Taking The Plunge in the IB Diploma
“I have always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Every August in the midst of the South West Monsoon new batches of students enter OSC’s IB Diploma Program. We are a relatively small school and usually have cohorts around 30-35 students from a dozen or more countries. For the next 18 months these young women and men will undertake a series of academic, extra-curricular and personal challenges. There are significant peaks and troughs and the exercise culminates in rigorous exams that are assessed alongside thousands of other students worldwide. In addition to six subjects divided between three higher level and three standard levels subjects, they write an extended essay, participate in the Theory of Knowledge class and take part in the Creativity Action and Service (CAS) program. For many the goal is university entrance but there are basic skills in being a human being in an increasingly interconnected, sometimes perplexing world that are just as important. It is a daunting challenge for even the most organized, brightest and/or hardest working individuals and yet our students do amazingly well. In order to prepare them for this exceptional learning experience, we conduct an orientation program that emphasizes team building, leadership and experiential education using the outdoors. The program is facilitated by Borderlands Sri Lanka at their Kitulgala base camp. The idea is to give OSC’s students a sense of the DP, highlight a few keys components and help them to take the plunge both metaphorically and in the flesh!
Much of the program involves physical challenges set in the wet, densely forested Kelani River valley. The river, originating on the slopes of Sri Pada, runs through the small town of Kitulgala located about 100 km due east of Colombo. Water and the river play a key role as students and teachers raft and canyon their way into the camp on the first day. The team at Borderlands has an impeccable safety record and time is taken to emphasize safety in the different spheres of the challenge. Some of the students have been here on past school trips or with their parents but a few came with limited swimming skills and were nervous about the challenge. We rafted through a series of rapids, took time to play in the river and then made our way through a gorge (“the Canyon”). By the end of the first day the team was exhausted, but exhilarated from the river and canyon. We took time to reflect on the day both as a group and individually. This is where CAS came in and the four step learning cycle (plan, act, observe, reflect) was emphasized.
The Theory of Knowledge component of the orientation program is set in the historical Belilena Cave located amongst rubber plantations above Kitulgala. This is a significant Sri Lankan archeological site and is thought to be one of the oldest locations showing evidence of early Homo sapiens in all of South Asia (estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 years before present)! The setting is sublime to say the least and the echoes of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave ring loud in this setting (a link pointed out by OSC’s mathematics HOD and philosophy junkie last year). The students were invited to think about knowledge and test their senses as they grappled with a series of cognitive challenges. In the second part of the afternoon the tasks were much more physical and the class hiked up to a 100 meter waterfall to be tested in a slippery abseil in an intense downpour. The sense of accomplishment and elation at the end of this was palatable.
On our final day we explored ideas of community in the changing landscape. Students broke into small teams to meet a cross section of local inhabitants and talk to them about their memories, experiences and dreams of the river. This is a new initiative and will hopefully lay the ground work for follow up work when subsequent OSC classes return here. We returned to Colombo exhausted, slightly bloodied by leeches but exhilarated by the experiences of taking the plunge into the IB Diploma Program.