learning through play is critical for brain development. In the primary, adolescent and upper years, we invite students to explore, express, and research their personal interest in an age-appropriate way through the student exhibition, personal project and extended essay. These programme features encourage students to follow their own interests and reflect on their learning.

We also share the new education policy’s stronger emphasis on vocational learning. New technology opens many more pathways for students to gain the skills needed for the profession they desire. We believe that a combination of academic rigour and career-related, real-world study will give students transferable and lifelong skills in applied knowledge, critical thinking, communication, cooperation, teamwork and cross-cultural engagement—qualities that are hugely welcomed by potential employers.

The lockdown this past year has highlighted the adaptability, creativity and commitment of both teachers and students, and we must continue to support the new ways of learning and teaching that have begun during this period. Rather than fearing lost learning, parents, schools and education ministries alike should reflect on the education community’s resilience and support meaningful education transformations to encourage more agency and well-being for students and teachers.

In such ways, we can create a world in which as many students as possible—no matter their background—can benefit from an education that is truly fit for purpose: education that is empowered (as we put it at the International Baccalaureate) to create a better world.