This blog post will address four questions:
- Why is CAS important today?
- How does CAS prepare students for the future?
- What are some of the big sustainability issues that CAS needs to bring to the fore in school?
- What is the role of the CAS Coordinator in bringing about change?
First, a brief overview of CAS. Creativity, Activity and Service, which is a compulsory part of the IB Diploma, encourages students to take an active role in the world to live out the values expressed in this statement. The IBO states that “students need to take part in a range of experiences and at least one project. These should involve:
- Real, purposeful activities, with significant outcomes
- Personal challenge
- Thoughtful consideration, such as planning, reviewing progress, reporting
- Reflection on outcomes and personal learning
Projects should be either:
- A creativity project – for example, a talented musician could learn a particularly difficult piece, or a different style of playing.
- An activity project – activity projects do not have to be sports-related or competitive. A valuable activity project could help a student overcome a personal fear, such as rock climbing.
- A service project – service projects must be beneficial for the community as well as providing a learning opportunity for the student.”
Why is CAS important today?
The current coronavirus pandemic has provided society with an opportunity to reflect on what is of value and important for our future. In an interview on 1 May on the BBC, Señor Guterres (The UN Secretary General) stressed the need for nations to work together to tackle and solve truly global issues. Many political leaders have praised their individual constituents for their self-discipline and sense of solidarity in restricting the spread of the virus. However, it has to be said that on a global scale this sense of solidarity has been missing, with each country trying to find its own solutions.
Education throughout the world has been affected at every level by this pandemic. It has been forced to move from a face-to-face model to online teaching that has put schools, teachers, students and their families under enormous stress dealing with homeschooling. In particular, it has brought into focus the preoccupation with assessment at all levels. Many schools (including those offering the IB programmes) have academic success as one of their key marketing tools. The final exams have been seen as the sole measure of a student’s readiness for the future. In spite of many schools’ broad vision statements about providing a holistic education for the future, they actually deliver quite a narrow curriculum. This has been my own experience listening particularly to the many schools that have chosen to offer both national and IB programmes.
The break in formal schooling offers IB schools the opportunity to reflect on their purpose in education. The opening sentence of the IB’s Mission Statement (2012) provides a clear indication of what is needed for the future of mankind:
“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”
George Walker (a previous director of the IB) has argued that in fact CAS provides the key to experiential learning for the rest of the Diploma and is vital in helping students to play a role in helping to develop a better world.
How does CAS help provide the skills needed for the future?
The magazine Time had this to say about the skills needed for the future: “This is a story about … whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad, or speak a language other than [their own]” (Time, 18 December, 2006).
The CAS programme requires students to take up new challenges and be able to work collaboratively to solve their problems. There are many examples from schools where CAS is really valued and where students have undertaken CAS projects. CAS projects involve important 21st-century skills (OECD 2008) such as working collaboratively and problem-solving over an extended period of time. Some projects that they have initiated and planned range from setting up a school for slum children in Jakarta, to organizing an EU grant to help provide activities for handicapped children in Slovakia, as well as the Intercas building projects that have occurred in South America. The projects here are not isolated in the CAS world and in each case, much was learnt from the reflections that students have carried out. Alchin (2011) and Roberts (2018) identified the following skills being developed by CAS (in common with the other parts of the Core –TOK and the Extended Essay):
- Global outlook
- Understanding of an ethical approach to behaviour
- Thinking skills (both creative and critical)
- Being reflective
- Sense of self-awareness and identity
Hayden (2017), in her extensive survey of CAS, confirmed that many schools and students believed that they had been successful in achieving the skills and values mentioned above and that make CAS vital for the future. There was a strong indication that this helps to empower students for the challenges that may lie ahead later in life.
What are some of the issues students can tackle through CAS that can help to create a better world?
Environmental, social and economic sustainability are the areas that most concern IB students today. The main concern that they would like to take action on is climate change. This is based on anecdotal evidence taken from discussions with IBDP students informally and with participants at a conference in Berlin in 2019. They felt that at a school level it was possible for them to take action themselves. Students’ suggestions to improve the environmental sustainability of their own schools and to reduce the impact on the atmosphere included:
- Reduce the amount of meat that is consumed in the school.
- Have an energy audit of the school to become more energy efficient.
- Take more responsibility for recycling materials in the school.
- Replace air travel to sports fixtures and field trips with train travel.
- Continue involvement in school strikes and demonstrations for climate action.
In addition to this concern with climate change, other issues about sustainability that were identified by IB students and also in a survey by Amnesty International (among 18–25 year olds) were economic instability (uncertainty about future employment), differences in income, pollution and gender inequality. Pollution and gender inequality were definitely issues that IB students felt they could address.
In this section we have identified key issues that trouble IBDP students. Next we will examine how CAS coordinators can support these changes and be agents or champions of change.
What is the role of the CAS Coordinator in helping to bring about change within schools about sustainable issues?
St Mary’s University, Minnesota says the following about agents of change, which is what a CAS coordinator should be: “[t]here is a growing need for visionary change agents in education who are capable of driving the organizational and institutional changes necessary to improve student outcomes.”
One of the greatest challenges faced by CAS coordinators in dealing with sustainable issues is a feeling amongst some school communities that the issues are too great to be overcome. The CAS coordinator who wants to be an agent of change in the school must look to do the following:
- They should be able to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the school and identify the key opportunities for change.
- They are prepared to ask tough questions that focus on the student outcomes. For example, the coordinators might ask school administrators why there is not time in the timetable to guide students for CAS in their desire to influence change. This would help the students be better at taking responsible action. In addition, coordinators could ask what avenues could be made available to present their views to administrators and governors.
- They would be able to present clearly defined goals about sustainability to school administrators. Some specific goals which they could present to further this could be for example:
- Students could carry out research that would involve an energy audit within the school and findings would guide the school’s future use of energy.
- Students could have a role in deciding what is offered in school cafeterias and in particular could consider meat-free days.
- The school could review its travel policy for PD, school and sports trips to reduce the amount of air travel
- Communicate with resisters or people indifferent to the idea of sustainability being promoted by CAS students in the school. Above all, listen to their feedback and opinions.
- Engage with the community about CAS and particularly inform parents about the benefits of a dynamic CAS programme and one which deals with issues such as climate change which are priorities of students. It is worth noting that often parents question the value of CAS and fear that it will detract from the academic studies of the student. This can be demotivating for the student and so this perception has to be changed. Personally, I found having students talk to parents about the successes in their CAS programme was really effective.
- It is important for CAS Coordinators to network with other coordinators for both moral and practical support.
- The most important point for the coordinators is to lead by example and actively model support for changes in the way that the CAS programme works and the issues you want students to be involved in.
Last but not least, Kurt Hahn (1965), the founder of the outward bound programme, stressed this point about encouraging students to be actively involved: “It is a sin of the soul to force young people into opinions … but it is culpable neglect not to compel them into experiences.”
Alchin N (2011) “The identity of the IB Diploma Core” in Hayden M and Thompson J (eds) “Taking the IB Diploma forward”, John Catt Educational Woodbridge
Hahn K (1965) “Outward Bound”. Address at the Outward Bound Conference, Harrogate, May 9th 1965
Hayden M et al. (2017) “The impact of Creativity, Activity and Service on students and communities”,; BethesdaBetheseda MD, International Baccalaureate
International Baccalaureate (2012) “Mission Statement”, BethesdaBethseda MD.
Roberts W (2018) “The role of the Theory of Knowledge, Extended Essay and Creativity, Activity and Service within the IBDP” in Journal of International Education XXXVI, P.36-42
Rouse Margaret (2020) https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/change-agent
St Mary’s University, Minnesota https://onlineprograms.smumn.edu/mael/masters-in-educational-leadership/program-outcomes
Walker G (2019) “The DP Core: Helping to Create a better and more peaceful world” in Fabian J, Hayden M and Thompson J “Perspectives on the IB Diploma Core”, John Catt eEducation, Woodbridge