The conventional school system was set up to meet the needs of the industrial age back in the early 20th century: the masses were given basic literacy education and prepared for skilled labour in factories; secondary education groomed a small fraction of society for managerial and professional vocations; tertiary education primed an even smaller group of people to become the doctors, engineers and scientists of the world.
At present, mainstream schools operate like a manufacturing plant – every student who enters is sorted by age, instructed on a pre-determined group of subjects during inflexible time periods; they are then tested for ‘quality’ before emerging at the end of the assembly line. Most schools are still educating the younger generation to meet the needs of an industrial world from which we have long moved past. We are now entering a new era – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and the skills required in this new world are now vastly different from before.
BTT visited the IGB International School, which offers the International Baccalaureate Programmes (PYP, MYP and DP), to learn how an IB World School is keeping ahead of times, and preparing students for a future that no one can yet see clearly. According to Anne Fowles, IGBIS’s Head of School, employers are now looking for “people who possess problem-solving and communication skills, the ability to build relationships, the aptitude to break down complex ideas and understand them, and techcapable.”
“As such, teaching only content is now no longer relevant. Students must be able to do more than regurgitate information; they must learn how to critique, how to work in groups and to facilitate team-based projects,” she says.
Wayne Demnar, Director of Admissions and Marketing in IGBIS, adds, “In our time, learning involved sitting back, listening to the teacher, and feeding back what we heard. But today factual learning has been replaced by conceptual learning.”
He summarises the skills required today as the ‘4Cs’: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical analysis.
These skills are arguably harder to teach and learn than hard facts, but Anne and Wayne advocate that the foundation for such learning be laid in the early years of education. Wayne explains, “Even with very young children, you can start guiding them in their learning with good questions – openended questions that encourage them to ponder on the subject.”
For the younger students who are just starting to learn to communicate and socialise with others their age, learning happens through play. “I call it student-initiated learning,” Mary Richards, a teacher of the Early Years Programme for children aged three and four, says. “The teacher sometimes takes a step back and lets the children make up scenarios as they play together. The adult might sometimes initiate a direction, but it is the children who lead the game.”
At this stage, they might not yet be able to communicate with clarity through speech, but the teachers are able to recognise and encourage other forms of expression. Mary demonstrates with a student’s artwork (left, top picture). “This patch of colour on the upper right corner might look like the random work of a child, but as he was colouring it, he said that this was him sliding down a grassy slope during the holidays. This is how he sees it in his mind.”
As the children enter Kindergarten and advance through the years, a more structured approach is introduced. IGBIS uses Units of Inquiry in its Primary Years Programme, which comprises different concepts and themes that promote transdisciplinary learning. One of the themes, for instance, is ‘Sharing the Planet’, and in the
course of exploring this central idea, students will learn different subject matters – from science and geography to social equality and conflict resolution – all by the time they finish Grade 5 at the age of 10.
There is no distinct hierarchy of subjects in the way IGBIS approaches learning. Conventional school systems are rooted in industrialism, thus, subjects such as science, mathematics and reading are ranked highly in importance while music, art and drama languish at the bottom of the list; this is, however, no longer relevant.
As society becomes increasingly aware that intelligence comes in a variety of forms, standardised testing is clearly insufficient to measure success. While it is still carried out at IGBIS, it carries a smaller weightage. Instead, other qualitative measurement tools are also used to gauge the student’s progress. “The teachers measure and document success from observation and using a checklist of performance indicators,” Anne says. “There is a great shift of perception, in that we no longer test for failure, but we assess for success.”
Without the pressure to excel in particular subjects only, students are encouraged to explore and, in the process, learn transferable skills. Teaching has also become fluid and flexible, and teachers are empowered to use diverse styles, methods and technology in making lessons enjoyable. The classroom walls in IGBIS are plastered with inventive lessons: one panel features an exercise in persuasion, whereby students try to convince their classmates on a subject of their choice – from taking action to stop trans-boundary haze to adding dessert
to the school cafeteria menu and advocating a longer lunch break through written or video presentation. The exercise allows students to hone several skills at once, from practicing effective communication to critical thinking in analysing a situation.
The adage used to be ‘give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime’. Today, the ‘man’ has to keep up with an erratic ecosystem as the Fourth Industrial Revolution leads to unpredictability in the workforce; the World Economic Forum predicts that in just five years from now, one third of skills considered important today would have been usurped by others. It is insufficient to merely prepare students to find a place in the workforce – we have to prepare them to thrive amidst the strange new world that is upon them.