“What is the IB Core?” - Unpacking the IB Diploma Programme

As we pass through the final stages of International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme accreditation and prepare to host our first cohort of IB Diploma Programme students in the 2021-2022 academic year, the community at Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi are reflecting on what impact this will have and the benefits it will bring in terms of helping our students Graduate Worldwise. In this article, our International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Coordinator, Marina Prozesky, unpacks the IB Core, and what this means for our students.

In a parent survey conducted earlier in the academic year, it became clear that our parents wanted to know more about the IB Diploma Programme. One area in particular that they highlighted was the IB Core. The Core elements of the IB Diploma Programme were originally introduced as a way to educate the whole person. It comprises three compulsory components:

  • Theory of Knowledge;
  • Creativity, Activity and Service; and
  • The Extended Essay.

These three components are linked through a common purpose: to broaden students’ educational experiences and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills.

Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is one reason why the IBDP is regarded as an outstanding program by leading universities across the globe. It teaches students critical thinking by asking the question, “How do we know what we know?” and is the golden thread that runs through all IBDP subjects.

TOK lessons often lead to stimulating discussions about complex issues found in our daily lives as students decide how reliable our knowledge really is. TOK discussions could include pondering whether our language defines our culture, or our culture our language; the extent to which we base our understanding of the world on feelings; or whether Mathematics was invented or has always existed, to name but a few examples.  The purpose is not for students to get answers to the questions, but rather to understand that knowledge is not absolute.

Students who embrace TOK are able to look critically at situations and realise that their own biases and frames of reference influence the way they think about the world, which is a vital skill for success at university.

Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS)

With its holistic approach, Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) is designed to strengthen and extend students’ personal and interpersonal learning through doing creative, active and service activities.

CAS enables students to demonstrate attributes of the IB learner profile in real and practical ways, to grow as unique individuals and to recognise their role in relation to others. Students develop skills, attitudes and dispositions through a variety of individual and group experiences that provide them with opportunities to explore their interests and express their passions, personalities and perspectives. CAS complements a challenging academic programme in a holistic way, providing opportunities for self-determination, collaboration, accomplishment and enjoyment.

In surveys, IB students often refer to the Service element of CAS as being the most enriching. This is confirmed by various research projects. A study by AACC (American Association of Community Colleges) found that 69% of students who were involved in Service Learning believed that it helped them understand their course materials better. A different study by the National Youth Leadership Council also found that students who participated in Service Learning performed better in reading, maths, history and science, as they dove deeper into inquiry and had to put theory into practice. The IB themselves did research in 2013 and found that students believed that Service Learning helped them become more open-minded and reflective, become better at problem solving and be more internationally minded.

The Extended Essay

Starting in their first year of the IB, students write an Extended Essay of 4000 words, which is an independent, self-directed piece of research. The Extended Essay provides practical preparation for undergraduate research, and an opportunity for students to investigate a topic of special interest, based on one of their six IB subjects..

Throughout the research process students develop the skills to formulate an appropriate research question, develop arguments, and communicate ideas effectively. Students are supported throughout the process by an Extended Essay Coordinator and subject specialist teachers.

In Summary…

The word “Core” is defined as “the part of something that is central to its existence or character”, and the Core element of the IB is what sets the IB apart from other post-16 qualifications. The IB Core provides students with the opportunity to develop academic and life skills, and enriches their curriculum and provides balance.

We look forward to unpacking the IB Diploma Programme further in future articles, as our community moves closer to IB accreditation, and our students prepare themselves for this life-changing experience.