Where would you begin if you were designing an education system from the ground up?

If you could take all the pieces, toss them up in the air, what might education look like?

Generally, like a wet-weather game of football, these discussions quickly descend into a mud fight, with punches thrown over what to put in, what to take out, and what it's all for.

The bigger question here, though, is what it even means to be educated? Beyond qualifications, or admission to universities and further training, this question harkens back to perhaps a more classical sense of education, education as a process.

Last year, Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director General of the International Baccalaureate, wrote in an article for the International Schools Journal, that, "the challenges confronting us today are … more complex, more global, and more multifaceted", and that "while we must not ignore the need to transfer knowledge and culture between generations … We now need to think about developing capabilities and skillsets that will help a new generation to cope and then flourish".

What is clear then, is that to be educated has to mean something richer and thicker than the ability to master content alone.

The Israeli academic Anat Zohar, argues what is needed is higher-order thinking, thinking that is "non-algorithmic…complex … yield[ing] multiple criteria and solutions" and involving "uncertainty".

Easy. Right?

Globally, educational systems are trying to deal with this. Singapore has emphasised problem-based learning in its most recent curriculum design, and what the Brookings Institute described as a shift to holistic outcomes. Israel has been at this task for a while, explicitly teaching higher order thinking and ethical reasoning. In its most recent 16+ Programme Review, the International Baccalaureate recognised this in its pilot programme of Systems Transformation Pathway: Leadership for Just Futures, which will have students focus on tackling four global issues: Biodiversity, Energy, Food and Migration, in place of two examination based subjects.

However, even the most ambitious voyages into these seas encounter cultural headwinds. Mike Tyson (more boxer than philosopher) said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." He could just as easily have been talking about education reform and the challenges of examinations and university entrance.

However, there is a rich dividend to be yielded by creating learning contexts where this type of thinking is required, where students learn to conquer the theory, approach problems systematically, collect data, make meaning, reach conclusions, and defend those conclusions.

One of the reasons we are proud to offer the IB Diploma to our students is because of the transformation we see in students through the process of the Extended Essay, an inependent, self-directed piece of research culminating in a 4,000-word paper and a core component of the IB Diploma.

Complex problems and multidisciplinary solutions.

It demands that students engage with the complex challenges they see around them. Sacha Faneco speaks of his passion for sustainable development and planning policy:

"I conducted primary research and decided to explore liveability levels of Perth suburbs through the creation of a relative index. I was able to come to perceptive conclusions regarding the impact of distance from CBDs on liveability, and the significance of environmental components on affecting the liveability of suburbs."

Likewise, Tom Gray explains:

"I began to develop a strong affinity for my electives of Biology and Economics. Having discussed the novel biotechnology of alternative proteins in class, I wanted to explore its applicability as a technology, but straight away, I saw that I actually needed to adopt an interdisciplinary focus for my study."

These are students who are engaging with the world around them, identifying problems, and exploring those problems. That also reflects a sense of agency, of student-choice in setting the direction of their study, driven by their curiosity.


A significant part of their transformation induced by the Extended Essay is their capacity to evaluate and make informed decisions, working their way through setbacks and uncertainty. Sacha says,

"I began my Extended Essay (EE) with a strong interest in exploring transport networks and was intrigued by METRONET, but after preliminary research and investigation, I recognised the available data set was too limited because the policy had not been in place long enough to reach conclusions."

Tom describes that same process in similar terms, that the Extended Essay engaged him in "challenging data and source exploration", and says:

"Through this process, I developed my understanding of the many factors at play in the biotechnology and food production sectors. Furthermore, as I struggled with confining the scope of my investigation, I developed my skills in analysing lengthy research papers, designing credible approaches of inquiry, and synthesising information into writing. As a result, my academic thinking and techniques have matured and improved, preparing me well for University."

Developing young men ready to take on the world.

The perspectives from these students' experiences, though, makes the genuinely complex and challenging nature of the task worthwhile.

Tom describes the Extended Essay as "truly impactful":

"I feel I've learnt to recognise my potential to learn and progress in the face of unknowns, and to my benefit, I graduate with a greater confidence to tackle challenges and take risks."

Sacha reflected on his Extended Essay programme, explaining:

"It ingrained in me the significance of discipline and persistence, not solely in academic research, but across all educational endeavors. I gradually fostered a sense of independence."

If nothing else, this is the character and dispositions we want to see Scotch boys emerge with, ready for life beyond school.

Around the world, the question of how we educate, of what education ought to look like is hardly simple. At Scotch, we offer learning contexts that challenge students to engage with the world around them, to apprehend that world in its complexity, and to build the skills, strategies and dispositions to face them head on.

Brendan Zani
IB Diploma Coordinator

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