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An educator’s view of IB philosophy: “the more they know, the less they know”

Diploma Programme (DP) curriculums are reviewed regularly to ensure that the IB courses are fit for purpose in a changing world and incorporate the latest educational research.

Watch a video about the subject guides which will be updated in 2023.

In February 2023, an updated IB philosophy subject guide will be published for first assessment in 2025. To mark World Philosophy Day (Thursday 17 November 2022), we spoke with Maria Acle, a Philosophy teacher and examiner from The British Schools Montevideo, to find out more about the upcoming revisions to the subject guide.

What is your experience of teaching Philosophy?

Last year a student who was graduating wrote a letter to me saying that the Philosophy IB course changed her life. I asked her why and she replied, “How can it not change my life? My entire being was in dispute and I finally started to understand who I am.” Philosophy could be defined as mankind’s’ search for why we exist, and this course portrays how this search is taken into action – it allows students to debate with peers and enrich themselves from the others. Different and subjective beings engage in philosophical debates and these differences lead to dialogue and understanding. The IB has a unique method which allows teachers to experience this exchange in which each student develops skills and tools for their current and future paths and sometimes “start to understand who they are”. The philosophy course prepares students not only for contemporary issues but for a future that is unknown and unpredictable.

How were you involved in reviewing the course guide? What did it involve?

I was involved in the development phase of the curriculum review where we discussed what things should stay and what things should be reviewed and/or changed. This involved listening, creativity and empathy to develop changes that were worth it for both students and teachers. We tried to put ourselves in the students’ shoes to understand what a teenager needs in order to engage in and enjoy philosophy.

Why did you get involved in the curriculum review?

I was recruited in 2019 and the invitation was to meet in person in The Hague, to exchange and discuss with different people on the team. Due to the pandemic that was not possible, so the meeting was adapted into a virtual format in 2021. I wanted to really understand how other teachers and educators think and live the experience of doing and teaching philosophy. I wanted to collaborate with these changes to see different students around the world thrive and learn to philosophize about different subjects that matter to them.

What is one example of a change teachers will notice in the new subject guide?

The core theme called “Being Human” will remain the same. This topic is very popular with teachers and students and usually teachers find freedom and flexibility within the different topics. Nevertheless, more emphasis on diversity of perspectives, traditions and approaches within philosophical thinking is highly recommended when teaching the core theme. There is a new optional theme called “Social Philosophy.” This new theme will allow students to navigate through issues such as social structures and institutions, equality, discrimination, and gender. These are currently highly debated topics and invite students to reflect critically about their experiences and beliefs.

How will the changes benefit both educators and students?

The overall intention of the philosophy course is to engage students in philosophical inquiry and invite them to question themselves and others. I believe that one of the most important things about doing philosophy is to be humble. This means that the student should, as Socrates claimed, understand that the more they know, the less they know. The more they reflect upon the different issues the more questions they will have. This enables students to be humble about their knowledge and allows them to be open to deconstruct and reflect critically upon their perspectives and experiences. I believe these changes will allow students to question themselves more deeply, to encounter diversity of approaches and traditions and reflect upon issues that might be totally new and challenging. At the same time educators will benefit from a wider range of topics of choice and the space to discuss and engage in conversations that are of the student’s interest as well as their own.