IB Diploma Programme: Pedagogy

The pedagogical basis of the IB Course and IPS

The pedagogical philosophy of the IB Course and IPS at Ritsumeikan Uji is rooted in Abraham Maslow’s theory of the Hierarchy of Needs, as well as four basic assumptions about student learning. Maslow suggests that at the higher levels of personal development all people are motivated to: make a contribution to their community; to have their efforts recognized and valued by others; and to achieve personal growth through being able to use their creativity and skills to the fullest. Following Maslow, we believe that a successful student will necessarily be motivated to earn good marks on his or her assessments and examinations, but at a higher level will seek and embrace opportunities within and around themselves to express their creativity and originality, and to contribute meaningfully to their local community and to the wider world.

Educational theorist Carl Beretier writes that “the most promising new developments in education involve restructuring school activities and discourse so that they resemble the workings of research groups, where real questions are being investigated and students are trying to contribute to progress on these questions.”* Following Beretier, we believe that teachers work best not when simply delivering knowledge (as in some traditional assumptions of secondary teaching), but when they are engaged in working with knowledge and creating ideas alongside their students. In this model, students and teachers are collaborators and co-creators, and the relationship between teacher and student is flatter, and more collaborative than in many other pedagogies.

Our students are already living in a 21st century globalized world, and the cultural and intellectual streams that feed their young minds are not restricted by national borders. In this sense, our students need to be prepared to discover their place in a global knowledge economy, where the ability to do things with knowledge is at least as important as the simple possession of that knowledge, if not more so. We believe that a progressive 21st century education must focus on higher order skills such as small group discussion and brainstorming, presentation, experiment design, original research, negotiation and debate, and authentic problem solving.

As a department, we seek to create space for students to express themselves and test their abilities and capacities in a variety of ways both inside and outside the classroom. Our program is rooted as much in developmental discourse as in academic discourse, and we view academic excellence as evolving alongside, or even in the wake of, organic individual growth. An emphasis on the developmental component of secondary education means that we recognize that different students have differing strengths and potentials, various ways of thinking and arranging information, and a range of favored means of communication. Following from this, we believe that our programs should be designed and carried out precisely to nurture and make space for individual growth and self-expression on the part of all members of our learning community-students, teachers, parents, and corporate and academic partners.


By allowing for and valuing self-expression through carefully framed and inherently meaningful assignments and projects, both inside and outside the classroom, students in our programs are given space and freedom to develop their individual talents and to discover where their strengths lie.


* From “Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age” by Carl Bereiter

Four Key Learning Assumptions of the IB Course

The IB Course at Ritsumeikan Uji is predicated on the following four basic assumptions about learning:

  • Interconnectedness.
    Learning is interconnected. All IBDP students study six subjects simultaneously. The IB calls this “concurrency of learning.” In addition, the three core elements, TOK, EE, and CAS are intended to further integrate the six subjects. While discipline boundaries (in the form of the six discipline groups) are essential for preparing students for university majors, the underlying philosophy of our IB program is that learning is holistic, and that skills and understandings in one area will carry across and support learning in other areas.
  • Variety of Learning Modes.
    Learning is best achieved through a rich mixture of instruction, group work, and individual creative work. In all IBDP subjects there is an expectation that students master a large amount of content; therefore instruction is essential to learning. On the other hand, the internal assessment tasks in the various subjects are primarily individual and require critical thinking, initiative, and often a high degree of creativity and imagination. In addition, the Extended Essay is student-driven and requires students to propose, and answer, an original research question. IBDP students do not just gain knowledge or information, but actually contribute to knowledge and make new meaning. This fact has implications for how all learning opportunities are structured within the program.
  • Lifelong Learning.
    Learning is a lifelong process. In the IBDP, this is emphasized by the cumulative, two-year nature of the program with a set of final examinations which test every aspect of the two-year curriculum. In this way, students are taught that knowledge in a subject area is itself interconnected, and builds on itself at each stage. In a wider sense, learning is not something that you do in school for a time and then “graduate” into a fixed state of expertise; instead the learning process continues through life and there is always more to know and to understand.
  • Co-learners.
    Teachers and students are co-learners. IBDP teachers are not instructors in the traditional sense, but more like mentors or coaches. They create a framework for their subject and make sure that students have the basic skills and knowledge in each subject; they help students identify learning goals and strategies to reach those goals; and at some point they give control of the learning back to the student to encourage organic development to flourish. In other words, the student not only climbs the mountain, but to a great extent makes his/her own path up it. In our pedagogy, the learning process is a joint one, where the expectation is no longer that “the teacher has all the answers,” but that the student and teacher are co-learning, or better, “making new meaning together.”

Combining the four assumptions above, in IBDP we seek to build a learning culture that facilitates “collaborative knowledge building,” where the focus is on the investigation of real questions and seeking real answers to these questions. As a result, IBDP students and teachers are engaged in learning and meaning-making activities in a variety of settings and formats, both in person and mediated by 21st century technologies. We believe that a high-school education based on the above four learning assumptions best prepares students for both the current state of global information overload as well as the flexible and evolving global labor market, and equips students to face a wide variety of tasks in our present knowledge-based society.