Transcending borders: The IB systemic approach to educating the whole person


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The International Baccalaureate (IB) education system is one of seven educational systems globally recently recognized in a report by the Brookings Institution as setting high expectations for both academic learning and holistic student development.

The case study indicates that by including a focus on all aspects of a student, not just the academic, the IB offers a transformational educational experience for students compared to traditional systems that focus primarily on academics.

“One chief way the IB system adapts to myriad national contexts is through its robust educational infrastructure, which balances providing guidance to teachers and schools that foster the system’s desired outcomes while leaving space for local agency and adaptation,” said Whitney Hegseth, visiting researcher at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College and author of the case study.

The IB case case study, focusing on the Primary Years Programme (PYP), explores the work of building and rebuilding education systems to support holistic student development in seven education systems—situated in high, middle and low-middle-income countries with democratic traditions—as they make the whole child the centre of their work.  

Whitney Hegseth noted, “what drew me to the IB system—as a researcher, but also as a former teacher and current parent—is the mutual respect that it accords to students. IB's approach to teaching and learning works to intervene in power asymmetries that are commonly found in schools, both between teachers and students and among diverse groups of students. My hope is that my research on IB can offer some language and a frame for better understanding of interactions between the broader political and sociocultural environment, the instructional supports of the IB system, and the teaching and learning that can be found in IB classrooms. Understanding such interactions is a first step toward supporting the robust implementation of IB worldwide.”

As referenced in the executive summary, “Schools undergo a cultural change when implementing the PYP, promoting international mindedness, a culture of ongoing assessment and reflection, and a series of holistic attitudes. Even as the IB system endeavors to impact nearly all facets of classroom life, there is room for adaptation at every level as students, teachers, and schools undergo the changes required by the IB system.”

The Primary Years Programme (PYP) focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in school and in the world beyond. The PYP offers a transformative experience for students, teachers and whole school communities and delivers excellent outcomes by providing an education that is engaging, relevant, challenging and significant.  

The PYP Exhibition, one of the final experiences of the Primary Years Programme (PYP), represents a part of their learning development and requires students to engage in a collaborative transdisciplinary inquiry process that involves them in identifying, investigating and offering solutions to real-life issues or problems.