Spiritualization and The IB Learner Profile

By 12/12/2015July 31st, 2019Educating in a better way

Spiritualization and The IB Learner Profile – Ira Ghosh

What kind of young people are being turned out by the education system?

(Stephen Bigger 1999)

This Essay will take you across a brief study on the concept of Spiritualization in the 21st century education as a part my MA Programme at the University of Bath. During my IBPYP (International Baccalaureate Primary Year Programme) teaching and learning experience the questions that have eventually led me to this topic are:

  • Which type of education (IB, IGSE, National curriculum) providesthe best pedagogy to prepare the children for the world of tomorrow?
  • With the IB’s emphasis on International-mindedness, are thestudents ready to deal with life and solve problems effortlessly?
  • Are the 10 attributes of the IB Learner Profile enough? If not what is missing?
  • Is Spiritualization considered one of the most important factors of learning to live life and being human? Why?

As per my experience and study, the IB curriculum along with its unique attributes of the learner profile helps develop intellectually, mentally and socially balanced children across the globe, however the main focus of this article is on how I believe that there is an element or essence of inner enlightment that is not comprised amongst the ten attributes of the IB learner profile. I will also be talking about the missing aspect or element “Spiritualization”. The term Spiritualization has been misunderstood and misinterpreted as religion in many parts of the globe. The aim of this essay is not to summarize or change the IB pedagogy, but to help the IB educators reflect on the possibilities of creating an awareness about the positive influence of spiritualization in education.

This article is concerned about what several educationist including Stephen Bigger (1999) a professor at the University of Worcester has written about in his book called Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education. Bigger accurately said “The focus on spiritual, moral, social and cultural education recognizes the importance of human experience – of life, of how we think about ourselves, our responsibilities, our place in the world, and our responses to others who are different. Whatever else it does, education should help children understand themselves and their world and enable them to make an informed and responsible contribution to their community and society”.

What we are doing by introducing and inculcating the Learner Profile is letting the children know who is a good person or a good citizen, and how does s/he look like and this makes me wonder if as educators we are spoon feeding the students? What we need to do is to help enlighten them about why should they behave this way? How does this behavior for example being ‘Caring’ benefit them and others? It is important for one to not only act upon and understand the 10 attributes intellectually but also to feel from within and understand the inner-self. The most beautiful thing for us would be to see our children do an act not because they know it is how they become a better person but because they feel it from within and believe it will be the right thing to do.

At the end of this Essay I shall analyze the possibilities of relating spiritualization with the ten attributes of the IB Learner Profile and argue on whether it is a part of the 10 descriptions, can it merge in some of the descriptions or is it the 11th element?


If when you hear the word Spirituality and the first thing that comes to your mind is religion, you are not actually the only one. This has been explained by Michal Levin (2000), which has inspired me to quote her effectively in this part of my essay. “Spirituality is not like the sky. Or water. Or even happiness. Essential though they all are. Neither is it a creed, or set of rules. It’s very different from religion, which lays down the laws of believers. It’s not an academic subject-though it’s sometimes treated as one. It’s not best learnt in institutions. It’s not dependent on book learning. Spirituality is a perspective. It’s your heart’s perspective. It is a vision that belongs to love in the widest sense”. Spiritualization is the most enjoyable question for a human being, ‘Who I am?’ which explores the sense of knowingness, the sense of self and It is about how meaningfully one views herself / himself.

Russell Peter (2006) in his article on Spiritual Awakening suitably explains that the essence of spirituality is the search to know our real self, and discover the true nature of consciousness. The self that we know, the separate and independent individual self, is actually limited of what we truly are. Unaware of our true self, we identify with our thoughts and feelings, our memories and personality. Children experience changes and considering them natural inquirers they would like to know why. Spirituality is going beyond the dogmas and rituals and is about reflecting within; reflect on the dos and don’ts. No matter what is the age of a child, but being a being with a soul, it is important for us to awaken our consciousness and choose to take action. Russell Peter (2006) argues that we may be very different people than we were twenty years ago, but the “I” that is aware of the difference is the same “I” as twenty years ago. It is omnipresent and eternal. It is the “I” that knows that it knows. The very essence of being aware. It is always present, whatever we may be experiencing, sacred or profane. This everpresent sense of being is so obvious it is easily overlooked. We fall into believing that we are the individual senses of self that appears in our mind. Like a character in a novel, this separate self engrosses us with its hopes and fears, plans and deliberations. It believes that fulfillment comes from what we have or do in the world, from our roles and possessions, from our personality and how others see us. It promises us happiness, but any happiness it does bring is usually short-lived, and we soon find ourselves chasing some new promise.

Identifying ourselves with the vulnerable, ever-changing character of our personal story, the “I” misses its true nature. Our thinking and behavior become “self-centered”, leading far too often to suffering in others and ourselves. When we awaken to the true nature of self, we are freed from many of the fears that outbreak us so unnecessarily. We discover an inner peace that does not depend upon events or circumstances in the world around, a quiet but profound inner fulfillment. We become less selfcentered, less needy of others’ approval or recognition, less focused on collecting possessions and social status. We become happier, healthier and more loving people, less likely to cause suffering to others or ourselves. This is self-liberation. And its transforming impact has made it the essence of the spiritual quest.

It is a mistake to see spirituality separate form life. In today’s world we intend to brand spirituality as something additional to our life. Something that you can choose to have or believe in. By disconnecting the life and spirituality from each other we are creating an unhealthy imbalance between our body and soul, the internal and the external. Kerala-based spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (2001) shares her thoughts on the importance of spirituality in our education system and goes on to say “Everyone knows the goal of education is not to create a generation only capable of understanding the language of machines. Education should help us attain samskara-spiritual culture. If ‘culture’ merely denotes a refined sense of judgment regarding fashion and cuisine, we don’t need education to cultivate it. Even the so-called ‘uncivilized’ are proud of their food and clothing.”

Spirituality is a rich word, but often misunderstood strongly as religion in many parts of the world and by many religious people. Spirituality includes self-refection and meditation, direct communication with universal consciousness. Spirituality is simply the discovery of our authentic self without any accessories or labels, which gives us a rich source of values and a deeper meaning to life, be it whatever our religion.

While looking for an explanation, religion and spirituality come together.Spirituality highlights qualities such as caring, kindness, compassion, tolerance, service and community, and in its true sense but religion does include these too. But where religion is defined by its tradition and teachings, spirituality is defined by what is real in our own experience, arising from an inner search within ourselves, the finding of our own truth. “The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth” (Swami Vivekananda 1893).

To ensure the true meaning and spirituality and how it evolves around practically all the religions, I shall quote few scriptures of the main religions of the world that talk about the importance of the act of selfrealization as an important aspect of education and knowledge.


And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)


Imam Jaffer as-Sadiq (A.S.) has said about acting with knowledge: “Accept not deed without knowledge, and there is not knowledge except with action. So, whoever knows, his knowledge leads him to action, and whoever acts not has no knowledge.” (Wan Moh’d Nor Wan Daud)


raja-vidya raja-guhyam pavitram idam uttamam pratyaksavagamam dharmyam su-sukham kartum avyayam


This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.

Let us imagine a picture to understand the importance of spiritualization. There is an imaginary International school that has students from all over the world, almost all the continents. Africans, South Americans, North Americans, Asians, New Zealanders, Australians and Europeans. This school provides education to children between the ages of 3 to 18 years old. The school believes that it has a rich and holistic curriculum that helps students to solve problems and face the tomorrow effortlessly. The school seems amazingly at pace with the digital world and the technology as well. Just like any other schools, children do fight and get into arguments with each other; they do go through rough situations. During these times, teachers as facilitators guide the students by explaining them about their behavior towards their friends and how words like thank you and sorry to seniors is a must. Everything is under control; everyone knows the magic words and behavior. Talking about world Peace, now imagine when the senior students start to study about the past world wars, about the Israel and Palestinian war, the US & Iraq war or the Libyan Civil War. To make the situation more intense, let us imagine when all the students go back home and see the reality and differences in their countries. What would be that one thing that will make the student’s heart still calm and not filled with the hatred for his schoolmate from the opponent country? Will he remember his teacher and not disgust simply because it is not a good thing to do? What he needs at this very moment is to feel the compassion. He needs to come from the space of knowingness.

“There is no true religion or spirituality without kindness and love” — Swami Brahmananda


The International Baccalaureate is an Inquiry and Concept based curriculum developed in 1969. IB promotes intercultural understanding and respect. It helps the young students appreciate the diversity and realize that others with their differences can also be right. IB promotes the education of the whole person, emphasizing on intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all spheres of knowledge. By the dynamic combination of knowledge, skills, independent critical and creative thought and international-mindedness, the IB adopts the principle of educating the whole person for a life of active, responsible citizenship. Underlying the three programmes is the concept of education of the whole person as a lifelong process. The IB expects the schools to model this philosophy in part by adopting and implementing the Learner Profile. “The IB learner profile is the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning outcomes for the 21st century. The attributes of the profile express the values inherent to the IB continuum of international education. The IB learner profile is expected to be the culture and ethos of all IB World Schools. The learner profile provides a long-term vision of education. It is a set of ideals that can inspire, motivate and focus the work of schools and teachers, uniting them in a common purpose” (Learner Profile Booklet 2009). The learner profile is a profile of the whole person as a lifelong learner.

The concept of Learner Profile and its coherent aim was fully realized in 1997 with the Introduction of Primary Years Curriculum. The IB Learner Profile consists of 10 attributes i.e. Caring, Principled, Knowledgeable, open-minded, thinker, inquirers, risk-takers, and communicators, balanced and reflective. These 10 attributes are imbibed as a part of the curriculum extended to the real life learning for the children of early years to the preuniversity students. From the time of its conception, IBO aims to educate children around the world to motivate, inspire, and believe in creating a more peaceful world. The Idea and aim of IB Leaner Profile is to guide all the IB students to develop these 10 attributes, which in turn will help them to become internationally minded people. If we look at each attribute of the IB Learner Profile the essence of spirituality can be seen in some minor areas.

InquirersThey develop their natural curiosity. They acquire the skills necessary to
conduct inquiry and research and show independence in learning. They
actively enjoy learning and this love of learning will be sustained
throughout their lives.
KnowledgeableThey explore concepts, ideas and issues that have local and global
significance. In so doing, they acquire in-depth knowledge and develop
understanding across a broad and balanced range of disciplines.
ThinkersThey exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and
creatively to recognize and approach complex problems, and make
reasoned, ethical decisions.
CommunicatorsThey understand and express ideas and information confidently and
creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of
communication. They work effectively and willingly in collaboration with
PrincipledThey act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness,
justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and
communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the
consequences that accompany them.
Open-mindedThey understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal
histories, and are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of
other individuals and communities. They are accustomed to seeking and
evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the
CaringThey show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and
feelings of others. They have a personal commitment to service, and act
to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the
Risk-takersThey approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and
forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles,
ideas and strategies. They are brave and articulate in defending their
BalancedThey understand the importance of intellectual, physical and emotional
balance to achieve personal well-being for themselves and others.
ReflectiveThey give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experience.
They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations
in order to support their learning and personal development.

* Table from the IBO Learner Profile Booklet Updated in January 2009.

In the table above, the highlighted excerpts give us an insight into creating a transition into teaching and learning in terms of developing the essence of spirituality for the betterment of tomorrow. I shall talk about the prospects seen in the descriptors above more in details while analyzing the content of my essay.


During my research and studies on Spiritualization and the IB learner Profile I have come across a third perspective for an IB Educator or any one who would be analyzing my impression of spiritualization and its disconnect with IB Learner Profile. This perspective is conceived from the time I have been selected as the IBDP CAS (IB Diploma Programme Community, Action & Service) Coordinator. The essence of spiritualization and the aspects that I have been talking about are someway covered and touched upon in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme CAS. However this programme makes the entire idea very programme and age restricted and does not reach out to the students of the other programmes i.e. Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme.

The IBDP is a two-year educational programme mainly students of 16–19 and is recognized by many universities worldwide. It was developed in 1960s in Geneva by a group of International educators. CAS is a mandatory element of the IBDP. It is predominantly developed to bring in a ‘balance’ to the substantial education. Until 2010 there was 150 hour CAS requirement for each DP student with an approximately equal distribution of Creativity, Action and Service. The IBDP CAS is a meaningful experience that comes from spending time with a wider community to build relationships and develop the self-worth of both server and served.

“CAS allows you to be a reflective thinker – you develop an understanding of your own strengths and limitations, you identify goals and devise strategies for personal growth . Be willing to accept new challenges and new roles. Be aware of yourself as a member of communities with responsibilities towards others and the environment . Be an active participant in sustained, collaborative projects . Be balanced – you will enjoy and find significance in a range of activities involving intellectual, physical, creative and emotional experiences” (IB CAS Handbook 2012).

CAS is indeed a beautiful programme that helps one learn, reflect and reach out to the family beyond the blood relationship. “Patel, for instance, a highly academically successful student in the November 1993 Diploma Programme examinations, explained that “All the work I did towards myfinals was for myself, but every week (working in a children’s home in Nairobi) I was given a chance to do something for other people. Doing this, I discovered things I never knew about myself”(Patel 1994, cited by Kulundu 2002, p. )

What I perceive is that the IBO, has developed such programme to ensure the recognition and the importance of human experience – of life, of how we think about ourselves, our responsibilities, our place in the world, and our responses to others who are different as mentioned by Stephen Bigger (1999). What the 3rd person reading this essay or my other insight would say is that the IB curriculum and programmes does cater to the spiritualization and the knowingness that I have expressed in the previous section. Barring my experience with the CAS Programme I still consider the possibility of integrating Spiritualization in the Learner profile since it is the only element and common ground that all the IB Programmes stand on. Considering the Learner Profile being embedded in the IB students asyoung as three years right up to 18 years of age, I feel it is essential to look at the its descriptions critically and analyze and complement them keeping in mind the spiritualization element.

Referring to the table above (page 8) I shall now talk about my outlook on the elementary incorporation of the Learner Profile attributes and theirscope for inculcating spiritualization. Below is my perspective on the descriptions of each attribute and how I consider them to be equivocal words or sentences. I use the word equivocal because for example the phrase and traits mentioned below are written in such a manner that they are interpreted very superficially by the schools and all of us who implements the IB Programmes. I have selected the traits from each description and tried to compile a set of examples of how well they can be considered as spiritual elements.

InquirersNatural curiosity

Natural curiosity can be guided and practiced to discover oneself, to inquire and ask
question about the nature and the consciousness. Considering today’s children, they can
be channeled to observe the nature and its wonders, to find out about the existence and
life at different levels of complexity

KnowledgeableLocal and global significance

Being knowledgeable does not end by gaining knowledge and passing it on, but to look
deeper and find out about the sources of the knowledge. This aspect of the attribute
knowledgeable can be linked and inspired by epistemology, which is also called as Theory
of Knowledge (TOK) in the IBDP programme. it is essential for one to reflect and recognize
in what ways and contexts his knowledge and wisdom can be used for local and global

ThinkersApproach complex problems, ethical decisions

In order to approach complex problems and solve them, the best way is the divine way, to
visualize the solution. Although there are plenty of tools, strategies and skills discovered
for problem solving but there is still that one force, which is required to make all the
skills, and tools happen and that is awareness and the consciousness.

CommunicatorsExpress ideas and information confidently,
Collaboration with others.
A true communicator would speak the truth even if his/her voice is shaking. You
communicate with others (verbal or non-verbal) to bring harmony. It is believed by many
of the great philosophers and masters that words are to create silence and peace. More
often our communication is mediated by a conscious decision to pause, reflect and then
respond. This mindful thinking directly relates to an individuals desire to connect with
others through a positive, open and non-judgmental communication.
PrincipledIntegrity and honesty, with a strong sense of
fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the
individual, groups and communities. Responsibility
for their own actions, the consequences that
accompany them.
Honesty is speaking the truth; integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is
watching you. You go to church, temple or mosque regularly, does this mean you are a
spiritual person? No. You follow your daily set essential agreements, respect others, you
follow the set rules and know denying them has certain consequences and you accept the
consequences in future, this alone does not make you a spiritual person either. Although
the above factors do play a major role in creating spiritual and mindful individuals but
alone they do not fulfill the purpose. You are principled when you know you are following
the essential agreements to ensure other’s emotional and physical safety and not just
because they are meant to be followed. You are responsible for your action and would
face the consequences even though if no one has seen the wrong act you have done. The
purpose is be principled individuals who allow their consciousness to guide their thought
and actions.
Open-mindedAppreciate their own cultures and personal histories,
values grow from the experience
Being open-minded is like putting yourself in others shoes. You don’t have to necessarily
accept what others are telling you, but willingly listen to them and try to understand the
perspectives. One should feel the desire to learn and experience. You are truly an openminded
person when you are exposed to something that you disagree with and
understand it in deeper aspects, with the gained information refine our positions and
enlarge your perception.
CaringEmpathy, compassion and respect, needs and
feelings of others. Personal commitment to service,
act to make a positive difference to the lives of
others and to the environment.
Being caring is a wonderful thing. Caring is an act of ethical people. Caring should be the
heart of our character. Being Caring should be the way you relate to the world and its
people. We should remember that there is a very thin line between being caring and doing
a duty. Do think you are doing your duty towards the people and elders or is it your heart
that is taking you there?
Risk-takersIndependence of spirit

What is risk-taking? Is it the risky behaviors that include bungee jumping, rock climbing
and skydiving? Taking risk can also be an imperceptible element of our character and
being. Every day we come across situations that we have to risk our tolerance, take risk
in making commitments, trusting strangers, or even being generous.

BalancedPersonal well-being

Being balanced is to have all our physical, emotional and spiritual components activated.
The one who is balanced is optimist and able to fulfill the purpose he was born for. Being
optimist is a vital part of spiritualty or vs. Spirituality is emerging that positive sense.

ReflectiveThoughtful consideration to their own learning and
experience, strengths and limitations
The furthermost reflection for one would be to ask “are my good deeds only driven from
my natural and humanly desire to look good in front of others?”

The descriptions above are few examples complied and evaluated by me to analyze how the IB Learner Profile descriptors are interpreted from an unworldly dimension and how practical they could be to implement in day-to-day life. I see an enormous scope of spiritualization in the descriptors of Principled, Caring & Reflective. Yet, I do not solicit the same descriptions to be inculcated in the present learner profile and understand that they need to be altered into a globally comprehendible and more described phrases.

Now I would like to elucidate my understanding of the scope of implementing the IB Learner Profile in schools and its balance through the Pragmatic and Ideological dimensions. Being pragmatic is when you are concerned about the practicality and less about the philosophy. When an act is dedicated more to the practical consequences and what would suit and be appreciated by others. Ideological means when an act or philosophy is based on a certain belief and ideas. The mission of a school and an institute, which outlooks the founder or community’s ideology, belief or culture.

Based on my reflection on the IBO’s mission statement and my personal experience in the education world, I believe that the IBO is an ideological pedagogy and aims to promote its philosophy for a good global cause. IB is a non-profit organization and intends to create life long learners who are international-minded and knowledgeable individuals and ‘Care’ to create a better and more peaceful world. But what happens when the 3,570 Schools in 145 countries with approximately 1,095000 students (IBO website April 2013) need to implement the same programmes? The IBO has a rigorous process and care for schools to get authorized and evaluated. It closely monitors the school’s developments and pedagogy for high quality assurance. The IB Learner Profile being considered the heart of the three programmes is very closely monitored by the organization and they seek for some tangible evidences in various ways such as the curriculum, the planners, classroom and the school’s environment, and importantly the student’s day-to-day language and behavior. Nevertheless,it is a usual tendency for the schools and educators to rely on the descriptions and not recognize the deeper meaning and approach of the attributes. However this might not be possible until the essence of spirituality and the IB Learner Profile’s expectation is clearly mentioned. This is why I think the implementation of the Learner profile has started to appear more like a pragmatic method than the essential ideological in IB schools, as the Learner Profile descriptions do not have that one sole aim to endorse spiritualization.


An addition or Modification?The notion of adding Spiritualization as the eleventh element of the IB learner Profile or as a modification in the 10 attributes description still remains purely the IB educator, reader and organization’s choice. We the educators are always challenged by the question “the aim of the international education”. There have been debates and arguments on the importance of assimilating spiritualization in the education system but this would remain an uncomfortable aspect until the true meaning of spiritualization is comprehended by the educationalists. In this context the IB stands out to be the only programme with its mission statement promising to encourage students to become active, compassionate and life-long learners who understand that other people with their differences can also be right. The mission statement of IB has been deciphered into a set of attributes, the IB Learner Profile. I believe that even though the IB learner profile does have an immense scope for the Spiritualization element but there is certainly a disconnect. The ten attributes of the IB Leaner Profile are described equivocally which results in schools, students and teachers to interpret and imbibe them into the curriculum superficially. Spirituality for students is about how important they view
themselves and their work, identifying their self-worth and promoting selfunderstanding. It will help the students in personal growth which will be a part of their self-realization that covers intellectual, emotional, physical and social spheres, creating connection and a sense of awareness, with creating new meanings perceived from new challenges and thinking. Furthermore when the IB students through out the three programmes develop all key skills, if they are exposed to the spiritualization as well, they would be like individuals who, in the absence of force, will possibly make their real choices of action not by what they have been taught but by what they feel and they have experiences.

Ira Ghosh

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