Be Positioned to Make the World a Better Place

By Debi Caskey, Deputy Head of School for Learning, International School Bangkok

Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is quoted as saying: “I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place.”

The purpose of education has, traditionally, been to prepare students for a future that is predictable. It should position students to get a job, be self-sufficient, and contribute to their community.

Professor David Perkins, in his book Future Wise Educating Our Children For a Changing World (2014) asks the question: what’s worth learning in school? Reading, writing and arithmetic no longer provide our learners with the range of skills they need to be successful in today’s highly connected and rapidly evolving global society. The Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum (2016) highlights the top ten skills that will be in demand in 2020. These include creativity, emotional intelligence, service orientation and coordinating with others. Schools are looking beyond their walls and beyond their field to try to predict and prepare their students for a future not yet imagined.

Contemporary research also demonstrates a strong connection between student achievement and social and emotional learning. Social-emotional learning provides students with experiences beyond academic content through which they can develop these interpersonal skills, social and global awareness, goal setting and attainment, and emotional well-being. CASEL, the Cooperative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, cites studies from the University of Illinois in Chicago, Loyola University and the University of British Columbia that show a positive impact on academic achievement when students are engaged in this type of social-emotional learning. International School Bangkok (ISB) also conducted research in this area in 2016, with the aim to ensure students are provided with the knowledge and skills needed to flourish in what is a dramatically changing global society.

Teams of educators from ISB reached out to industry leaders such as Google, Tesla, and Instagram to find out what they look for in successful employees. The team met with universities such as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley to learn what characteristics they are looking for in applicants and which skills those institutions see will help students to graduate and make a positive contribution in the workforce. The team visited other innovative schools and universities, and the entire ISB faculty researched changes and/or disruptions to global society. We used that research to respond to the question: what do we need to do now to prepare our students for such a rapidly changing world?

Through their visits, studies of professional research, and input from staff, students, parents and the community, the ISB team identified six learner attributes that encompass the crucial skills that students need for a successful future:

Creative – developing new and imaginative ideas that have impact
Globally minded – invested in the world and its people, embracing diversity, and aware of the impact of actions on local and global communities
Adaptable – responding appropriately and with flexibility to ambiguous or changing circumstances
Socially-intelligent – recognizing personal emotions and those of others, managing responses productively and collaborating effectively
Value-driven – guided by our ISB Values, promoting positive citizenship and fostering personal meaning
Self-managing – independently directing, monitoring, and evaluating personal behaviors, goals and time

As part of the research and development of ISB’s key beliefs and desired attributes for learners, the school vision was revised to reflect the importance of contributing to a vastly diverse and changing global society: Enriching communities through the intellectual, humanitarian, and creative thoughts and actions of our learners.

A 2016 report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, highlights the impact that college admissions processes and priorities have on school programming. The report recommends that application processes for admissions focus more on meaningful social impact rather than strictly on academic achievement and resumes that are a mile wide and an inch deep. Universities are encouraged to look at how applicants present a balance between academic achievement contributions to families and communities beyond short-term volunteering and projects.

Every generation sees change, but the rate at which our world is growing and the needs of world citizens changing requires that schools be responsive and flexible in how they are preparing students for a future that they will create. This can be achieved through the embedding of attributes such as creativity, self-management and social intelligence to support and enhance high levels of academic rigor. Schools, educators, and parents need to place greater emphasis on social-emotional learning and skills development, along with understanding the importance of giving back and enriching the world in which we live. As Howard Gardner says, “…be positioned to make [the world] a better place.”

www.isb.ac.th