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IB curriculum hones independent thinking

I have personally watched the growth of IBDP in the last couple of years with fascination. IB came to India in 1976 with only one school and 95 Indian schools have introduced the IB curriculum. Each stakeholder in the education sector has a different take on this growing trend.

Many families, in my experience, are blindly attracted to the IB, taken in by the trend of an “AC School”, while others scoff at these so called privileged institutions catering exclusively to the well-heeled with exam timing not exactly in sync with the Indian University admission. Some parents choose IB for the curriculum that enables a student to develop a questioning mind. The schools, driven by their commercial interests and prodded by the demand for a more modern education system are converting to become IB World Schools. Given the speed at which the schools are shifting to IB it makes a further analysis of its curriculum crucial. The reason for the success of IB amongst Indian students is not difficult to understand.

Keeping pace

Indians today no longer wish to see the world from a narrow totalitarian perspective and the growing candlelight vigils around us are testimony to this fact. But is the Indian education eco-system dominated by ISC, CBSE and State boards, changing to reflect this social transition? Indian education boards are slowly modifying themselves to adapt to the world around us but a lot of it is too little too late. A large number of parents have indicated a lack of confidence in the Indian school boards and started a trend of sending their children to schools teaching the international curriculums like the International Baccalaureate (IB).

On a very functional level the IBDP curriculum does not narrow a students options in artificial containers like science, arts or commerce. An IBDP student is blessed with the requirement of studying six subjects one each from science, math (depending upon ability), social science, two languages and art. Thus in immediate terms when a student graduates from an IBDP programme a large number of career options are still open to them. If a student, for instance, has taken Chemistry, Psychology, Economics and Maths then they can be in a better position to choose any of these subjects for the Bachelors degree.

A different approach

The immediate career decision making benefits aside are there any long-term advantages of having a student study a diverse range of courses one may wonder? The answer to that is not far to seek. Professional career life, as we all know, requires us to efficiently work within interdisciplinary teams. Thus in a world where technologists work alongside psychologists and designers to develop cutting edge consumer products it is not hard to imagine a student with a broad based academic training holding their own. However, the University system in India is still based on narrow parceling of subject streams thus if a student is planning to study further in India then it is important that they choose subject combinations more appropriate for entering the Indian colleges. In view of this the IBDP schools need to strengthen their counselling departments to effectively guide the students, pre and post the IBDP graduation, towards course selection and good placements. The acceptability of IB curriculum (with AIU approval) is growing in Indian colleges but it will be sometime before the Indian education system will actually value the IBDP students for the skills they can bring in the classroom and eventually the workplace.

Theory of Knowledge

Over and above the six subject groups students also study Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and write an extended essay. TOK is the essence of the educational philosophy behind IB. By raising questions, in the minds of the student, for instance about absoluteness of knowledge – the TOK curriculum helps introduce critical thinking and analytical ability, the key qualities all modern day professionals need to imbibe to succeed in their careers. However a question that may get posed is – do students who have been brought up to blindly question authority develop cognitive dissonance when they study TOK?  Well a lot depends upon how well TOK is taught. The purpose of the IB curriculum is not to generate discord but to encourage a student to step out of their comfort zone and question beliefs, values and knowledge as they exist and further contextualize that knowledge for themselves. This process can enable a student to be an open minded communicator through personal reflection.

  “The teacher’s role in initiating classroom discussions and handling differing points of view is vital in IB”  
 “The teacher’s role in initiating classroom discussions and handling differing points of view is vital in IB”  
 “The teacher’s role in initiating classroom discussions and handling differing points of view is vital in IB”  

The extended essay

Hand in hand with TOK another key element of IB is the Extended Essay. The extended essay gives an opportunity to the student to study one topic in-depth. They get experience in developing a question, researching and then most importantly write a 4000 word paper which culminates after doing substantial research. I don’t know of any other Indian school curriculum which provides such a wonderful opportunity for students to synthesize knowledge and develop analytical writing skills. However students who are under prepared for the independent and original thinking required in the IB curriculum can end up with low scores as very often they come from a tradition of memorizing facts rather than thinking about them. This is an area that IB schools need to address such that students are facilitated through the process of doing their IB and performing successfully in it.

Creativity, Action and Service ( CAS)

No discussion of IB is complete without a mention of CAS, which embodies a structure around various extra-curricular activities we do in our school days. The service aspect of CAS is fulfilled by doing social service activities, such as teaching under-privileged children. In a country like India where class distinctions are sharp I have noticed that this activity particularly brings about awareness about the challenging social issues surrounding Indian society today. The ongoing debate and the successful implementation of RTE in Indian schools can only strengthen the role that Service seeks to fulfill in the IB curriculum. But time will only tell if the efforts done by the students towards “Service” will help imbibe long-term and genuine empathy in the financially rich towards the underprivileged?

Teachers are students too

The absolute strength of IBDP curriculum lies in high quality teaching and assessment. The role of the teacher in initiating classroom discussions and handling different points of view is vital in the development and success of an IBDP student. The teacher just like the student needs to be an ongoing student of the subject, sharing and developing best practices continuously. Hence the lack of teacher training facilities in India for IB curriculum is a serious cause of concern. Even though the schools are providing in-service training for teachers to enrich the IB teaching, it is still a long road ahead for the IB schools before they can recruit and retain teachers who can flawlessly fulfill the above goal.

Thinking independently?

But is Indian society ready for students who can think for themselves, are tolerant and can articulate an opinion? The answer probably is that we can ill afford not to have a larger number of students who are independent thinkers. The relevance of IB education in India is immense as our education system is barely struggling to cope with the requirements of concareers360_cmsorary society. Though the world today needs people with a good memory and diligence (the key strengths of the Indian education boards), the foundation of success in the workplace is being able to analyze the given information, think for oneself, communicate with people of different perspectives and largely do self-directed learning.

The growth of various finishing schools in our country is a reflection of the fact that Indian industry is at one end poised to leap in the international arena and on the other is struggling to bring the workforce up-to speed with their vision. The IBDP students can well fill that lacuna provided the Indian education system can accept these students with open arms. However, the answer to the corporate dilemma of undertrained workforce is not just more high cost IBDP schools but a major overhaul of the Indian school education system such that vital thinking and learning skills are ingrained in the society at large at a more affordable cost!

Shivani Manchanda is a Career Consultant & Director of Career Track, Mumbai.

Post your queries and Shivani will be happy to respond!

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