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Why CAS was the best thing from the IB diploma that ever happened to me

Each year we invite IB alumni to share their experiences, interests and advice with our global community in the graduate voices series. We welcome Diploma Programme (DP) graduate from Sekolah Pelita Harapan Sentul City in Indonesia, Maharani Hariga, who shares her take on CAS as a meaningful experiential learning activity.

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If you’re new to the IB Diploma Programme and reading this, CAS requirements have changed quite a bit in the past ten years. Many DP graduates, from the early 2000’s may recall, fondly of course, the former hour requirements for CAS. Today, students reflect on CAS with the aid of a portfolio that demonstrates engagement in this core part of the DP.

By Maharani Hariga

“These experiences instilled in me the sense of responsibility toward local community and the audacity to act on ideas.”

For those pursuing the Diploma Programme (DP), Creativity, Action, Service, or CAS, is one of the mandatory requirements to be fulfilled in 18 months. Back in 2006, my school required us to complete a specific amount of service hours (ideally with some portion in each creativity, action and service). Time spent working on projects can be counted to each of the sections, depending on the nature of the project itself. Combined with the demanding coursework, I remembered scratching my head, thinking on what kind of things to do. Anything to clear the hour requirement milestone would do.

Fast forward to July 2008, I managed to complete the DP successfully with sets of activities enrolled in CAS hours. Among these activities, there were those that I enjoyed doing (writing and editing the high school’s newspaper; acting in a performance of one-act plays about a woman asking for someone in a company full of people sharing the same name). Others were challenging, but meaningful like teaching English to a local primary school and designing a database website for Language A literature. These experiences instilled in me the sense of responsibility toward local community and the audacity to act on ideas.

Sense of social responsibility birthed through teaching English

“This experience was an unforgettable one, where it taught me to be responsible to the local community as well as empathize with people from different backgrounds than mine.”

Back then, my attitude toward CAS was not as appreciative as I am now. Rather than as an opportunity, doing CAS felt more like a chore. Even though logically it was something positively benefitting others and myself, to find myself waking up at 6am on every Saturday morning for at least a year to teach English at a local school was not something I really looked forward to. The hours spent were counted for Service, by the way.

A few kilometers away from our school, up in the hill of Babakan Madang, West Java, there stood a dingy primary school where kids from nearby villages attended. In a group of 3, my friends and I were assigned to year 4 (and sometimes to year 5) students. The school followed the national curriculum, as many other similar schools did, which means that passing English was required but not as crucial as passing math, science and Bahasa Indonesia.There was only one English teacher in the school, who alternated between year 1 to year 6. Not to mention that each year level consisted of more than two classes. With this background, the arrival of a bunch of high schoolers from English medium school was very much welcomed.

None of us had proper experience in teaching a classroom of approximately 40 students (I had preschool siblings and teaching them on how to write proper sentences was a different thing). We tried to balance the need to pass the mandatory English tests, which focused more on basic vocabularies and proper grammar and fill-the-gap type questions, while at the same time making it fun to help the kids not get bored easily. We created a practice workbook and question papers to fill in in the first hour of teaching. For the second hour, after everyone finished with the questions, we played games that required the kids to communicate in English.

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Some of the thank-you letters from the students.

It was a challenging task, as these kids were shy to speak. Imagine talking to 40 kids and when you asked a question, nobody answered you. At times, I thought about whether we were just wasting time, just doing this only for the sake of getting the hours without making a real difference. But it was rewarding when at the end of our teaching term the students gave us handwritten thank-you notes. It was a simple gesture, but they  appreciated our effort. This experience was an unforgettable one, it taught me to be responsible to the local community as well as empathize with people from different backgrounds than mine.

It also instilled a sense of responsibility to consider doing something for my immediate community, which I have reflected upon in later years. Service to me was contributing to the university’s Indonesian students’ community and alumni board. On the plus side, it is useful to put these voluntary activities down in college applications and resumes.

Understanding myself through designing Language A literature database

Back in 2007 in the school I went to, students read world literature for Language A (Bahasa Indonesia). We read books like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and Ahmad Tohari’s The Dancer. The books prescribed were up to the discretion of the then Language A teacher. As there was no concrete list of world literature read, I thought it would be great to have a database of world literature to be used in the school. I discussed this with my Language A teacher, and she thought it was a good idea especially when it can be developed as a platform to exchange summary and notes on the literature. Using Google sites, I spent some time working on it.

Ultimately, the project was not fortunate enough to see the light. It was mostly due to lack of manpower and limited time as we reached the deadline for submitting CAS hours. What I understand from this, is my interest toward organizing and making things easier and helpful for other people, which serves as a basic motivation when working on something. It may be unexpected, but reflecting on it, our CAS experiences serve as indicators of what our interests are, and the soft skills acquired, become useful in work life.

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Maharani Hariga graduated from Sekolah Pelita Harapan Sentul City in Indonesia, before globe-trotting to Japan’s Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (undergraduate) and then to UK’s Lancaster University (postgraduate). Her interests include languages comparison, intercultural communication, international education and Pusheen the cat. She is currently looking to start her own business in the UK. You can connect with her via LinkedIn

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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