Monday 22 Apr 2024
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On the first of January, Fast Company published an article by Jennie Yang on the "essential human skills needed for 2023" which outlined the most important soft skills required for businesses and organisations to thrive in the year ahead. The article argues that it is no longer enough to set organisational goals, revenue targets and KPI's, but that leaders need to help build characteristics such as empathy, effective communication and critical thinking in order to help employees withstand their own challenges while they strive to meet those of the organisation concurrently.

As an educator, articles like this continue to surprise me because while the importance of building these skills may still be somewhat novel in the business world, for more than 50 years the International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes have been prioritising these skills for more than half a century.

Having been with IB schools for nearly 20 years, as the current Head of IGB International School (IGBIS)- Malaysia's only four programme IB continuum school to offer the suite of IB programmes from early years right through to Grade 12 - I have had countless conversations about what makes the IB approach different from other school models. Although the answers are myriad, the Fast Company article connects to at least three distinct areas where IGBIS's philosophy and approach sets students up for success not only in 2023, but in the 21st century and beyond: by building a sense of inclusion and belonging, by taking a student-centred approach to learning, and by focussing on skills that are transdisciplinary.

There is a Theodore Roosevelt quote that says, "No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care"; a line that perfectly encapsulates why inclusion in all of its forms has been a central pillar for IGBIS since our founding. As Yang wrote in her article, organisations must create a sense of psychological safety in order to allow employees to operate free of fear and anxiety in order to thrive. At IGBIS, our diversity sets the stage for our school being a microcosm of the wider world where all students are respected and welcome irrespective of their culture, religion, nationality, academic ability or how they choose to identify. Diversity alone does not guarantee cohesion, however, our +35 nationalities are a wonderful platform upon which to help students understand the IB mission statement's perspective that "other people, with their differences, can also be right." Whether in a multi-cultural Malaysia or elsewhere in a largely globalised world, going to school in a diverse setting where students feel - and learn to make others feel - a sense of belonging is an integral first step to maximising learning in all of its forms.

Making sure that students feel a sense of belonging requires teachers to recognise and know them as individuals. Beyond demonstrating that we care, this also sets the stage for teachers to plan the curriculum with students at the centre. To know whether that was true for you as a student, reflect on your own educational experience (assuming you were not in an IB school of course) and ask yourself these questions:

  • Were assessments, standards, content and tests at the centre of my education or was I?
  • How much choice, influence or agency did I have in my own learning?
  • Did I bend to fit the programme or did the programme bend towards me?
  • When did my curiosity die?

The vast majority of curricula around the world, including those found most commonly in Malaysia, remain heavy in content, assessment and testing and that require students to fit the programme instead of the other way around. Although IB schools have set curriculum, standards and assessment, our inquiry-based approach starts with students in mind - their interests, passions, abilities and curiosities - before deciding what is taught and learned. As students progress through to Grade 12, there is a shift towards preparation for the IB exams, however, when schools focus on exams earlier than that, they shift the focus away from genuine learning towards test preparation instead. This student-centred approach helps set the stage for students to become future-ready.

In order to be ready for the Institute for the Future's next decade in which 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 are yet to be invented, our students - your children - will need a combination of transferable and "soft skills" in order to remain flexible as they learn, unlearn and relearn repeatedly. UNESCO's definition of "soft skills" includes elements echoed in the Yang article to encompass things such as "empathy, leadership, sense of responsibility, integrity, self-esteem, self-management, motivation, flexibility, sociability, time management and making decisions." UNESCO goes further to highlight that the term 'soft skills' is used in contrast "to 'hard' skills that are considered as more technical, highly specific in nature and particular to an occupation, and that can be (generally) taught more easily than soft skills." Despite them not being easy to teach, these skills have been central to the IB programmes for years as transdisciplinary skills and the Approaches to Learning. Explicitly teaching students to manage their time, their emotions, their relationships and more is central to what IGBIS does; not an afterthought if we have time. In a world where automation and AI threaten an enormous range of jobs in the ASEAN region and beyond, these soft, transferable skills are what will allow our students to thrive in non-routine interpersonal roles long into the future; a place where AI is unlikely to replace us in the medium term at least.

Although IGBIS is an inclusive, student-centred and future-focussed school, our students continue to do well on traditional metrics as well. Our school has consistently been 4-5 points above the IB global average, however in 2022 we were thrilled to be Malaysia's highest scoring IBDP programme with an average of 40 points, nearly eight points higher than the global average. Although it is not the entire picture, we see that incredible achievement as the natural consequence of aiming to raise great human beings with the drive to make the world more cohesive and ready for whatever the future holds for them.

For more information about IGB International School (IGBIS) and the programmes we offer, please visit our website. For further inquiries, contact us at +603 6145 4688 or email us at [email protected]. To learn more about us, feel free to join our Open Days on Saturday, 28 January 2023 from 10.00 am to 12.30 pm and Friday, 10 February 2023 from 2.00 pm to 3.30 pm. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on all that is happening at IGBIS.

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