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How timeless values keep education future-proof

Dr Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, is a distinguished developmental psychologist who has a long and highly-valued association with the IB. His work on multiple intelligences (MI Theory) has been recognized as ground-breaking since it was first proposed in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind. He has broadened his approach to encompass a vision of education which recognizes the centrality of timeless human values in the challenge of keeping education relevant and effective for the future.

Alongside innumerable awards and honours, he was named among the world’s top 100 most influential public intellectuals by both Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. In recognition of his work in education, he won the Prince of Asturias Award in Social Sciences in 2011 and, in 2015, the Brock International Prize in Education.

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we asked him about his vision and the challenges facing education in the future.

Q: How would you describe the future challenges of education?

Full literacy throughout the world will remain an important goal. In addition to being able to read, write and calculate, students should learn to code, to analyze data, to work comfortably with “big data”. By the same token, in view of the increasing gap between those who have disposable capital and those who struggle to make a living, we can expect that preparation for a job or, better, a vocation, will be a high priority.

Given these probabilities, it is vital that forward-looking educational systems do not turn their backs on long-standing educational values.

Q: Which long-standing values should the IB should uphold?

I believe that the IB should cherish three traditional values. These begin with truth—in which descriptions of the world are valid and are supported by evidence. The second is beauty—in which experiences are worth cultivating, cherishing and sharing. And finally, goodness—how we, as human beings, can and should behave towards other persons, as well as towards the planet we inhabit.

Q: Will goodness be conceived in a different way as people’s roles change in the future?

In the future, as in the past, the biggest challenge for education is to help young people to become good persons, good workers and good citizens. We learn to be good persons by following long-standing precepts, as captured in the Golden Rule and in cherished writings such the Ten Commandments or (in a more recent formulation) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Little new needs to be said on the topic, though following these precepts has always been challenging.

Q: To what extent is it the responsibility of schools to help develop students who embody these values?

Full preparation for citizenship and professional behaviour is beyond the scope of education in an IB World School—indeed, in any educational institution. It cannot be the job of school alone to meet these needs: families, spiritual traditions, community models, traditional and new media should all contribute, and in a positive way. But speaking realistically, unless schools take on a large proportion of these responsibilities, they are unlikely to be realized in most cases. This is especially true with respect to families that circulate the globe—as is so often the case with the IB population. I hope—and I trust—that the IB will continue to assume an important role in the formation of human beings who are knowledgeable; who seek and share experiences that are beautiful; and who act in ways that we can admire.

Q: As the IB celebrates its 50th anniversary, is there a teaching experience in your own life which had an especially important impact on you?

That’s a question that my research team and I have posed to almost 2,000 persons but I have not yet had to answer it myself … I’d have to say that being an undergraduate at Harvard College over a half century ago (1961-1965) was the most transformative experience I’ve had. And the experience spanned the gamut from stimulating and provocative teachers to interesting and accomplished peers to important texts (and works of art, lab experiments, etc) which I would have been unlikely to encounter on my own. I realize that this was a privileged experience, but it is still available to anyone who has the opportunity to attend a liberal arts college, or to go to an institution of learning—which could be an IB World School or a college or university—where the life of the mind is taken seriously and nourished, in a way that can last a lifetime. I have nothing against an education that provides vocational guidance or skills but if that’s all we want from so-called institutions of learning, we can close down libraries, museums, laboratories, and indeed, fire most of the faculty and administrators, except those involved in ‘student life’. In so doing, we would be destroying what is most valuable in human civilization– and it would take centuries to restore it.

Howard Gardner has contributed a chapter to the IB’s 50th anniversary book in which he writes about some of these ideas in more depth. ‘The International Baccalaureate—50 years of education for a better world’ is a collection of perspectives from educators involved with the IB from its earliest beginnings in Geneva to its successful expansion across the world to 153 countries. Get your copy from the John Catt website.

Get your copy from the John Catt website