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 a sandpit with another toddler, free from the prejudice 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 benefit 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 the moral subject once a week, ending in an examination that requires students to memorize definitions raise gentlemen and ladies?
The International Baccalaureate (IB)’s solution to this question lie 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 listen 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 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 skillful 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.
By Dr Vincent Chian, Principal of Fairview International School KL