IB Director General shares perspectives on how education should prepare students for the ‘new normals’ ahead of them

“Education today doesn’t do enough to develop fully-rounded, fully-aware human beings.”

Our Director General Dr Siva Kumari has been discussing the future of education in global forums over the past few weeks.  

Giving the keynote speech to the IPN’s 2020 graduates, and later contributing the Forum for World Education (FWE) webinar moderated by Thomas Friedman and Andreas Schleicher, Dr Kumari referred to “the grandest experiment in disruption in education the world has ever seen” and touched on a wide range of challenges and opportunities facing education in a post-Covid-19 world. 

Dr Kumari later shared her perspectives on the future of education in front of yet another large virtual audience comprising global practitioners, academics and public officials during the School of Tomorrow conference, which convened prominent figures including Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization Director-General.

Shifting the focus of learning   

Dr Kumari said that one of the main issues educational systems should think about is how to facilitate ‘lifelong learners’ as we face a new post-COVID landscape. To achieve this, she explained it is critical to figure out the strengths and aptitudes of each learner, what they’ll excel in, where we can help them to develop, and how we can best prepare them for the ‘new normals’ ahead of them. 

Dr Kumari also shared that the IB will be focusing on bringing students’ passion into their own education as part of their approach to facilitate lifelong learners. 

“We’ll be focusing on age-appropriate learning and designing learning environments and policies that engage and evaluate the passion of students at all levels, and how to bring that passion to education,” she said. 

Dr Kumari shared a couple of examples that illustrate ways in which the IB works to bring this passion into the classrooms.

“We ask students to create passion projects. Each Primary Years Programme (PYP) student does something called an exhibition, which requires them to research a topic and create change in the world. In the Middle Years Programme (MYP), we have the personal project, where students have to understand a bigger problem, do research and actually physically create something,”

The disruption of technology in education 

During the FWE webinar, the panel shared perspectives on how technology is shifting more traditional perceptions of learning as well as students’ learning itself. Dr Kumari acknowledged the unprecedented loss of learning (referring to classroom hours) as a result of the pandemic and shared how technology could help rethink the way we look at learning. 

“We have now firmly established that schools are not the only places where learning occurs. Now it is the time to conceive new forms of schooling and extend beyond the brick and mortar. We want learners to be able to learn with and via technology, but we also want them to be critical thinkers, so learners don’t become consumers of technology only,” she said. 

The IB leader added that “we need to use current technologies to assist the learner in developing themselves as a better learner. We will have to have explicit conservations with children but also parents about the knowledge, skills and attributes that are needed for the fourth industrial revolution.” 

Supporting teachers today to guarantee future wellbeing 

FWE webinar panellists discussed the importance for policy makers to abandon short term politics and focus on how teachers are the key to any country’s competitiveness. 

Dr Kumari mentioned that professionals in education should be afforded the same level of support as other professions also vital to any society and economy. 

“Teachers are very important professionals contributing to the future wellbeing of the economy and competitiveness of any country. Teachers will (also) need to be enabled with the power of technology and tools – just like doctors are provided with tonnes of tools and data to treat (patients).” 

“We don’t need students who know the one right answer.”  

In relation to the way student assessments are conducted, Dr Kumari stressed that “education today is over-reliant on an outdated assessment mechanism."

She added: "The final exam tests students’ ability to remember content they have been taught over a year or two years. But the world doesn’t need citizens whose highest ability is their perfect memories to repeat information that is easily accessible everywhere to everyone.” 

In addition, Dr Kumari mentioned educational systems have the “responsibility to design assessment that really captures the individual students’ ability, rather than figuring out how to design a system that doesn’t allow them to cheat.”

“But the world doesn’t need citizens whose highest ability is their perfect memories to repeat information that is easily accessible everywhere to everyone.” 

“We don’t need students who know the one right answer. We need students who know why four answers might work and therefore we need assessment that elicits the students’ best thinking.” 

The Director General of the IB also shared that she is having similar discussions with universities, as they indicated their desire to “see more about the human” in relation to students. According to Dr Kumari, universities would like to receive more information (of the kind which the IB already provides) about students beyond their qualifications alone

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