How Design Thinking can transform our education systems

How Design Thinking can transform our education systems

Pauline Verhaeghe's picture

Design for Change is transforming education by empowering children to be masters of their own knowledge. Through a simple four-step process, they are providing children with much needed 21st century skills.  

To learn more about the role of design thinking in education, read the interview of Kiran Sethi, founder of Design for Change.


What are the skills a child needs to master to become an active Changemaker?

For students to believe in themselves and the impact they can have, they need to be active, informed and responsible – willing and able to take responsibility and contribute to social change. Riverside’s Citizenship Curriculum is a structured program – from Grade 1 until Grade 12 – that inculcates values and consciousness that help shape the outlook of participants, permanently shifting their attitude to be more proactive change agents. By going through this process, children do not simply perform community-based activities, but develop a mindset where caring about others is essential.

The emphasis of the current educational system is on students being ‘the fastest, the strongest, the smartest’ and not on teaching students to care. Success is measured more by academic outcomes rather than student well-being. The Riverside School, started in 2001 with the belief that children will do well if they do good, has built a model which focuses on children learning both content and compassion. Classroom experiences are designed to get children excited about math, science, literature, and care about ethics, excellence and engagement. The relevance of the classroom content and its application in the real world context is made visible to students. Through action-based projects, they are empowered to turn their awareness into action, which leads to both transformation within them and the world around them.

How are you disrupting education today?

My team and I have reimagined education from the child’s perspective. Our work focuses on empowering children to believe in themselves and be fearless about the decisions and choices they make. Schools often remove choice from children’s life, thus building a mind set of “I can’t”, scripting their understanding of who they are and what they can achieve. Instead, our work focuses on instilling the ‘I can’ mind set, where every child realises that they are not helpless and they can make a difference. Inculcated through a simple four-step design thinking process – Feel-Imagine-Do-Share (FIDS) – the ‘I can’ (or design thinking mind set) focuses on encouraging children to be more optimistic, collaborative and human-centred. It gives them creative confidence and prepares them as global citizens to deal with uncertainty, develop an open mind towards accepting multiple perspectives and, very importantly, gets them to respect each other as equals by appreciating each one’s unique strengths. Thus, embedding design mindset in education builds the critical 21st century skills in children.

Why is it essential for children to learn through play?

Learning should be a natural process rather than being a forced activity or a burden on children. Just as naturally as children enjoy playing, they should be allowed to have the joyful opportunities of learning. Learning through play builds from children’s curiosity and gives them a chance to discover their own strengths and passion. Learning through play allows children to experiment; to fail and try again, as it removes all their fear. This has a positive impact on their social emotional well-being as well, therefore learning through play is the only true means to learning.

What has been the community’s reaction to your work?

The concept of design thinking incorporated in Design For Change makes it essential to understand the perspectives of all stakeholders involved in the problem and therefore works through a participatory approach. Similarly to many of the student-led projects, the community has played a huge role, or the projects have led to community mobilization – this results in community engagement and contribution. Children have used this knowledge and spread the word in their own communities – the process of empowerment keeps on snowballing.

For example, in 2009, a group of 10-year-olds in Rajasthan, India got the people in their village together to carry out some simple and effective ideas for harvesting rainwater. In 2012, on the other side of the world, some 13-year-olds at the Emiliano Zapata Middle School in Mexico, decided that their school needed a civic square. They succeeded in uniting the entire Los Timbres community to build it with them.


- Design for Change is a Champion of the Re-imagine Learning Challenge launched by Ashoka and the LEGO Foundation.

Ashoka and the LEGO Foundation believe in the need to re-imagine learning and in the importance of play as the best way for children to develop critical skills and engage them as creative changemakers.

We are selecting and supporting the first global network of social innovators to re-imagine learning for the 21st century. For more information, check out our website, follow us on Twitter with #play2learn and on Facebook

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