By Stefanie Leong, Head of Development and Recognition, Asia Pacific, International Baccalaureate (IB)

In 2021, the requirement for us all to be more adaptable, to think on our feet, and to be well-equipped to utilise the tools around us in the face of uncertainty, has never been more relevant.

As detailed by Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, in his book Whiplash: How to Survive Our Fast Future, in a digital society full of complexity and uncertainty what we need (and what our students require) are less maps and more compasses. 

For Ito, a map implies pre-defined, unchanging knowledge of the terrain around us as well as the existence of a single best route or pathway. But in a world and workforce that is constantly changing, static maps no longer apply. The compass, on the other hand, “is a far more flexible tool that requires the user to employ creativity and autonomy in discovering his or her own path.”

For some time now we have been living in a rapidly accelerating digital world; and with the impact of COVID-19, the need for us to accept and incorporate technology into our everyday lives is more prominent than ever. From the smart devices in our pockets, to the endless streams on popular social media networks, we are now linked with one another and to all prior human data, information and knowledge in countless convergent ways. This situation has profound implications for the school students of today. 

If the digital age is about interactions and systems rather than static, stable objects and “things”, we must ensure how we learn, teach and assess the outcomes of education is reflective of this change. In this new digital world, it no longer suffices for students to passively study pre-established unchanging content to be recalled or evidenced in archaic analogue formats. This isn’t education for a digital age, but a series of lost opportunities. 

It is now the calling of educators to empower students to forge their own way through this data-immersed and media-rich landscape. The role of the teacher is to give students the compass - the skills they need - to effectively navigate the fourth industrial revolution which is already upon us. 

As we look ahead to the future of education, we must consider the requirements of the future workplace. Indeed, the successful workers of both today and of the future need to be flexible and mobile, and more skilled than ever before in adaptability, reflection and self-direction. The need for direct skills and knowledge is constantly diminishing; as we lose the ability to predict what the careers of the future will look like, it is in the development of inquiring, curious and critical learners that schools can best serve the workforce of the future. 

In our increasingly interconnected world, the importance of being able to communicate across cultural boundaries also comes to the fore. No longer are we limited to engaging with those inside of our local network; we have endless possibilities to connect with, to learn from, to trade between, and to develop relationships with individuals from all over the globe. We have an unmissable opportunity to build a global network of collaborators and colleagues, and, as such, international mindedness – a view of the world in which people see themselves as connected to the global community and assume a sense of responsibility to its members – is a characteristic that has never been more critical to success. In this modern world, schools can help foster this mindset by offering a curriculum that combines local and global contexts and reflects international and multi-cultural perspectives.  Educators can encourage language learning as a tool to overcome cultural boundaries. And, they can foster global awareness by creating opportunities for students to explore their role and their understanding of global issues outside of the classroom context. 

At the International Baccalaureate (IB) we have been foregrounding the value of conceptually rich, holistic, creative and collaborative approaches to education for over 50 years. Through a unique curriculum with high academic standards, we champion critical thinking and flexibility for learning by crossing disciplinary, cultural and national boundaries. Currently, more than 1.95 million IB students attend over 5,300 schools across 158 countries. Our internationally minded approach delivers learning through fostering empathy, neurolinguistic diversity and cultural respect. This learning methodology moves past knowledge transfer, to knowledge use, analysis and innovation. 

More than half of the world’s population is currently under the age of 30, making this the biggest generation of children and young people the planet has ever seen. These young people are inheriting a world which will challenge them in unprecedented ways, and it is the responsibility of school leaders, educators, parents and guardians to work together in empowering them to rise to these challenges. The discussion around what makes for an effective education has been debated for decades. But, few would dispute that across the globe we need to develop young people who are well prepared for life in an inter-connected 21st century, able to contribute to a better, more peaceful world. 

This is the driving principle behind everything that IB World Schools do: ‘education for a better world’. The IB’s innovative framework of education offers schools an opportunity to develop young people who not only have the capacity, but also the motivation, to rise to the challenges of the future and create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and, even more importantly, respect. 

Now is our opportunity to tear up the map book and explore new pathways of education. By giving students their own toolkit of skills, their own compass in which to navigate, we can effectively prepare them to take on the unknowns of tomorrow as successful, global citizens, who are equipped to contribute to a better world.