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Siva Kumari explains how the IB engenders the ethos of international-mindedness

Siva image optimized for web 600pixelsThe New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in the US celebrated their 130th annual conference in November 2015. IB Director General, Dr Siva Kumari, was honoured to attend the event and joined a veritable “who’s who” of speakers from the world of education.

We have taken some excerpts from Siva’s keynote speech—Intercultural Competence: Creating and Implementing High Academic Standards Globally for K-12 Studentsto share with you here.

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In any century, critical thinking is a necessity for those who create change in the world. The IB believes that today, more than ever, primary and secondary educators need to develop citizens who are multimodal and interdisciplinary thinkers, who can relate their learning to questions that matter locally and globally. Equally importantly, we believe that international-mindedness is a key attribute that must be nurtured in all children worldwide as only then can we function well in a hyper-connected world that is ever-shrinking, wherever a student may live and whatever they may choose to do when they leave school.

Peter Senge, speaking at a recent IB conference, said that today’s children are the first generation that has grown up “in the world”.

map-and-student-picBut, how far have we evolved? Natural human curiosity to learn about others and absorb other cultures led our ancestors to explore the unknown. Today’s policy makers, decision makers, and ordinary citizens are as much a part of the world as they are a part of their locality. Actions taken here or there permeate everywhere because we are interconnected socio-economically and geo-politically, in our ever-shrinking hyper-connected world. Images from far away are channeled to your device of choice in seconds. I don’t need to elaborate this point.

At the IB, we believe that international-mindedness is not a “nice to have” competence that can be demonstrated through academic activities, but is fundamental to educating a human being. It’s a way of thinking, being, demonstrating, and behaving. And, since we are committed to developing educated humans, not just really smart students with great test scores, for university admission we continue to hone international-mindedness through all our programmes from age 3 to 19.

How do we engender the ethos of international-mindedness?

We ask teachers and students to focus on global issues that need both local and global action. We ask students, teachers and schools to make a commitment to structure the learning and the teaching around real world issues. dv168112aSituating learning in global contexts then requires schools to think of what to teach, and how their students will learn. Schools commit to this philosophy of learning for meaning and to maintain standards.

In 2010, McKinsey released a report – How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better. They say that their report is the most comprehensive database of global school system reform ever assembled through a study of worldwide schools. One of the highlights was: “there is too little focus on “process” in the debate today. Improving system performance ultimately comes down to improving the learning experience of students in their classrooms.” Our practice at the IB has been based on this cornerstone.

Learner profile

To think globally, we believe that students need to have a set of skills, attributes and behaviors. We’ve encapsulated these into a set of ten attributes that we call the IB Learner Profile.

Learner profile circleStudents work to become deep thinkers, filled with curiosity about the world around them, and able to communicate their thinking. They form this perspective not through the mere accumulation of facts, research and carefully-assembled arguments but through a lens of their own principles, an open-mindedness about the world at large, that diverse perspectives matter, but that they need to sift through this with a broad lens and in discursive ways. They also learn that risk-taking is necessary conditioning for a complex world. To quote Ian Leslie, the author of Curious, “The more unpredictable the environment, the more important a seemingly unnecessary breadth and depth of knowledge becomes.


Balance between cognitive and non-cognitive skills

While students develop from age three with this sort of meta-cognitive thinking and a vocabulary for learning, we believe that the school, and the adults in the learning system, need to uphold specific conditions to help prepare students for a global world. Starting with inquiry-based approaches that allow the student to build disciplinary knowledge, and apply this knowledge to problems of significance; moving onto actions, small or large, needed to address such problems, followed by reflection on the effectiveness of their approach, their learning or their process.


Approaches to learning

Professor with students working togeteher on computers

Teachers enhance the confidence building of the student via what we call “approaches to learning,” a set of tools that students use wisely for lifelong learning. These are thinking, self-management, communication and research skills.

How can we ensure that the skills we teach our kids will be of use to them throughout their lives, once they leave school, once they move on to higher education and careers? It is by making sure that they do not learn their skills by rote, nor just by example, but by their lived experience.

Weaving international-mindedness into teaching, learning and assessments

In education, international-mindedness is about more than inculcating global engagement, multilingualism and the resources to perceive the world whole. Today, international-mindedness should permeate all aspects of the curriculum.

PYP kidsThe primary condition necessary for the IB to achieve this is straightforward: it is that the IB always places students at the centre of the curriculum. True international-mindedness is only achievable when it is experienced by students in all aspects of their study, in all aspects of their thinking, and in all aspects of the actions they perform as a result of what they are taught. And only by ensuring that our curricula are truly student-centred can international-mindedness permeate into every aspect of the student experience.

This move away from teacher-centred models to student-centred models, supported by technology, enables the critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and other non-cognitive skills which are essential for international-mindedness to grow strong roots, and to thrive when confronted by the challenging complexities of the world.

The IB continuum of education

IB continuumOur focus on the IB continuum of education—a course of study through all four IB programmes rather than one programme individually—also ensures that international-mindedness plays a central role throughout a child’s education.

Career-related Programme (CP) model

We aim to align better education with postsecondary education and careers, including the integration of work-based experiences into the curricula. This is key because postsecondary education and careers are also evolving, in radical ways, in response to global demands and developments. CP modelNot to take this into account as we develop our curricula and assessments would be a dereliction of duty, and we place the highest importance on it.

The successful development of the Career-related Programme—which integrates work-experience while maintaining the academic rigour of the programme—shows that schools, colleges and employers all welcome this new approach.

Global problems tackled at local level

Little boy in recycling tshirt holding potted plant

Commitment and energy are far from unusual at IB schools – it is energizing to witness and is typical of IB students and alumni, they tackle global problems at a local level.

The many stories I hear demonstrate how the IB experience brings a wide range of positive benefits into the lives of schools and students and, beyond graduation, into the world beyond. These stories are not about ignoring differences or problems; they are about facing them and dealing with them openly. Confronting and discussing our differences in forums free of ideology, free of the poisonous political and religious conflicts that might stifle international-mindedness before it has a chance to take root.

Terrorism is a reality – it cannot be checked by borders. Although terrorism, like everything else in the world, exploits the global context in which we live, it is, in fact, the polar opposite of international-mindedness. Because it seeks to close down debate and silence any criticisms from world-views other than its own.

Inspiring students and alumni

There are many examples of student work that demonstrates international-mindedness on this blog – just click on the inspiring alumni section to discover them. But to quote one IB alumni,  Kevin Kahiro Maina from The Aga Khan Academy, Nairobi—“International-mindedness is best defined as a ‘frame of mind.’ Perhaps, though, a ‘philosophy for living’ would be more appropriate for it enables and empowers individuals with the ability to perceive the world in a manner that disregards the ‘self’ and its prejudices while embracing a greater sense of the ‘other’.”

All over the world, IB students study and live in a way that embraces a greater sense of the “other”.lead-celebrate-students-mosaic


Education for a better world

education for a better worldEdward Luce, the Financial Times correspondent, wrote recently: “The point of higher education is to inculcate a spirit of inquiry and toughen-up the mind for the confusing world beyond.” He makes the point that logic and knowledge are needed for dissent and argumentation. We continue to want to deliver to higher education those students who can think, discern, evaluate, criticize and act in ways consistent not just with their cogitations, but with their deepest principles … not passive students, but students whose minds are well honed to write, communicate and engage.

With growth comes responsibility – as the IB continues to grow, we need to stay true to our founding principles, international mindedness, academic rigour and the flexibility to adapt them best to fit changing contexts. Doing this makes it possible to make real our Mission: Together with our community, our schools, and the brilliant students we develop, we can make the world a better place.