Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The IB Learner Profile: Risk-taking -v- Courage

I was looking for a couple of documents on the IB Online Curriculum Centre today as I needed to download them to take on my Workshop Leaders Training next week, when I stumbled across a recent document by George Walker where he discusses whether the IB is too closely associated with Western values.  As it happens I had been having the same conversation with a friend on Sunday, a teacher who used to teach MYP and DP but who has now left international education.  The question asked was how appropriate the IB Learner Profile and the PYP attitudes are for non-Western students.  The IB is committed to promoting international mindedness and some of the PYP attitudes promote respect and tolerance, however that aside many of the values are certainly more Western than Eastern.  In some societies independence, for example, or risk-taking are just not very highly valued.

George Walker's position paper entitled East is East and West is West outlines 4 major area where Western and Eastern values may differ:

  1. The group and the individual:  here the IB Learner Profile is very concerned with individual attributes that promote active participation in learning (inquiry, communication and risk-taking) and personal responsibility (thinkers, knowledgeable, balanced, reflective, principled, open-minded).  Only the attribute of caring really involves other people.  Certainly there is a different balance between independence (Western) and interdependence (Eastern) in the Learner Profile.
  2. Respect for authority:  having lived and worked in Europe, North America and Asia there is clearly a difference in relationships with and respect for teachers.  The IB Learner Profile refers to all in the school community being learners, teachers, administrators and students.  This might not sit so comfortably with Eastern views of teachers.
  3. A holistic view:  Eastern cultures are more likely to see the whole picture and to view issues in shades of grey instead of the black and white approach of the West.  One Learner Profile attribute that alludes to this holistic view is balanced.
  4. Taking risks - this is probably the one attribute where there is the greatest difference between Eastern and Western values.   While we can see risk-taking as being something positive, many cultures would view it as negative and irresponsible.  
George Walker suggests that courageous might be a more appropriate word to use in the Learner Profile than risk-taker.  While many see courage as bravery, strength or endurance in the face of adversity or the ability to do something hard despite pain or fear, the word actually derives from a French word meaning "heart".  Thinking about it, the word risk also implies some sort of danger and the possibility of  unpleasant or unwelcome consequences.  Applied to learning, the attribute of risk-taker is defined by the IB as someone who can approach new situations with forethought and who is not afraid to explore new roles, ideas or strategies or to express and defend his or her beliefs.

At the end of all this, I'm not at all sure which word would be a better one to substitute for risk-takers, however I do agree that the IB promotes more Western values and attitudes than Eastern and that if the IB is really to promote international mindedness these issues will need to be addressed.

Photo Credit:  Weather Vane by Leo Reynolds

1 comment:

  1. Is it really even possible to have an educational system that works in every culture? Before I read your post I would have thought...sure. But when I take into consideration all of the differences in culture, language, religion I am not so certain. Maybe the core could be consistent while allowing room for culture to remain true to its beliefs?