Written by Sara Woodcock

Since its launch in 2012 the highly flexible International Baccalaureate (IB) Career related Programme (CP) has gone from strength to strength and is now growing faster than any of the other IB programmes with currently 214 CP schools in 23 countries. The unique core of the CP gives students the opportunity to develop existing interests, skills and talents and learn new ones. It is a chance for students to show initiative, problem solve and work as a team.

Service Learning (SL) is one of the four interrelated core components of the CP. From the IB perspective, “the process of service learning provides opportunities for students to make a meaningful contribution to community and service.”

Service Learning can take many forms and, as with other parts of the CP framework, SL can be tailor- made to meet authentic needs and make a positive difference to each school community. It can be individual, small scale and personal – but equally it can be a large scale event involving all CP students together organising a whole school or community initiative. Community engagement can involve building on the expertise within the wider school community and the support of the student body, staff and parents.

Students can choose from 4 types of service:

  • Direct service: Student interaction with people, the environment or animals
  • Indirect service: Although students do not see the recipients of indirect service, they have verified their actions will benefit the community or environment
  • Advocacy: Students speak on behalf of a cause or concern to promote action on an issue of public interest
  • Research: Students collect information through varied sources, analyse data and report on a topic of importance to influence policy or practic

For each type of SL, every CP student must demonstrate in their portfolio five stages of the process of SL:


  • Investigate an interest that often raises questions and curiosity and typically reveals an authentic need
  • Prepare by learning more to deepen understanding
  • Take action based on the verified need
  • Reflect on what they have done along the way
  • Demonstrate their understandings and accomplishments to an audience

Course Design

50 hours of SL is the minimum requirement over at least 18 months of the programme. The IB requires that a Service Learning coordinator is appointed together with SL advisors or supervisors who support students in their SL and conduct three mandatory formal interviews.

SL can be organised in a wide range of ways. Key decisions to be considered include:

  • Does your school or cultural context facilitate student agency in their choice of SL experience?
  • Are students given a range of SL options from which to choose?
  • Does SL take place during the students’ schedule?
  • Can students elect an experience to participate in out of school? If so, how will this be monitored and risk assessed?
  • What guidance will students be offered during the planning and participation of their SL experiences?

Schools with an existing IB Diploma (DP) programme often develop their SL from existing provision in their CAS programme. CP standalone schools may leverage their school citizenship or enrichment programme. Many schools, however, create a bespoke SL programme that distinguishes their CP offering and develops specific skills from the Personal and Professional Skills (PPS) course and the Career related Studies (CRS) of students, two other essential components of the CP.

The CP framework gives schools great flexibility and freedom to choose how best to design SL with your students in mind. Your setting and context will determine the kind of service activities students could engage in, from a beach clean or an exhibition to promote avalanche awareness, to event management of a community 5k charity run. The possibilities are endless!

Integrating the Core Components

Many CP schools favour an approach with SL where CP students work together as a team and collaborate to organise and manage a large scale community event.

This has the advantage of using and applying many of the skills covered in the Personal and Professional Skills course in a tangible practical way. It can also raise some ethical dilemmas which support students’ Reflective Projects and draw on content from their Career related Study (CRS) and DP courses. This approach makes explicit links to different elements of the programme and gives a strong coherence to the framework. The example cited below is based on a CP programme with a Business pathway but the model could be adapted for a wide variety of events, such as a science fair, international day with a language focus, or a sports event.

In this example, all CP students work as a team and are responsible for every aspect of managing the event. Each student has a responsibility and a role within the team whether it is external liaison with the Community experts, internal liaison with caretakers, or organising the younger students and structuring activities.

This approach gives students a valuable set of transferable skills including organisational skills and self management, effective communication, personal development, collaboration, problem solving and evaluation in a very real situation.

Learning Outcomes

Service Learning benefits everyone.

So, a word of caution! There are some activities that don’t qualify. Any work that is paid cannot be included, so if for example the junior athletics coaching or lifeguarding is paid, it cannot form part of SL.

Fundraising too has its pitfalls: for fundraising to have meaning it must be clear that there is a direct and genuine benefit for others, not just to raise money for an overseas trip where the students themselves are the main beneficiaries!

SL activities need to meet the five learning outcomes established by the IB:

  • Identify strengths and areas for growth.
  • Demonstrate engagement with service learning.
  • Demonstrate the skills and recognize the benefits of working collaboratively.
  • Engage with issues of global significance.
  • Recognize and consider the ethics of decisions and actions.

Completion of the CP SL requirement is dependent on meeting the five outcomes. This is evidenced through the students’ portfolio and the 3 formal interviews with the SL advisor. These can all be recorded directly on Managebac.

Key tips & tricks

  • Make Service Learning relevant to students’ career aspirations.
  • Involve external organisations to complement course.
  • Give students some ownership of course development.
  • Encourage students to engage in experiential learning.
  • Explicitly link to other elements of the IBCP.
  • Maintain consistency of methods chosen across IBCP (assessment of skills, referencing, terminology, etc)
  • Build in time for reflection.

saraSara Woodcock worked as the CP coordinator in a school which was one of the original pilot schools for the IBCP. She is a member of the IB Educator Network as consultant ,site visitor and WSL. She is a contributor to the book “Moving the CP Foreward.”