In 1997, just one year after the International Baccalaureate Organization introduced their Middle Years Program (MYP), another curriculum was launched, this time targeting students ages 3-12. Known as the Primary Years Program, or PYP, this curriculum designed for younger students echoes the values and learning objectives of its two predecessors, including the MYP and the Diploma Programme, the latter of which has been in existence since 1968.
A globally recognized program, the PYP is today offered in nearly 1,500 schools worldwide - including both public schools and private schools - in more than 109 different countries, according to the IBO.org website. The IB is consistent in its policies for all levels students, and all schools wishing to offer the IB curriculums, including the Primary Years Programme, must apply for approval. Only schools that meet strict criteria are granted the label as IB World Schools.
The goal of the PYP is to encourage students to inquire about the world around them, preparing them to be global citizens. Even at a young age, students are asked to think about not what is happening just inside their classroom, but within the world beyond the classroom. This is done through embracing what is known as the IB Learner Profile, which applies to all levels of IB study. Per the IBO.org site, the Learner Profile is designed "to develop learners who are inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective."
According to the IBO.org website, the PYP "provides schools with a curriculum framework of essential elements - the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, and action that young students need to equip them for successful lives, both now and in the future." There are several components that are used to create a challenging, engaging, relevant and international curriculum for students. The PYP is challenging in that it asks students to think differently than many other programs do. While a number of traditional primary school courses of study focus on memorization and learning tactical skills, the PYP goes beyond those methods and asks students to engage in critical thinking, problem solving, and to be independent in the learning process. Self directed study is a crucial part of the PYP.
The real world applications of learning materials allows students to connect the knowledge they are presented with in the classroom to their lives around them, and beyond. By doing so, students often become more excited about their studies when they can understand the practical applications of what they are doing and how it pertains to their daily lives. This hands-on approach to teaching is becoming more common in all aspects of education, but the IB PYP specifically incorporates the style in its pedagogy.
The global nature of the program means that students aren't just focusing on their classroom and local community. They are also learning about global issues and who they are as individuals within this greater context. Students also are asked to consider where they are in place and time, and to consider how the world works. Some supporters of the IB programs liken this form of study to philosophy or theory, but many simply say that we are asking students to consider, how do we know what we know. It's a complex thought, but directly targets the approach of teaching students to inquire about knowledge and the world in which they live.
The PYP uses six themes that are part of every course of study and are the focus of the classroom and learning process. These transdisciplinary themes are:
- Who we are
- Where we are in time in place
- How we express ourselves
- How the world works
- How we organize ourselves
- Sharing the planet
By connecting courses of study for students, teachers must work together to "develop investigations into important ideas" that require students to delve deeply into subject matter and question the knowledge they have. The holistic approach of PYP, according to IBO, combines socio-emotional, physical and cognitive development by providing a vibrant and dynamic classroom setting that embraces play, discovery and exploration. The IB also pays close attention to the needs of its youngest participants, as those children ages 3-5, need a thoughtful curriculum designed for their development progress and ability to learn.
The play-based learning is deemed by many as a crucial component for success for younger students, allowing them to still be children and age-appropriate but challenge their ways of thinking and ability to comprehend complex thoughts and issues at hand.