What is a constructivist education?
James Hatch

Progress is gauged upon how well students can apply, manipulate and transfer knowledge and skills to multiple situations.

A vital component of legitimate international education is its child centredness. Starting in the late 1950s and formalising with the establishment of the IBO in 1968, international schools follow what is known as a ‘constructivist model’ of education. While there are several approaches to this model, they all coalesce around the belief that children learn best, when they are active participants in building their learning and know why they are learning something. Some leading figures in the field which shaped the unfolding of modern international school learning are Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget . 

When the IB was constructing its approach to learning, it drew heavily upon all of these theories (Hill, 2012). In particular, beliefs around stages of development where a child progresses from simple to more complex levels of knowledge, inquiry, communication and application underpin this approach to learning. A child moves from a self-centred understanding of the world then to one where they are part of a community and finally to exploring the world through its symbols and structures.  Such an approach is underpinned by a learning loop which binds parents/guardians, child and school together in a mutually supportive relationship.

Efforts are aimed to develop and enable skills and knowledge such as communication, inquiry and multilingualism which permit learning for a long life. The emphasis is on learning how to learn, rather than rote memorisation for a test. Of course, learning is built upon blocks of knowledge, and as such students will encounter and know ‘information’, however, it is not the endpoint of their education. Instead, progress is gauged upon how well students can apply, manipulate and transfer knowledge and skills to multiple situations (known as transdisciplinary skills).

A second core component of the constructivist approach to pedagogy is the development of intrapersonal (self-reflective) and interpersonal (between people) skills with a commitment to service-learning (learning where students reach out to others). It seeks to move the child beyond the confines of their self, family, social and national units to enable meaningful participation at local and global levels.  This process of learning, reflecting and serving is called ‘reflexive’ and is a cornerstone of top-quality international education.


Hill, I. (2012). Evolution of education for international mindedness. Journal of Research in International Education, 11(3), 245–261.


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