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Do DP graduates have an edge when it comes to 21st century skills?

The problem is that too often, and in too many ways, current systems of mass education are a catastrophe in themselves. Far from looking to the future, too often they are facing stubbornly towards the past.” – Sir Ken Robinson, Out Of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative.

The skills needed to thrive in modern societies increasingly go beyond traditional academic content and disciplines. There is growing evidence of the importance of “21st century skills”, which encompass a wide range of skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and time management. These skills can prepare students to live and work in a world with rapidly evolving technologies and many complex issues.

A new study explored the outcomes of former IB Diploma Programme (DP) and non-DP students at leading universities in Asia-Pacific,[1] with a particular focus on the 21st century skills of these students. Although academically the performance of the two groups of students were similar, on average DP alumni reported higher capacities for a variety of 21st century skills.

Here’s are some highlights from the study

At a university in East Asia, DP alumni had higher self-ratings than non-DP graduates in all of the 21st century skills examined in this study. DP graduates were particularly confident in their capacities for cultural sensitivity and global-mindedness.

Figure. Perceived capacity for 21st century skills (DP vs. non-DP). Note: n = 734 (University B in East Asia)


Similarly, at the university in Australia, DP alumni indicated higher ratings that non-DP graduates in most areas — again, especially in cultural sensitivity and global-mindedness. The greatest difference was found in global-mindedness.

Figure. Perceived capacity for 21st century skills (DP vs. non-DP). Note: n = 89 (University C in Australia)


What DP graduates are saying

DP alumni at all three universities (n = 54) had very positive views of their learning experiences in the DP. At all universities, students highlighted the value of the DP’s “skill-based” approach and the “well-roundedness” of an IB education. In particular, DP graduates believed the skills developed through the DP prepared them for classroom discussions, presentations, generating innovative ideas, global-mindedness, and taking leadership roles in group projects at university.

The DP core was seen as particularly useful in fostering students’ 21st century skills. Some students, for example, felt that Creativity, Activity, Service had encouraged them to pursue activities outside of the classroom at university. Others highlighted theory of knowledge for developing their thinking skills, or the extended essay for strengthening their research and writing skills.

One of the strengths of the IB diploma is that it’s not just a collection of courses it’s an integrated curriculum […] Even in a high-tech STEM capacity you are going to need skills in communications, and working with other people, and vice versa, and that’s what leads to strong academic outomes. — Andrew Arida, University of British Columbia, Canada

Want to learn more about this study? Read about the experiences and university outcomes of DP graduates at these universities in the Research Summary or the Full Report by the researchers.

[1] Two universities in East Asia and one in Australia.