Education for today’s world

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The new IB strategy is focused on students, teachers and schools, but with an element of excitement, Dr Siva Kumari tells Sophie-Marie Odum.

With the ongoing pressure of targets and deadlines, many educators might place “fun” relatively low on their list of priorities, but IB Director General Dr Siva Kumari believes a sense of excitement is just what classrooms need – and the new IB strategy is just what is needed to effectively deliver it.

The IB launched its new strategic vision for 2015-19 earlier this year, and from the outset, IB staff at all levels, regardless of job titles, were integral to its formation. Consultation took place across IB offices producing “very rich and real” conversations among staff, says Kumari, who became IB Director General in January 2014.

The IB community was consulted throughout the year too, and the result was a “realistic” strategy that places the IB on a firm foundation and on an exciting trajectory following significant structural changes over the past five years.

While the plan was to deliver a strategy to the Board in April 2015, Kumari felt that she, the staff and the IB community were ready to seek approval for the strategy in the November 2014 Board meeting. “Using this strategy, the IB will continue to deliver curricula that ensures schools and teachers are key players in designing meaningful learning, and that the IB has a role in creating the best in international education for schools to deliver,” explains Kumari.

“The major themes are about creating an IB that is closer to and deeply respectful of the value and needs of its community of educators,” she adds. “This includes a strong focus on infusing research into our curriculum development process and an outside-in view when delivering our services, ensuring that the value of an IB student and an IB education is better understood by parents, employers and universities. We also have a passion for creating an organization that can fully employ current technologies to think in new ways.”

Focusing on quality not growth

The IB has set its sights on maintaining quality. “We didn’t specifically talk about targets, or that we need to grow by ‘x%’,” says Kumari. “Our current rate of growth is reasonable. We are more focused on how we keep improving the quality. This is most important in the long run.” “Developing our programmes in line with current research about age-appropriate learning, assessment techniques and content renewal is what the IB does well. We work with our schools to make changes and continuously improve,” she adds. “We want to share this research with our schools so they can use it with their parents.

Furthermore, we want to try to connect with experts of particular subject areas. For example, in mathematics, maybe we could connect with mathematical societies around the world and seek their input. This keeps the IB aligned to the original promise of being that link between tertiary and secondary education.”

Embracing technology

Through the delivery of this strategy, the IB is using technology as a tool to further connect the IB community.

The online platform, Agora, will allow teachers to swap and share ideas wherever they are in the world, and welcome non-IB teachers to tap into this resource for their development and that of their students. “We’ve taken a very strong view about technology in this strategy and we want to fully exploit it for the good of our schools,” says Kumari.“We want to work in significantly different ways so we can reach far more of our schools more effectively, contain costs and better engage and connect people. We hope that, through technology, our community will continue to feel a stronger sense of connection to the IB.”

“The IB operates in a creative and unique ecosystem within a community that believes in sharing, and in a mission of creating a more peaceful world,” she adds. “Our new strategy creates a professional learning community, and through Project Agora, the IB can share good educational practice from the worldwide community of schools. “There are schools around the world that really need these resources, and teachers who do not have access to this type of professional development. Non-IB teachers can also benefit from a wealth of knowledge and can utilize resources for implementation in their schools.” Although technology will certainly help the IB progress, Kumari will ensure that the organization doesn’t get caught up in the “technology tsunami” and will remain grounded and focused on what is important for students.

Building on the mission

The strategy builds on the IB’s mission statement and aims to remind schools why they stay with the organization. “The emphasis of what the IB is about is the most exciting aspect of the strategy,”  says Kumari. “It’s about owning up to the privilege we’ve had so far and the potential we have for the future. We are reconnecting to our mission and that is really exciting.” Kumari felt there was a need to re-focus on the IB’s mission, and bring the organization back to its founding principles. “It’s important for any organization that is 46 years old, has had considerable growth and completed an ambitious structural change, to re-focus. “The mission provides a definition of education; and the purpose of the IB extends beyond getting students to tertiary education. There is also a higher ambition with the mission – to create a better world through our students, schools and our work, serving as a great reminder of the need for the IB.”

Turning a vision into reality

Discussing how the strategic vision for 2015-19 will become a reality, Kumari says: “The IB attracts individuals who have similar values, and it needs to continue to attract those who are striving towards our core mission. “We have created a global organization with a complex structure, but the IB will continue to pull together, irrespective of where we are located in the world, to ensure we are steering the ship together in the same direction. “This strategy is focused on thinking about schools first and not us. I am deeply hopeful that it will make a marked difference for all IB World Schools.”


The IB's strategic vision 2015-2019, explained by Dr Kumari 

1. Educational research and innovation

Create an IB education that inspires and enables exemplary teaching, learning and assessment, in line with the mission and values of the IB.

“We will be thinking through assessments suited for today’s students, given the explosion of information, the possible delivery of assessment through the internet and the changing needs of the real world. “We will create more value for our students undertaking the IB Diploma Programme in ways that universities can understand and credit.

“We are mindful about developing students that have both a strong cultural and linguistic anchor, and exercise critical thinking skills in solving issues that matter with the tools available in today’s world. But, how can those students survive and contribute anywhere?

We want to create students who are intellectually capable of processing information, and are aware of their own biases and the biases of others, encouraging them to form opinions and remain culturally mindful wherever they may be.”

2. Teacher leadership and the Agora

Support, reward and ensure recognition of IB teachers, and work with them to build a globally recognized digital community, which will strengthen the impact of teachers globally.

“The IB believes in educators, their passion for educating students, and both their craft and their profession. We want to enable more teachers to exchange ideas with their peers around the world.

“Online, the IB has a unique opportunity to make it easy for the community to talk, discuss and share ideas about good teaching practices.”

3. Provide more ways of offering an IB education

Acknowledge the different needs and contexts of our diverse community of schools and provide more flexible ways of accessing and implementing IB programmes to help schools achieve their best, while preserving the IB’s standards for quality and impact.

“The IB now serves a wide community of schools. We have significant volumes of international schools, state supported schools, large networks of schools, country-wide initiatives and so on. “Now is the time for us to think about how we attend to the unique requirements of these schools.”

4. Excellence in customer experience

We will provide the best possible experience to our community by adopting the best practices of customer service. We will know and understand our growing community of schools and we will make them our first priority. “Although we don’t think of our schools as customers, we want to start thinking from their point of view.

During our strategy consultation meetings, IB staff were very interested in cultivating stronger relationships, listening more intently and responding to our schools. “Simply put, it’s about thinking from the outside in and focusing on how we can make working with the IB easier and more meaningful for schools.”

5. An organization suited to IB aspirations

To create an organization that enables us to achieve our strategic goals, to meet stakeholder expectations and to be the global educational leader we aspire to be. “How can we make people feel a part of one organization that operates worldwide?

We need to revise our processes to ensure we always keep schools at the forefront of our minds, and that their journey through the IB is smooth. “With everything we do, we should be thinking about how our work impacts our schools and therefore how best to work together to make this happen.”