As I open the newspaper my heart sinks. Every story speaks of conflict, war and disharmony. In the distance, my son continues to share the joy of the sandpit with another infant, free from the prejudices and cultural allegiances that divide humanity. How will education prepare him to be a gentleman, one who focuses on similarities instead of differences; who aims for mutual instead of unilateral benefit or worse still, mutual loss; who unites and leads instead of dividing and conquering?
Sadly, traditional examinations train our children to think that there is only one right answer to every question, breeding closed minds. Debates teach them that dominating arguments is the way to work collaboratively. Would a class teaching morals once a week ending in an examination that required students to memorise definitions raise gentlemen and ladies?
The International Baccalaureate (IB)’s solution to this question lies in two key initiatives. Firstly, International Mindedness is a mental framework, going beyond the superficial awareness of national fairs, fashion, food and flags; to sincerely listening to alternative and often conflicting points of view, laying aside prejudice and giving due consideration that other people, in their differences may also be right. Secondly, the Learner Profile – a set of ten values translated from the IB mission statement which provides a long-term vision of education. This set of ideals include being principled, courageous, caring, reflective and open-minded.**
It is the skilful and systematic weaving of activities and questions considering the Learner Profiles and International Mindedness into the fabric of every class that makes the difference. As students learn about nuclear technology in science they are posed with questions like: “Does the possession of knowledge carry ethical responsibilities?” They are prompted into discussions about the impact of the nuclear bomb and presented with views from both the victims and the victors. When character development is tied to academic knowledge, learning becomes both relevant and meaningful.
Learners advance from basic exposure and exploration in the Primary Years to exciting discussions in the Middle School and finally deep deliberation in the Diploma Programme with the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class. Learners are encouraged to listen, discuss and consider alternative points of view whilst withholding judgement and teachers deliberately do not offer a conclusion. Students are trained not to pursue the correct answer but observe their thinking and enjoy the diversity of human thought in all its complexity.
The Learner Profiles will impart valuable virtues. The discussions about International Mindedness will nurture a wise person, slow to judge and able to view ideas from multiple perspectives. Through all the discussions, students develop a deep understanding of the uncertainty of knowledge, that there often is no right answer. The result, a gentleman or lady.
This article is the fourth of a 6 part series on education. More exciting articles to come!
Dr Vincent Chian is currently the IB Diploma Director of Fairview International School. A former medical doctor working in psychiatry he now spends his time championing emotional and affective development in education.
* Fairview International School currently has 4 IB World Schools across Malaysia; KL, Subang, JB and Penang. Fairview Ipoh will be an international school, with enrolment open for August 2014. For more information, call 05 313 6888 or email to email@example.com.
**For the full set and explanation of the Learner Profiles, kindly visit www.ibo.org.