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How IB encourages growth in and out of the classroom

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Shreya Mahasenan discusses opportunities for holistic development and the ability to pursue non-academic passions in the IB. This is ­­her second story in our graduate voices series.

How the IB promotes growth in and out of the classroom

By Shreya Mahasenan

In the many conversations that I have about my experiences as an IB student with prospective IB students and parents, a question that is often posed to me is, “Will I or my child have time for my activities with IB?” There seems to be a common misconception that being an IB student means sparing little time for anything other than studying or homework. In fact, I’ve come to see that this general picture is associated with our idea of what makes a good student in general, whether in high school or in university. Given the scariness of having to say goodbye to hobbies and forms of personal recreation―things that we often consider to be essential components of whom we are―it’s not altogether surprising to me that I’m so frequently asked about how entering IB will impact these elements of a student’s life.

Each time, of course, I answer that not only is it very much possible to participate in music, art, sports, volunteering, or whatever else a student considers to be an interest or hobby while in IB, I’d even go so far as to consider striking a good balance between academic and non-academic to be a quintessential part of the IB experience. IB shows us just how profoundly good it is to not limit ourselves and to broaden our horizons beyond academics. Our hobbies and activities are obviously extremely helpful in relieving the very normal stress that accompanies school, but it’s also worth asking whether our non-academic pursuits are actually of great and direct value to our inner student and scholar as well as our academic journeys.

Take a look at the learner attributes that make an IB student; none of them are by necessity strictly academic. Reflecting, finding balance, taking risks, being open-minded, caring, thinking, communicating―these are life skills that are just as applicable outside the classroom as they are in the classroom, and they’re developed outside school just as much as they are through our classes. The teamwork skills that we obtain by collaborating on a lab or project are in many ways the same teamwork skills that we obtain by playing on a sports team or being a part of an orchestra. In any of these settings, we learn how to communicate, cooperate and work towards a collective goal.

“When we were encouraged to so deeply personalize our learning experiences, we were motivated to engage as much as possible with what we learned and walked away having obtained full and holistic knowledge”.

This overall idea is frequently reinforced in IB coursework, and I’d even consider it to be central to the overall goal of an IB education. As diploma candidates, when we reflect on our creativity, activity, service (CAS) experiences, we reflect on how all of the diverse experiences that we accumulate in our lives outside of school are helping us grow not only as students, but as people and as citizens of the world. These reflections reveal that pursuing our passions outside of school isn’t just valuable because of the happiness and fulfillment it brings but also because it completes us as people and rounds out our personal values, talents and assets. This kind of growth is, to me, exactly what kind of growth exemplifies what it means to be an IB learner.

CAS was just one of the many ways in which IB encouraged us to discover how to utilize all of our interests in truly meaningful ways. The richness and diversity of interests, talents and pursuits that I saw around me in IB demonstrated to me how much IB students are a far cry from the stereotype of finding no time for anything but burying their heads in their textbooks. The opportunity was always there for us to take what we learned in school beyond the classroom and also find connections between our education and the other experiences that comprised our lives. The creativity that I witnessed from my IB classmates never ceased to amaze me. A friend of mine, who had one of the most beautiful voices in my school’s theatre and performing arts department, incorporated this passion of hers into our IB English class by performing a ballad that she wrote based on To Kill a Mockingbird. For his extended essay, another friend of mine, an avid gamer, delved deep into documenting the history of the portrayal of female characters in video games, and his final product was both profoundly educational and undeniably representative of him.

When we were encouraged to so deeply personalize our learning experiences, we were motivated to engage as much as possible with what we learned and walked away having obtained as full and holistic knowledge as we could have ever hoped to gain. Most importantly, we walked away with a new-found sense of respect and appreciation for our passions and activities. Our identities as students, scholars and future leaders of the world is far from limited to our most basic senses of schoolwork because, ultimately, learning isn’t an activity that is limited to the classroom. An IB learner knows that their learning doesn’t begin and end with the school day. We’re students of the world, constantly learning from and engaging with our surroundings.

“IB isn’t just compatible with lives outside of the classroom. It’s arguably, at its core, all about finding just as much value and untapped knowledge in our lives outside of school as we do in school”.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I also discovered that our extracurriculars and unique interests had almost as much a role in shaping our visions and goals for the future as our academic strengths did. It seems undeniable that we’re most effective and most full of potential when we’re in positions that we truly enjoy being in. Through IB, I came to see that my career goals and decisions for my future could―even should―reflect what I love to do, even things that at first didn’t seem remotely related to my school life. My years of experience playing sports had a significant role in guiding me towards my interest in medicine. This wasn’t something that I could truly realize until IB biology led me to explore how the human body can help us demand the most of the fascinating machines that we are and keep our bodies running their best for as long as possible.

Some of the supplemental skills I’ve come to need on my journey only revealed themselves to me because of my love for sports, too. I never really understood how much I enjoy statistics until my IB mathematics teacher encouraged us to find creative ways to explore applications of the mathematical techniques we learned. I ended up using the statistical techniques I learned to create stats-based rankings of athletes in different major sports leagues and had more fun than I ever thought I would playing with numbers. As it happens, this initial spark has proven, down the road, to be quite beneficial to me, since statistics is such an important asset to have in the health sciences.

The end result is that I’ve gotten a clearer idea of who I am and what I can contribute to the world than I ever had before. I couldn’t be more grateful to have shed the notion that all of the things that I enjoy doing outside of school are of little consequence to my future. They have proven to be much more than random components of my life―they complete me and bolster my understanding of what I have to give. These kinds of, “eureka!”, moments are something that every student stands to gain from―we all deserve to realize that everything we do, and all our passions, are invaluable to us. Not only are they important for making us happy and giving us our unique sense of self, but they are inextricably linked with our academic tools when it comes to pursuing knowledge and trying to be the best learners we can be. So, if you’re ever been asked, or perhaps have asked yourself, if IB is compatible with our lives outside of the classroom, take it from me: IB isn’t just compatible with lives outside of the classroom. It’s arguably, at its core, all about finding just as much value and untapped knowledge in our lives outside of school as we do in school.

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Shreya Mahasenan is a graduate of Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah, United States. She is currently an undergraduate student at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, majoring in anatomy and cell biology and minoring in political science. When she’s not studying, you can usually find her playing hockey (on an outdoor rink if possible!), playing guitar or listening to podcasts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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