The next 45 years

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Jon Marcus looks at the challenges facing international education over the next 45 years

International education has always been a patchwork. Models and requirements are different, depending on where in the world you are. But now, more than ever, education systems and institutions have something very much in common: change.

The changes that have taken place in education over the last 65 years have been described by Fernando Reimer, Director of International Education Policy at Harvard University, as “the most significant transformation that humanity has experienced.”

At the end of World War II, most children around the world did not have the opportunity to set foot in a school. Today, the reverse is true. “That’s a huge advancement,” says Reimer. “That this is happening in poor countries and rich countries gives us tremendous opportunities.”

Who can predict how far education will have changed when the IB celebrates its 90th anniversary in 45 years?

New technology is changing the way that knowledge is communicated in an evolution that promises to vastly expand, and lower the cost of, learning. More people than ever have access to all levels of education, which has become definitively global in a time when boundaries are blurring. Academic credentials are becoming easier to transfer, making education far more mobile.

Governments are recognizing the essential connection between education and economic development. But alongside these opportunities are, undoubtedly, many challenges. Some are already beginning to affect education systems around the world, and some will rear their heads in the medium and longer terms.

A fixation on standardized examinations in primary and secondary education has already forced some schools to teach to the tests by emphasizing memorization at the expense of problem solving. Educators are finding themselves caught between new and traditional methods of learning.

In many countries, just as education has become available to more people – and even though governments have recognized its urgency – it has fallen victim to austerity measures. While the opportunity for an education is being extended to an unprecedented number of children, attendance and graduation rates for primary and secondary school students vary widely.

And, in many parts of the world, the growing demand for higher education has outstripped the ability to provide it. “Public institutions simply don’t have the capacity, no matter how much money they’re given. You can build a building in 18 months, but you can’t build a faculty in 18 months,” says Allan Goodman, CEO and President of the Institute of International Education.

That raises quality concerns, he says. The quality and suitability of existing curricula to prepare students for the rapidly changing world is also being called into question. Standardized testing has, argues Reimer, led to an approach that is “absolutely 20th-century” because it neglects crucial areas such as goal setting, self-directed learning, planning for the long term and reflecting on and learning from experiences.

For many, a 21st-century education means making better use of new technology, and shifting to teaching students online. This has the potential to vastly expand access to, and bring down the cost of, education. Learning outside the conventional classroom is not entirely new.

Distance learning courses and ‘open’ universities are long established. But advances in technology have widened the potential of distance learning and its ability to reach even into the lowest grades. No- and low-cost international startups were among the first to collect free online courses and assemble them into programmes of study, and now the world’s top universities – some of which initially resisted the free-course movement – are diving into the fray with massively open online courses (MOOCs), which can serve tens of thousands of students at a time.

And while the effectiveness of online learning has yet to be thoroughly researched – and it is unlikely to remain free as providers figure out ways to charge for assessment tests and other services – it’s already changing and internationalizing education radically.

It is impossible to predict exactly what education will look like when the IB turns 90 in 2058. Perhaps classrooms will be a thing of the past, replaced by online learning in the home. Countries that are lagging behind in the education stakes right now might overtake traditional leaders to be at the forefront of learning development. Only one thing is for sure – the world of international education won’t have stood still.

Facing the future

Three senior members of the IB team explain how the organization is planning for the coming years

Dr Siva Kumari
Chief Operating Officer, IB Schools Division

We are working to become better partners for our schools as they implement IB programmes. Until now, our services have focused on supporting schools’ transition from candidacy to authorization, with evaluations every few years.

But schools are asking us to provide more services along the way. We are currently investigating ways to help and I hope we will be able to offer a wide range of new services to our schools in the future. What could those services look like?

We will pay closer attention to the ongoing evaluation of IB World Schools; we want to make sure our stakeholders – coordinators, teachers, and heads of schools – understand how to gain value from IB programmes every year, and how IB programmes contribute to and enhance schools’ own aims for improvement.

These services will be important as our programmes gain recognition worldwide. We are working with governments in Malaysia, Japan, Spain, Ecuador and Chicago, USA, to implement the IB programmes on a wide scale.

This is a significant evolution for the IB, but one that we have to go about carefully and deliberately; we want to ensure that these systems are able to adopt the IB at a reasonable pace and in a way that benefits the most students and teachers.

I relish the opportunity to continue to learn from implementing the IB programmes in international schools, and we should never lose sight of their importance. But it is great to see how our philosophy can be accessed by many more students when national systems adopt an international education. It is very exciting to see a country like Japan want to introduce and implement our programmes.

The IB will continue to make a significant contribution to the field of international education over the coming years. We are investing heavily in independent academic research; in the next five years or so, I am hoping studies will grow exponentially as the reports we commission give researchers the opportunity to look into further academic questions, and build on the research that is out there.

This research will, in turn, enable the IB to better inform decision-makers about our programmes. We also need to continue to increase universities’ awareness of the IB. We have already started working with universities more closely, through our World Student Conferences and teacher-education programmes.

We have worked purposefully to increase participation from universities in our conferences and will continue to work to ensure that they recognize the value of an IB student.

Judith Fabian
Chief Academic Officer

Concept-based teaching and learning, and more flexible approaches to learning generally, will be hugely important topics in education over the next few years.

The IB has a significant contribution to make to this debate. Concept-based education focuses on big ideas, on helping students to understand why something is important, and how to connect ideas across disciplines.

This has always been a major part of the PYP, and is being strengthened in the MYP, IB Diploma Programme and IBCC. There will also be a much greater focus on how students learn, with Approaches to Learning adopted as a key component in all four programmes.

This will help students to become successful learners not only in IB programmes, but in their lives after school. Big changes are coming to the MYP in 2014 (read page 4 for more).

As well as concept-based teaching and learning, and strengthening the programme’s international dimension, we are introducing optional, external eAssessments. This innovation will help us achieve greater recognition of the programme in different parts of the world.

The PYP is undergoing a review that aims to build on its existing strengths, increase access for schools and provide the best possible educational experience for current and future generations of young students. We are examining every aspect of the framework, from its founding principles and philosophy, to the support the IB provides for its implementation in schools.

Technology is opening up all sorts of exciting possibilities, such as offering an IB education to students outside IB World Schools. We are already doing this through the IB Open World Schools pilot, where students can study IB Diploma Programme courses online, linked to an IB World School.

In the future, we hope to be able to offer our schools the choice of taking full IB Diploma Programme courses, or modules or options within courses, online as part of a blended learning model. Interest in the IBCC, especially from state schools, has been very encouraging. Its combination of the academic and the vocational is clearly meeting a real need. We are planning to strengthen our presence in the field of vocational education and explore new vocational partnerships.

The IB is engaged in a scenario-planning exercise that asks us to look ahead 10 to 20 years and consider how the IB will need to adapt to what the future may be like. It has raised some very interesting questions that provide stimulating and provocative triggers for discussions about the future.

Carolyn Adams
Chief Assessment Officer

Since 2009, we have revolutionized the way our examiners mark candidates’ work. Less than four years after the transition started, nearly all examination scripts are marked onscreen via a system known as eMarking.

Additionally, we are working towards enabling all candidates’ coursework to be uploaded digitally so that too can be marked or moderated onscreen.

This system of marking enables examiners to mark in any secure location and we can more easily manage the flow of work and ensure that marking is reliable. However, such progressive steps are not without their challenges.

In May 2013, we introduced electronic coursework submission for visual arts, which unfortunately proved to be a challenging experience for many schools.

Following a survey sent to schools, more than 500 teachers and coordinators have volunteered to participate in a support group formed to help us improve the system for uploading visual arts work.

We intend to implement whatever improvements are possible before the November 2013 examination session, followed by more substantial improvements ahead of the May 2014 session. These days, working onscreen is arguably more familiar to IB students than working on paper.

The IB’s first venture into onscreen assessment will be with the Middle Years Programme, which is now developing externally-marked examinations to complement the programme’s already rigorous internal assessment model.

MYP onscreen examinations will offer a variety of stimulus materials in different media formats – including video, photographs and audio clips – as well as opportunities for students to respond in innovative formats.

Students who participate in the MYP’s optional eAssessments will have a rich and authentic learning experience, and IB World Schools will benefit from reliable feedback about students’ achievements. MYP eAssessment trials are scheduled for October 2013, with feedback from students and coordinators shared with the IB community in the first quarter of 2014.

The first MYP onscreen examinations in selected subjects are planned for June 2015. A wider range of eAssessments, which will contribute to the award of the new MYP Certificate, will be available from June 2016.