How do IB programmes ignite a sense of self-confidence, curiosity and creativity within students? Fatima Sul joins us this year as a 2018 alumni contributor to share her experience since graduating from the Diploma Programme (DP).
By Fatima Sul
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told that school is meant to cultivate our abilities, not stifle them. However, it hasn’t always felt like that. Far too often have I heard friends of mine lamenting how the assignments that we’ve been assigned were boring or that they were reprimanded for taking artistic license. I myself have been frustrated with how restricted the instructions of projects have been. While I understand that curriculums are meant to be followed, it far too often feels like they do not all us to show our individuality or originality.
“Whether it was the actual course content or just the way my teacher taught — for the first time in a long time, I was always excited to go to class.”
This idea of academic homogeneity soon became the norm in my academic life; we were all doing the same thing. It wasn’t until high school that those reins were loosened, due in part to my time in the Diploma Programme (DP). High school is the time where you get to explore and create an identity for yourself and I saw the changes I was personally experiencing reflected in the work we did. Discussions became a regular part of my DP classes and not only was I exposed to various opinions, I also was able to develop my own. As the program progressed, the instructions for assignments became shorter and shorter and much more open-ended. I distinctly remember one project where we were to create a creative interpretation of the Dickens novel Great Expectations. No two projects were alike and they really showed the diversity in our class and how people interpret classic works.
One class that had a profound impact on my own academic development was theory of knowledge (TOK). Whether it was the actual course content or just the way my teacher taught — for the first time in a long time, I was always excited to go to class. The class was quite meta with many questions revolving around thinking about thinking, but I was constantly faced with stimulating conversations and applying what I learned in my everyday life. I had to think long and hard about my own belief systems and ask: where exactly did these beliefs come from? I was never challenged like this before. Were they really my own innate thoughts or were they inherited from my parents and peers or were they based on science and mathematics?
“How pervasive the class became in my outside-of-school life was a testament to how what we learn should make us think and carry over to our actual lives.”
For so long, I felt I was just being taught, but rarely was I expected to reflect on what I was being taught. TOK was a great reprieve from the usual lull of school. Though the course left me with many more questions than answers, this was not a failure on my own or my teacher’s part. The course followed me outside of school and was my companion when I would read articles and news items. Suddenly, I was checking stories for biases and asking what areas of knowledge did the writer rely on to justify their opinions. Were they being objective with their facts or were they being subjective? How pervasive the class became in my outside-of-school life was a testament to how what we learn should make us think and carry over to our actual lives.
The most important thing I learned was that self-directed learning should not come with permission. Learning is not and will never be restricted to the four walls of my classroom, it can occur at any moment. Too often, knowledge is seen as something we obtain through textbooks and once the last page has been turned, that’s the end of it. But in actuality, it is a continuum that never truly ends. I truly believe that the IB diploma has given me the tools to embark on the second part of my learning journey, to university and beyond. I look forward to what that journey will hold.
Fatima Sul is a Canadian IB graduate and current university student pursuing a business degree. Fatima is a proud literary nerd who tries to read everything she can get her hands on, except for dystopian apocalyptic novels. (She figures she could just turn on the television to any news channel if she wanted a good scare!).
Fatima’s love of books has led her to try her hand at writing. Her current project is compiling personal essays she hopes to publish in the future. When she’s not holed up at her campus library trying to memorize accounting ratios, you will likely find at her at a local library with her nose burrowed in a young adult novel.
To learn about the IB alumni network, visit ibo.org/alumni and read about our 50th anniversary featured graduates to see where other students have taken their studies and careers.