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Imagining the 22nd century – the next wave

Comparative educators, and what I am suggesting has the potential to go much further than mere comparison, know exactly what I mean when it comes to bending one system in order to blend in aspects of another. Benchmarking with curiosity, humility, and comprehensiveness is now an essential criterion in any serious endeavour at local improvement. So what can we learn from the world, relatively speaking? Here are just a very few thoughts. At the curricular level, we might ask why geography is so established in British-based systems and almost absent from American ones; we might insist on being able to learn from the French predilection for philosophy; we might wonder about the lowly place of economics and entrepreneurial studies in liberal arts academies; and we might speculate that mastery of two languages is essential, and perhaps that three is not abnormal, nor impossible.

These are just a few, indicative examples. When it comes to pedagogic practice, we might consider the positive effect of the limited use of mathematical calculators at the school level in China; the value of including participation in class discussions as a gradable element in the USA; the importance of memory training by which I do not mean rote learning in some eastern practices; the significance of enquiry-based Socratic learning through dialogue in the best of the west; the role of extensive reading in some systems; and the need for all teachers to understand the differences between norm-based and criterion-based assessment.

With regard to structural differences, let us look at differing perceptions of acceptable courseload; multi-grade elementary school teaching of Mathematics in China; the later start to formal schooling in Finland; the distinctiveness of the house system in the British-based boarding schooltradition; different ways of arranging and giving weight to sport or athletics; the importance of the gap year in some countries; and the markedly varying degrees of importance placed on teacher training and professional development.

Finally, in considering overarching philosophical frames, what might be learned from the influence of Buddhism in Thai education, theories of Ubuntu in southern Africa, or the implicit questioning by some traditions of those universality assumptions of the Enlightenment, the liberal values that underlie much of western educational thinking?

The possibilities are numerous. Learning from the world should be exciting, productive, challenging, and uplifting in a data demonstrable manner. The above are merely a few examples. Learning for the world For the purposes of this essay, I am selecting five areas when considering learning for the world. I like to think of them as visions for world schools that, if learned and practised meaningfully, will impact positively the world that current students will inherit, live in and change.

They are, clearly, a selection from a potentially larger list, and by no means comprehensive. And they are thematic, and therefore do not address the structural realignments, including exterior and interior architecture, that schools are surely going to face, and the technologies that are changing how we do business.

Nor do they necessarily address directly what are fashionably called 21st-century skills, although there are some areas of commonality with these. I remain sceptical about skills for a whole century when we are only just over one decade into it, and when all commentators readily admit that the pace of change is faster and deeper than ever before.

I am not sure what skills for the past century might have been predicted with confidence and accuracy in My five visions, all connected and overlapping, are not unexpected or novel. But all are of vital importance to world schools and, taken together, they form a powerful quintet. They are: intellectual questing; intercultural journeying; spatial sensitizing; experiential doing; sustainable living.

Intellectual questing. My first vision is intellectualism. As I am approaching what I call intellectual questing, which means for me both searching and asking, as a practising head of school, I shall refer to one aspect of my own practice.

14 things that are obsolete in 21st century schools

At the end of every term, for 20 years now, I have written a letter to the extended family of the school of which I am a part. Here is an extract from a letter not too long ago. The paragraph below came immediately after a typical catalogue of successful achievements, by the students, in the artistic and athletic domains: As it must always be, the foundation for all this activity is intellectual, the love of learning through the life of the mind. I went to Scotland during the Thanksgiving break as a guest speaker at an annual symposium called Scotland International.

At the institutional level, I urged that our schools should become ever more intellectual, a quality broader and deeper than the merely academic.

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In our world of such great complexity, desperate for leaders of caliber, the old saw that the best leaders are those with second-class intellects and first-class characters is insufficient. We need leaders with both intellect and character of the highest quality. Character and intellectual development are often separated.

Kurt Hahn said that the destiny of character occurs outside the classroom. However, classrooms can, should, and must be different now. Our schools must try to bring together character building and intellectual development. In the spirit of intellectual questing, we must ensure that our students, and their teachers, place a high priority on the interrogative mood. Asking probing questions must be at the heart of our learning. We must be more concerned to uncover syllabuses and content, rather than slavishly covering them. Independent, critical thinking makes epistemological nomads of learners, and so does TOK.

It also leads us to make interdisciplinary links that are unusual and creative. Schools concerned to foster this kind of intellectualism should consider more interdisciplinary courses and more collaborative group projects. It is heartening to see a revival of interdisciplinary courses in schools, and a different emphasis in these courses from that of the s.

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  • Now there tends to be a genuine interfusion that honours the integrity of disciplines but that also makes the whole greater than the sum of the different disciplines that are being linked. In high schools, especially in the USA where I currently work, we are too often constrained by what we think universities demand of us. My vision of intellectual questing dictates that we should protect and cherish the intellectualism that we seek to promote in our schools.

    We must retain these questioning, critical and creative aspects and not allow the universities to dictate matters. In the final analysis, universities respect this. If we are preparing our students in a properly intellectual, questing manner, the most rigorous universities all over the world will welcome them gladly. Intercultural journeying Let me move to my second vision, intercultural journeying.

    This is a move, from first to second, that ought to be more obvious than it sometimes seems. It is instructive to refer again to the IB Diploma. In the early history of the development of the Diploma Programme, in the late s, there was an explicit link between critical thinking one part of what I am calling intellectual questing and international understanding. I feel that we sometimes lose sight of the need for and power of this connection. At Hotchkiss in the past few years we have created a new centre, the Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking.

    That coupling reinforces a link which we sometimes take for granted, or lose sight of completely.

    We should expect our world schools to practise and celebrate this as a matter of course. There is an easy movement from the spirit of inquiry and making creative links to the promotion of the international understanding underpinning pannationalism. On one level, each is an analogue for the other. In the later years of the 20th century, people who were geopolitical progressives were very much focused on international understanding. Such a focus could often cut across party and partisan lines. It gave rise to the proliferation of concepts such as global citizenship, world-mindedness, and cosmopolitanism, all useful outgrowths of the debates around international understanding.

    I am now inclined to substitute the term intercultural understanding for international understanding. This allows for the possibility of celebrating and learning from difference across groups that might not be only national. After all, age and gender groupings have distinct cultures, and this can be obvious, and obviously utilized, within schools. It is hugely significant to realize, taking to heart the IB mission statement, that others with their differences can also be right.

    It can be even more startling to learn that we, with our apparent similarities, can ourselves be different — in other words that there are heterogeneities close to home that we sometimes do not see. Intercultural journeying, distant and local, produces such revelations. We must remember that to change the world, in ways small and big, we have to start doing new things but also stop doing some things that are habitual. One of those to stop is the complacency of resting within our own cultures, and of seeing these as seamless.

    World schools should insist on this. Spatial sensitizing Community building in schools flows naturally from intercultural awareness, from the harmonizing of differences.

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    I am approaching such a sense of community, and community service, in spatial terms. This is an unusual angle on the topic. Let me explain. Such spatial sensitivity is a useful metaphor for developing a sense of community, individually and collectively. If we have a sense of where we are, and that entails knowing where others are, this enhances our capacities to intuit the flow of the whole game. We need to make opportunities in our schools for practising this skill.

    Our students will be learning for their world by doing so. This third vision, connected to the second, grows from the insight that genuine intercultural literacy recognizes human interdependence at a profound level.


    Community service certainly builds upon this and once we feel our near and far interdependence in the heart, we understand and value humanness and humility quite differently. This is one of the defining features of our humanity and our human nature. For me, a South African, the insight is encapsulated most elegantly in a Zulu saying: umuntu ngamuntu ngabantu a person becomes human through others. Many schools speak, in mission statements and brochures, of community.

    A significant purpose of all schools is to be builders of community, and schools — of all types — are very well positioned to do this. People in schools share a defined space and a common purpose. Most people in schools, the students, are in their early years and formative stages. Owing to changing family patterns and the pressures on a sense of community in our fragmented and fractured world outside the school, the world of the school can provide a healing balm for its participants. Teachers recall only too easily how often parents tell them, directly and indirectly, that they must provide the structures of pastoral care and community that the parents cannot.

    What should we expect from such respectful communities, exemplary worlds in miniature? The recipe is quite simple and here are a few basic ingredients: cooperation, encouragement of teamwork, discouragement of rampant individualism, the delaying of gratification, the building of trust and the care for those in need. The community service that more and more schools require, quite rightly, builds and reinforces this. I use a working typology that recognizes three types of service typical in schools: the first is when students, and teachers, perform essential tasks for the benefit of the school community, such as cleaning classrooms; the second consists of doing productive work for members of disadvantaged communities outside the school, like raising funds for deserving individuals and organizations, or making things blankets for example for those in need; the third is the face-to-face work that we know affects the doer as much as if not more than the receiver, such as working with elderly people, or those with disabilities, or victims of illness.

    Any or all of these types might stimulate an interest in public service, the training of agents of social change, which can also be a distinct type of its own.