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Learning to See the World: Application of Design Thinking in Education

Learning to See the World: Application of Design Thinking in Education

by Esther Clark , the Director of External Relations and Communications at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador.


The purpose of education is learning; learning to see the world, critique it, interact with it and relate with it. There’s a quote by the writer E.M. Forster that says:

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

If we expect education to help members of our society to build things such as a business, a rocket ship, a masterpiece, a software program, or a soccer team, we must teach young people to see the possibilities of creating something relevant, innovative, and meaningful. Education should attempt to show the world in all its complexity.

Today’s Latin American youth are already interacting with the world. We live in highly transaction- based environments. Recent studies show that in certain cases, our attention span is a mere eight seconds. But education is not a zero sum game. It is not necessary for education to compete with these distractions in order to gain a foothold in the lives of young people. Instead, we need to reframe these “distractions” and invite more interaction from community, business, family, arts, or sports in the realm of education. Overspecialization or excessive focus on one aspect of education detracts from the overall learning experience.

One of the current crises facing education in the region of Latin America is that young people – from all walks of life – are not finding relevance in formal education. Graduate XXI has generated some amazing solutions from a diverse community of what can be done about the 50% school desertion rate in Latin America. It’s a topic that concerns us all.

My idea is the application of design thinking to education in Latin America. Design thinking is about designing something – in this case education – for the heart (emotions) as well as the hand (practice). If we apply design thinking to education in Latin America we would start with the question: “what would an ideal educational experience look like?” and then go on to engineer that experience. We would look at the entire educational experience – in and outside the classroom – to see where we can improve the experience; whether it be making travel to and from school safer or giving more autonomy to teachers – the lifeblood of education and learning.

One real life example of this can be found with “”; a European initiative that reframes education as a learning expedition. It is a multidisciplinary approach to education; it lets young people be creative as well as learn the skills required to take their creations and put them into practice. Referring to E.M. Forster’s quote, why not ask “what might a spoon look like for an alien?” of “how might we replace the spoon?”

Rather than look at how we can identify youth at risk of leaving school, why not ask what an ideal educational experience for those youth would look like? Why should we look at alternative education after a student has left school when we can offer a richer and more relevant learning experience at the very start of a student’s voyage of discovery and learning?

We all have the innate ability to create and that’s why learning to see the world is the most valuable education we can give our young people. By embracing the complexities of life in Latin America – rather than ask a student to choose between family, friends, economic subsistence, community, or non-conventional goals and aspirations – we can expect higher levels of engagement, participation and interaction with education and schooling and drive down school desertion rates.

Author’s note: This is a longer version of an idea I submitted to Graduate XXI on the subject of high school desertion rates in Latin America. This idea was chosen as one of the top three finalists in the Graduate XXI competition sponsored by the Inter American Development Bank.

Esther Clark is the Director of External Relations and Communications at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador. Follow @ClarkEsther and connect with her on LinkedIn.


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