Why the Primary Years Programme (PYP) Changing the Paradigm Matters

By Adrian Allan

We all agree that education is important, however, we may not give much thought to the actual purpose of this process of formal education that our children will be subjected to for between ten and nineteen years. We should.

There can be a tendency to think of university entrance and a vague idea of ‘good’ jobs at the end of this process as a justification of the system rather than looking critically at our intent. The purpose of education has historically been to select students with a very specific skill set. This skill set involves remembering facts from a textbook, regurgitating them for a test and then moving on to the next step, often forgetting the previous content.

Yet, increasingly our global society has been asking ourselves, is this what we really want for our children? Is this what our world really needs, now and in the future? Is this what I want for my own child? Could a compulsory system that I am compelled by law to deliver my child to be done differently? Better?

As a head of school, I talk to many families who are looking at educational options for their children. The common theme that emerges from hundreds of conversations is that parents want their children to feel safe, secure and valued. They also want success in some form, but safety, security and a sense of being valued are always at the forefront of a parent’s hopes for their child. Unfortunately, our historically beloved systems of short-term teacher-directed content regurgitation are never going to provide this for our children.

We feel a sense of value as a human being when we make a contribution to our communities, local or global.

Content knowledge will always be important because all understanding stems from knowledge, however, in an education system knowledge needs to be a starting point, not a destination. Many educational systems are using the idea of inquiry to involve students in their learning. Many models of inquiry have been suggested and all revolve around the idea that we take our learning (developing knowledge, skills, understandings, and attitudes) and take some action using this learning while reflecting on the process we are involved in. In this sense, action is a vital part of the learning process and can be defined simply as taking the learning further, including service-learning that involves making a contribution to the community.

Inquiry, Action, Reflection: These are key components of the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Primary Year Programmes (PYP). The central purpose of including an action component is that a learner develops a sense that the knowledge, skills, understandings, and attitudes that we are developing enable us to take action; it empowers us. This type of knowledge that we develop which will eventually enable us to take specific types of action. The implication for us as learners is that we come to seek certain types of knowledge because it will empower us in some specific way.

Our learning enables us to engage in service-oriented action, contributing to our communities. Learning becomes a tool of empowerment for an individual. As a learner, we matter. We have value. We are valued. This is what we want for our children. Action, as part of the learning process, can support learners to develop in this way; independent and empowered. This is what will make our children feel valued in the educational systems we set up in our schools.


Adrian Allan, Head of School