Saturday, February 6, 2010

Transdisciplinary, Interdisciplinary and Disciplinary - the 3 IB programmes

Since I started teaching in international schools, I have always worked in IB schools. The IB stands for International Baccalaureate, which was started in 1968 as a non-profit educational foundation offering high quality educational programmes to international schools. On it's website the IB states:
Our three programmes for students aged 3 to 19 help develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world. There are more than 778,000 IB students at 2,822 schools in 138 countries.
The IB is more than a curriculum. Although the IB is probably best known for its continuum of education with its three programmes, PYP, MYP and DP, spanning ages 3 - 19, the IB aims to do more. At the heart of the IB is it's philosophy for encouraging international mindedness and its attitude towards learning. The programmes develop critical thinking, questioning, research and reflection. And although the IB started as a programme for international students, now more than half of the IB World Schools are state-schools.

The first of the IB programmes to be developed was the Diploma Programme (DP). When I moved overseas to my first international school in 1988, this was the only programme offered. I taught IB Geography to a large class of 16 - 18 year olds. During my time at the International School of Amsterdam , I also became involved with the International Schools Association Curriculum (ISAC) which shared the same philosophy as the DP and was seen as a suitable pre-IB DP course. The International Schools Association created a framework that emphasised the importance of developing the skills, attitudes and knowledge needed in a global society. The IB Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) grew out of the work done by the teachers who were involved with teaching the ISAC, and was officially adopted by the IB in 1994.

At the International School of Amsterdam, we originally started teaching the MYP to our Middle School students in Grades 7 and 8, teaching years 2 and 3 of the programme. At that point Grade 6 was still part of the primary school, and the primary school was involved in developing a programme of its own. I moved into Grade 6 with the aim of introducing year 1 of the MPY, and at the same time the Middle School students who were moving up into the High School were pushing the MYP up there too, so that eventually all 5 years of the programme were being done at school. At that point the school moved into a new building, Grade 6 officially became part of the Middle School and we were offering the entire MYP course to our students aged 11 - 16.

However I had enjoyed my years in the Primary School. After one year back in the Middle School I decided I wanted to go back into Primary and I moved down to Grade 5. While the MYP had been developing, the primary teachers, myself included, had been busy with our own curriculum development. We were involved in the International Schools Curriculum Project looking at educational philosophies and theorists such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Gardner in order to develop our own concept-based curriculum around units of inquiry. The group of educators that were the driving force of the ISCP, eventually initiated the IB Primary Year Project (PYP). In 1997, my school, the International School of Amsterdam, became the first school to be authorised by the IB in all 3 programmes, and I became the world's first PYP Coordinator.

The PYP is committed to students learning in a transdisciplinary context. Each year in the programme of inquiry, students study 6 units of inquiry that fall under each of the transdisciplinary themes:
  • Who we are
  • Where we are in place and time
  • How we express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How we organise ourselves
  • Sharing the planet
This learning is transdisciplinary as it "transcends the confines of the subject areas to connect to what is real in the world". It is built around the 5 essential elements of knowledge (the programme of inquiry), key concepts that have relevance beyond subject areas, transdisciplinary skills (communication, thinking, self-management, research and social), attitudes and action.

Whereas the PYP is transdisciplinary, the MYP is interdisciplinary. The MYP stresses students synthesising their thinking, understanding and knowledge from two or more subject areas and integrating them to create new understanding. The subject areas connect through the areas of interaction - environment, human ingenuity, health and social, community and service and approaches to learning. The DP is very much seen as a focus on six academic disciplines (2 languages, maths, experimental science, social studies - called individuals and societies - and the arts) along with a study of the theory of knowledge, writing an extended essay and CAS (creativity, action and service) which requires students learn beyond the classroom.

Although IB World Schools can choose to offer one, two or all three IB programmes, I have only ever taught in schools that offer all three. Our son, now at university in England, moved seemlessly from the transdisciplinary approach of the PYP, through the interdisciplinary approach of the MYP to the disciplinary approach of the DP. Our daughter is now in the last year of the MYP and will be starting the DP next year. From a teaching point of view I can truly say I would never choose to teach in another programme. From a parent's point of view I would say I have been blessed to have been in the right place at the right time for our children to get the best education on the planet.

Photo Credit: Rainbow by Jakerome


  1. Truly incredible that you have been able to teach at these schools and that your children have been able to learn in these environments. I would love to see some of the lessons/curriculum that you are doing with your students.

  2. The courses are very helpful and most IB schools in Mumbai are adopting the advanced technology to improve their teaching methodology.