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the following is an excerpt from the NHK easy article: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/k10012946031000/k10012946031000.html

そして、災害に強い町にするためにどうしたらいいか、生徒が自分で考えるようになっています

DeepL translates the sentence as:

The students are then encouraged to think for themselves about what they can do to make their town more resilient to disasters.

I understand that ようになる is used when referring to a change in state (or ability, if potential form + ようになる). However, I don't really understand how 考えるようになっています is equivalent to "encouraged to think". Is the sense of "encouragement" coming from the fact that the grammar form is in the continuous っている? - i.e. active/continuous entering into a state of thinking (literal)?

Hope this makes sense :s

EDIT: it appears ようになっている is supposed to mean something along the lines of "designed to do" - if so, this makes more sense - can anyone confirm?

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You have answered your question in the edit. 考えるようになっています can mean either "[people] are (now) starting to think" or "[something] is made/designed so that [people] think" depending on the context. In this context, the topic of the article is the new textbooks, and students have not even started to use them. So it clearly means the latter. The DeepL translation seems already good, but alternatively you can translate it like this:

そして、災害に強い町にするためにどうしたらいいか、生徒が自分で考えるようになっています。

[The textbook] makes students think for themselves about...

[The textbook] is designed/written so that students think for themselves about...

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