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Careers and ethics: what’s the story?

By Chantell Wyten

The Career-related Programme (CP) core’s reflective project is more than an in-depth body of work, involving independent research, high order thinking and exploration of original presentation formats. It is also an opportunity for students to take intellectual initiative and practice skills transferable to future academic and career settings. Moreover, devoting time to the exploration of ethical dilemmas has proven benefits for individuals and learning communities.     

After leaving school, few students will ever use Pythagoras’ theorem or need to remember the minutiae of cell biology. However, they will all face moral dilemmas. Ethics are everywhere – from what we eat for breakfast, to the careers we choose, and the way we interact with others. Students are often presented with hypothetical scenarios in attempts to provoke ethical thinking: what is the impact of gene editing or the disappearance of global political boundaries? The reflective project creates the opportunity to tackle these types of issues and engages students in active research, re-examining the core of what it truly means to be human.

The Career-related Programme (CP) was designed with the understanding that to prepare students to succeed in a rapidly changing world, schools must not only equip them with the necessary skills andknowledge, but also the ability to manage and influence change. An integral precept of the CP is to enable students to become self-confident, skilled and career-ready learners. The reflective project, based around the students’ career studies, exposes them to moral complexities that are not always the focus of typical course content and allows students to explore ethical dilemmas relevant to their future aspirations.

Various ethical issues arise throughout a CP student’s journey, such as challenges to their ideas, instinctive responses or ways of behaving. Schools have a specific responsibility to help students think, feel and act their way through ethical issues, particularly as they engage with the reflective project.

IB Global Conference speaker Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang—a neuroscientist, psychologist, and former educator—highlights the importance of schools taking this challenge seriously:

“The world right now is at a very dynamic and volatile turning point. For the first time, human beings have the possibility of controlling and damaging our planet. We have the possibility of solving diseases and problems that have never been solvable before. We have the possibility to communicate with each other and to move around in ways we never could before. Yet, we really can’t foresee where these new capabilities and technologies will take us as a species. Our only hope is to find ways to raise and teach and educate young people who are capable of thinking about complex critical problems along with their social implications.”[i]

The value of teaching ethics is clear: the ability to reason morally is a fundamental aspect of social brain development as well as a requirement of active citizenship. It is not only important that students know about rights, responsibilities and the complexity of modern day living – participatory democracy requires more: it requires citizens with the capacity to reflect on how their community, or planet, ought to be. Issues as diverse as taxation and inequality, the limits to free speech, and the claims of future generations, all have a moral dimension. Young people need explicit instruction as well as space to explore perspectives and subsequent impacts in real-world contexts if they are to become integrous members of society.

The reflective project is a direct challenge to the educational environments and practices that serve to undermine a learner’s proclivity toward a curious mind state. A much-needed opportunity in many contexts, as confirmed in a survey done by BIAC, in which 67% of respondents viewed the skills of ethics as being a character skill of ‘very high importance’ for the workplace.[i] Business at OECD (BIAC) is  an international business network with a global membership representing over 7 million companies of all sizes.

Ethics need to be presented in a deep and thoughtful way that may positively influence the attitudes and behaviours of our students. The reflective project is an action-oriented opportunity that fosters student-centred learning in ethics and engages students in critical self-reflection. It provides a foundation for ethical behavioral change that students can access when required to make ethical decisions, whether personal or professional.

Scott Waters, a CP graduate from 2016 who has gone on to gain a Bachelor’s Degree in interdisciplinary studies at Vancouver Commonwealth University states:

“Successfully completing the reflective project allowed me the ability to think independently prior to attending college.  While I may have started with preconceived notions about right and wrong, I learned through my research and investigation to appreciate multiple perspectives.”

He goes on to say, “Studying ethics in high school taught me the value of viewing global issues and their impact on society.  I came to understand that I can make choices in my education and in my career field that will benefit others.”

“Completing a reflective project in my chosen career path in high school set me up for success in college, even though my major ended up being completely different to what I studied in high school I realise it prepared for the complexities of learning about a career pathway to find where my talents could be best applied.”

Charles Fadel, educational thought leader and founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, concurs that traditional disciplines are not enough if today’s students are to thrive in a rapidly changing world. He explains, that educators need to construct learning experiences that prepare students for change and to help them create a deeper understanding of their ethical stance and how they will use this in their lives.[i]

Throughout the reflective project students reflect on the moral dimensions of decision making, the difficulty of moral action that balance a variety of values and interests. Moral decisions are difficult and will often be amongst the most important decisions of our life. In making them we will be almost entirely dependent upon our own capacities. The reflective tackles just that; not only because of the breadth of skills with which students are able to demonstrate through its completion, but also the meta-learning, a focus on how we reflect and adapt, that outlives the duration of experience.

The current curriculum review for the reflective project will build on what is working well, find solutions for shortcomings, and explore innovative ways to enhance student engagement, but it seems that there is already good reason to feel confident that the focus on ethical dilemmas and career-related research will continue to be central to the nature of this core component.

If you are interested in participating in the curriculum review of the reflective project please refer to the latest edition the Career-related Programme Coordinators’ Notes.