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Internationalism in the I.B. Diploma Social Sciences/Humanities

April, 2008
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DSCF5076 All students wanting to obtain an I.B. Diploma must (unless they get a special dispensation) study one of the Social Sciences or Humanities subjects. The I.B. offers: Business and Management, Economics, Geography, History, Information Technology in a Global Society, Philosophy, Psychology, Social and Cultural Anthropology, and World Religions in addition to a trans-disciplinary subject called Environmental Systems and Societies. All of these subjects, some to a lesser and others to a greater extent, have internationalism at their core.

Business and Management is international because teachers and students are encouraged to use a variety of examples from their home cultures, the host culture and other cultures as well, if possible. Globalisation and its impact on business form part of the core for both Higher and Standard Level students.

You would be forgiven for thinking that Economics contains little in the way of internationalism – but you would be quite wrong. Two fifths of the entire course – International Economics and Development Economics – are international in nature. Under International Economics topics such as the World Trade Organisation, protectionism and trading inequalities are dealt with. Development Economics covers topics such as growth and development strategies, barriers to development and the consequences of development.

Geography is, perhaps obviously, very international in nature.

Some of the aims of the Diploma Programme Geography course at higher level and standard level are to enable students to:

  • develop a global perspective and a sense of world interdependence;
  • develop an understanding of the interrelationship between people, place and the environment; and
  • develop a concern for the quality of the environment, and an understanding of the need to plan and manage for present and future generations

Teachers have to use a wide variety of examples, and they are encouraged to make use of examples from as many different countries and cultures as possible.

History is also extremely international in flavour. The new syllabus (for first examinations in May 2010) gives two routes for those wanting to study history. First of all, there is the route specialising in the Islamic world. This looks at two very specific periods: the origins and rise of Islam (c.500 – 661) and the Kingdom of Sicily (1130 – 1302). Then, there are topics from which to choose like dynasties and rulers, society and economy, wars and warfare, etc. As an alternative, those wanting to follow a course in history may follow route two, which is a world history course. Here, students pursue a course in peacemaking and peacekeeping – international relations (1918-1936), the Arab-Israeli conflict (1945-1979), and communism in crisis (1976-1989). In other words, history is essentially extremely international!

Information Technology in a Global Society is quite deliberately not a course in information technology but a study of the impact that information technology has on societies throughout the world. As the I.B. Guide to Information Technology in a Global Society (2006, p.3) puts it: “The Diploma Programme information technology in a global society (ITGS) course is the study and evaluation of the impact of information technology (IT) on individuals and society. It explores the advantages and disadvantages of the use of digitized information at the local and global level.” It is thus a truly cross-cultural subject.

In Philosophy, it would hardly be possible to avoid internationalism. The set texts include the Bhagavad Gita, The Analects by Confucius, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, The Republic by Plato, René Descartes’ Meditations, Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Authenticity. Some of the topics lend themselves better than others to an international approach, but when dealing with epistemology, ethics, religion, art or politics, it is hardly possible to avoid an international perspective; while by definition the themes ‘Non-Western traditions and perspectives’, and ‘People, nations and cultures’ are intrinsically international.

DSCF5083 Psychology is international in rather a different way. When dealing with the three major perspectives (the biological, the cognitive, and the learning perspective), it is impossible to avoid crossing national boundaries; while the psychology options such as comparative psychology and cultural psychology are inherently international. Good psychology teachers are also very interested in how different cultures interpret things.

As you can well imagine, Social and Cultural Anthropology is by definition international. As the I.B. Social and Cultural Anthropology Guide (2008, p.4) tells us: “Social and cultural anthropology is the comparative study of culture and human societies. Anthropologists seek an understanding of humankind in all its diversity. This understanding is reached through the study of societies and cultures and the exploration of the general principles of social and cultural life…. Social and cultural anthropology contributes a distinctive approach to intercultural awareness and understanding, which embodies the essence of an IB education. Anthropology fosters the development of citizens who are globally aware and ethically sensitive.” Social and Cultural Anthropology is perhaps one of the most rewarding subjects both from a teacher’s perspective and from that of a student with regard to internationalism.

As the name World Religions implies, this subject is also truly international in its scope. Nine religions are included in the syllabus – the Baha’i Faith (c), Buddhism (a), Christianity (b), Hinduism (a), Islam (b), Jainism (c), Judaism (b), Sikhism (a), and Taoism (c). Students have to study five of the nine, including at least one marked (a), one (b) and one (c) so as to ensure a wide spread.

The trans-disciplinary subject Environmental Systems and Societies has one foot, so to speak, in the social sciences/humanities and the other in the sciences. The I.B. Environmental Systems and Societies Outline (2008, p.1) carefully explains the purpose and nature of this course: “The prime intent of this course is to provide students with a coherent perspective of the interrelationships between environmental systems and societies; one that enables them to adopt an informed personal response to the wide range of pressing environmental issues that they will inevitably come to face. Students’ attention can be constantly drawn to their own relationship with their environment and the significance of choices and decisions that they make in their own lives. It is intended that students develop a sound understanding of the interrelationships between environmental systems and societies, rather than a purely journalistic appreciation of environmental issues.” This subject too is truly trans-disciplinary and cross-cultural.

I hope that you will fully appreciate, having read this little article, how truly international all the subjects in the social sciences/humanities group are. Whether a student chooses Business and Management or Social and Cultural Anthropology, s/he will certainly be helped to acquire a distinctly international and cross-cultural view of the world.

By Kevin M. Purday

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  1. June 29th, 2010 at 16:18 | #1

    I enjoyed reading your blog. Keep it that way.

  1. March 20th, 2010 at 06:04 | #1