In the most testing year in the IB’s history, the organization, the schools and the students showed agility, resilience and innovation to manage the many challenges posed by COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
In a world wrestling with unprecedented change, the IB’s commitment to schools remains the same. Working innovatively, collaboratively and passionately, our mission is to create a better world through education, to grow our diverse community of schools, ensure that excellence is accessible to students from all backgrounds and make a tangible difference to people’s lives.
In a time of such volatility and uncertainty, when COVID-19 and lockdowns have forced millions of students to learn mainly or entirely online, we believe that goal is more relevant than ever.
In this review we focus on four areas in which the IB has made a significant impact in 2019/2020:
- As an organization with a growing global role
- As a community helping and inspiring the communities we are part of
- As an innovator, showing agility, flexibility and creativity
- As an educator, constantly improving the quality of services for students
In a world of sound bites, bandwagons, fads, over-simplification and misinformation, the need to encourage students to think critically in the classroom has seldom been as urgent. That is why the issue topped the agenda at our African Education Festival in Johannesburg in February 2020. Keynote speaker Conrad Hughes, Campus and Secondary Principal of the International School of Geneva Switzerland – La Grande Boissière, said: “Knowledge is key: critical thinking cannot take place in a vacuum. No real critical thinking of quality can emerge from a weak academic programme.”
The IB aims to nurture critical thinking through its Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (CP). That capability is vital for our students and will be even more so in future as they seek to build a better, more peaceful world.
The IB’s global reach has grown significantly in the past year, with new schools and countries joining the community. In July 2019, we signed a memorandum of cooperation in South Korea to bring our programmes into public schools in the provinces of Jeju and Daegu. As part of the project, we are making a select group of DP subjects available in Korean, supporting the training and development of public school teachers and collaborating with universities to ensure that the DP is widely recognized.
In the United Arab Emirates, the IB is already widely recognized. Since 2010, the number of schools offering an IB programme has tripled with the 50th school, Dubai International – Al Barsha authorized to offer the DP, in May 2020. As of December 2020, 7,232 IB programmes were being offered globally, across 5,402 schools in 158 countries.
One of the mainstays of the IB’s curriculum, the MYP promoting intercultural understanding, communication and holistic learning for 11- to 16-year-olds, turned 25 in October 2019. Reviewed and enhanced in 2014, the MYP offers schools a flexible educational framework. Read what our schools say about the MYP here.
The award-winning MYP eAssessment, introduced in 2016 to strengthen students’ skills in inquiry, communication and critical thinking and align with today’s digital learning environment, has been embraced by more than 1,266 schools, including Bonn International School in Germany and Pathways School, Gurgaon in India.
In April 2020, when it became clear how severely COVID-19 and lockdowns would disrupt students and educators, the IB consulted 400 universities across the world about its assessment plans – and 98% indicated that student admission would not be impacted.
Our students are well prepared for university and have the skills to adapt to whatever the future brings. A University of Oxford study on the effect of the DP on critical thinking development found that: “Teachers and students also generally believed that the DP better prepares students for university compared to national or state programmes.” While a previous study of DP graduates at leading universities in Asia-Pacific, found they believed the skills developed through the DP prepared them for classroom discussions, presentations, innovative thinking, global-mindedness, and taking leadership roles in group projects at university.
Our educators have always been distinguished by their passion for professional improvement. The IB is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to harness that passion and in 2021, we will award 140 tuition-free scholarships for an online Master of Education degree (M.Ed.) with the University of the People. The first 20 educators to win scholarships under this partnership graduated in 2019 and the expansion of this programme is intended to foster the IB’s teaching style and address a worldwide shortage of educators.
Olalekan Adeeko, a teacher at Baptist Boys’ High School in Nigeria, believes his UoPeople scholarship will help him achieve his long-term goal of lifelong learning and explore the strategic use of technology in the classroom. “Technology cannot make a bad teacher into a good teacher, but it can certainly make a good one better,” says Olalekan.
Every organization, community and school has been disrupted by COVID-19 and its repercussions. The IB is no exception to that but, in a turbulent year, it has been heartening to see the many efforts educators, students and alumni have made to support the communities they belong to. For example, DP students used their CAS projects to try and solve some of the challenges arising from the pandemic.
We also featured many notable school and student initiatives from 2019/2020, which aimed to solve other global problems. These include:
- The complete elimination of single-use plastics by the International School of Geneva (Ecolint), Switzerland
- A reforestation programme run by students at Dwight School, London, and students in Nepal
- The launch by Diya Kohli, an MYP student at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Florida, U.S. of the REDONE/IT project to convert old denim into bags
- A Model United Nations (MUN), founded to encourage young people to collaborate to resolve global problems by Meher Joshi, an MYP student at Oberoi International School in Mumbai, India
- A new non-profit fashion brand, set up to preserve the traditional Filipino art of weaving by Gabrielle Uy, a DP student at the British School Manila, Philippines.
Sometimes, especially when life is stressful, the most effective form of communication is visual. An Art Battle for Babies competition, organized by Maeve Stemp, a DP student at Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay, Canada, raised CAD$900 to provide baby milk formula to local food banks for the poor. In the Greek seaside village of Mati, which was devastated by fire in the summer of 2018, Aliki Coulouvatou and Mary Sarantitis, DP students at Athens College, painted a mural to boost the morale of schoolchildren.
Alumni from across the world shared their experiences of the DP and their accomplishments since their graduation in the IB Graduate Voices 2019 and 2020 online series. Inaara Gangji, a DP graduate from the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, Kenya, reflected on what COVID-19 and her experiences in the developed and developing world taught her about the concept of privilege, concluding: “This is the biggest test of empathy for our time and generation.”
In the past year, many IB alumni have made their mark as global citizens. Lynn Nanticha Ocharoenchai, an MYP graduate from KIS International School in Thailand has led a climate change protest. The class of students that graduated from the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, Kenya, in 2020 launched an initiative called#DoMore2020 to raise US$50,000 to fund scholarships for deserving students to attend IB schools across Africa.
The threat of COVID-19 has reminded us that communities can be intensely fragile but also immensely powerful. The IB believes that communities can only sustain that power if they are genuinely diverse and inclusive so we were delighted that so many of our schools supported the United Nations’ decision to make 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages. (Nine out of ten of these languages are threatened by extinction.) SenPokChin (senpaq’cin) school in Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, is one of the first on-reserve IB World Schools in North America to offer the MYP, making nqilxʷcn – the traditional language of the silyx (Okanagan) people – a key part of the curriculum.
Convinced that “all children deserve an education”, David Li and Valeria Garcia, DP students at Lamar Academy, Texas, U.S., launched the Beyond the Border project to teach asylum seekers from Central America basic English, arts and crafts for a few hours a week.
Ishmael Beah, the author, human rights activist and former child soldier, gave an inspirational address on the importance of inclusiveness in education at the IB Global Conference in New Orleans in July 2019. Studying at the United Nations International School in New York, he said, had changed the trajectory of his life and taught him that: “Education is the greatest weapon in the world.”
Innovation is never an end in itself. For the IB, innovation has to have a purpose, whether that be removing barriers to learning by encouraging inclusion in the classroom, rethinking the way we learn languages or launching a COVID-19 microsite to support our community in a time of great need. The launch of the #IBTogether hashtag – and of #IBArt, an online platform for students and schools to share artworks – also helped to strengthen bonds in difficult circumstances.
Purposeful innovation helped us, our schools, our teachers and our students remain resilient in a year of constant, unpredictable and often unforeseeable change. Many IB World Schools went virtual in March 2020 and remained so for the rest of the academic year. In most countries, governments closed schools at short notice so teachers and students had to be agile and adaptable as they adjusted to learning online.
At the Renaissance International School in Saigon, student counsellor Sue Morrell Stewart found that in the first weeks of lockdown in Vietnam “we learned the real value of people”. At first, staff at the Shahid Mahdavi Education Foundation in Tehran, Iran, found it hard to cope with the lack of eye contact with their classes but they found that, with students being assessed on individual assignments, the quality of their work improved.
The media invariably defines innovation in terms of a new product or technology, but IB educators are innovators in the way they integrate critical thinking into the curriculum. With so many competing – and often conflicting – sources of information at their disposal, it is imperative that young people understand how they know what they know, how to agree and disagree and how to challenge existing theories and practices.
For example, Guangzhou Nanfang International School in China, embedded theory of knowledge (TOK) into every subject on the curriculum with a combination of classroom galleries on the topic, regular exchanges of ideas at staff meetings and, as part of CAS, encouraging students to express their insights through art, particularly graffiti and posters.
True innovation is not something that people at the top of the hierarchy do to those lower down, it is democratic, collaborative and interactive. That spirit is exemplified by Ambika Kapur, a librarian at Oakridge International School in India, who was inspired by an IB Professional Development workshop to lead a community effort to create a school library fit for the 21st century.
The launch of a blockchain company that encourages children to reach new learning goals by Kaede Takenaka, a PYP student at KIS International School in Bangkok, Thailand, is a perfect example of purposeful innovation. Under the ‘KIDLetCOIN’ scheme, which Kaede launched with her mother, children earn bitcoins for doing chores, reading or studying maths which they can spend online. Kaede, who gave a talk on her venture at the Techsauce Global Summit in Thailand, says: “I care that children learn about blockchain and cryptocurrencies just like adults. They should, as it is our future and this technology will soon be ours.”
Kaede and countless other IB students past and present have proved that young people can drive positive change. To encourage such inspiration, imagination and passion, the IB has launched the MYP Innovators award, open to year 4-5 students involved in a socially impactful project. The scheme, launched in 2020 in partnership with social entrepreneurship pioneer Ashoka, supports up to 30 students every year.
Developing agile, thoughtful learners has always been at the heart of the IB’s educational philosophy and, in the past six years, we have strived to make our teaching more accessible and affordable so more students can benefit.
In November 2019, we abolished the $172 registration fee for IB exams with immediate effect. That aim has also led us to freeze programme fees since 2015, offer discounts to schools with three or more IB programmes and invest in lower cost professional development options. We will continue to seek efficiencies and savings that will help us to make it financially feasible for more students to take more exams, pursue a full DP or join the community of more than 5,200 schools worldwide.
One of the benefits of IB courses, research has shown, is that they can help create a school climate that fosters collaboration, inclusion and emotional learning and reduces bullying. An extensive study of the role of the Primary Years Programme within public elementary schools in California found that it improved six of the nine outcomes the authorities used to assess a school’s culture.
In the context of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will lead to the automation of many roles, empowering students to create a better world is absolutely vital. One aspect of that empowerment is helping students to think critically – a capability which, the recent study by the University of Oxford, found is more developed in DP students compared to students of the same age who are not learning DP. While another recent study on employability skills found that communication, ethics, mindfulness and critical thinking were the top four competencies identified in the DP and CP curriculum.
Chad Sperzel-Wuchterl, IB Visual Art Department Chair and an art teacher at Ronald Reagan High School in Milwaukee, U.S., has encouraged his students to think critically by encouraging them to see art not purely as a form of expressing themselves, but also as a way of communicating the values, dilemmas, strengths, and shortcomings faced by their communities. In 2018, 41 of his senior students earned a combined $3.5m in scholarships. He has since been honoured as Wisconsin’s High School Teacher of the Year.
At the IB, we have always believed that our educational philosophy nurtures students who have the character, motivation and opportunity to progress but it is always good to have that confirmed by respected external authorities. A recent American study suggests that CP students are more likely to enrol at university than the average US student, they are more likely to sign on four-year degree courses and less likely to drop out after one year.
The sheer quality of an IB education was reaffirmed when seven of our schools won their categories at the 2020 International School Awards. The St Andrews International School Bangkok, Thailand, won the best environmental initiative. The school campaign ‘Eco Beasts’ in which students created and delivered action plans to confront various aspects of climate change was so impressive that it helped St Andrews to be selected as the overall International School of the Year.
Believing that “entrepreneurship is not just for grown-ups”, Nancy Toro, a teacher at Gimnasio del Norte School in Bogota, Colombia, encouraged her students to explore what it took to start their own business. Julián, an eight-year-old PYP student was so inspired he launched a company to produce handmade books for children. Nancy Toro said: “Julián showed he is a thinker, knowledgeable and inquirer, denoting great communication and thinking skills by spreading attitudes as creativity, enthusiasm and appreciation.”
In a year that saw the pandemic cause disruption to education on a global scale, the IB’s role in developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who are motivated to succeed is needed more than ever.