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IB Diploma Programme: Changing the Notion of Access to Education in Antigua

By James Pastore, Jr., headmaster and Bernadette Sherman, founder, Island Academy, Antigua, West Indies

Seen by many as one of the most stable of the Caribbean islands, Antigua is home to approximately 80,000 people. The racial and ethnic groups represented in the local population are diverse and are reflected in the student population of Island Academy International School (IA).

One of our key phrases at Island Academy is "Unity in Diversity". With children from 20+ nations, our student body is truly representative of the wide range of people who inhabit this island nation. However, despite the best efforts of the Antiguan government, Antiguan children have limited access to resources and educators that most western countries take for granted. The per capita income of Antigua is approximately US$11,000.00 per year. Upper school ends at Grade 11 and students completing the course work available through the Antiguan system do not have a diploma that will allow them to enroll in American and European universities. This discrepancy in access—and the need and desire to address it—is the seed upon which Island Academy in Antigua, West Indies was founded.

Since its founding nine years ago, Island Academy International School has changed the notion of access to education in Antigua by providing a world-class curriculum and enrichment activities to a diverse range of students on the island. The addition of the IB Diploma Programme to Island Academy was a natural progression in the growth of the school as the Board of Trustees sought better ways to serve its students, families and the nation.  The IB programme’s reputation for rigorous assessment, its renown as an excellent university entry credential and its emphasis on critical thinking, intercultural understanding and exposure to differing points of view all speak to the natural alignment of Island Academy with this programme.

The ethos of Island Academy is to create access to the IB Diploma Programme for the underprivileged children of Antigua.  Every year as many as 50% of the students at IA receive financial assistance in the form of bursary awards, which range from 10% of tuition to full scholarships.  Without this support, the opportunity for many to attend Island Academy would be unavailable. In order to embrace this mission, the Board of Trustees fundraises annually for the support of this initiative.

The Trustees struggle to maintain our vision to be a school that changes the educational landscape for Antiguans and rearranges the fabric of the lives of so many deserving children. This struggle involves embracing the challenge of providing the finances to support these students in tandem with preparing them for the rigors of an education far beyond the scope of the public school programmes. Monies raised go towards IB training, materials, and most of all towards teacher salaries, enabling Island Academy to have the ability to recruit teachers from all over the world.

It is the integrity of the IB Diploma Programme and its impact on each student and family that so greatly appeals to the benefactors desirous of committing to measurable benchmarks for Island Academy’s students. Donations range from corporate sponsorships, to individual scholarships directed to individual students, to anonymous gifts in support of the overall school programme. It is through such efforts that many of Island Academy’s students receive a global education. The reward for the stakeholders of this school is the knowledge that scholarships to further education to these same students will create hope and change in families that have never celebrated a university graduate. 

Donations over the years have permitted the school board to raise capital funds to construct a new campus, which opened in August of 2009. The 15 acres of land where the campus is now located were donated by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and the partnership between the school and the nation is evident to everyone on the island.

Ultimately, Island Academy in its small way on a small part of the world stage delivers its hallmark—the empowerment of the child, thus paralleling the International Baccalaureate’s ethos “…to create a better world through education.”