From pupils to global citizens
The Singapore-based team overseeing the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme in schools across the region has one headline objective. And in meeting that, there is special emphasis on introducing progressive changes that reflect evolving standards and requirements, as well as the diverse expectations of teachers, students and parents whose lives - in different ways - are linked to the IB and the outcomes it aims to achieve.
'Basically, the goal is to create a 'global citizen', which is something that resonates with international schools and parents who are internationally mobile,' says Ian Chambers, regional director for IB Asia Pacific. '[Academic] recognition of the programmes is global. But we also recognise that if you look, for example, at China, Hong Kong and other countries in the region, we must adapt to meet different needs and continue to make changes over time.'
Chambers notes that with the pace of implementation increasing, there are now more than 500 schools in Asia offering one or more of the three IB options. These are the diploma for senior students in the final two years, the middle years programme (MYP), and the primary years programme (PYP). The first of these is the longest established and, just going by the numbers, continues to be the most readily adopted.
In Hong Kong, for instance, there are currently 23 diploma schools, seven offering the MYP curriculum, and 22 using the PYP syllabus. The schools are usually categorised as private or international and some, of course, may be using the appropriate IB programme for more than one section within the school.
'We have consistently more candidate and 'interested' schools in Hong Kong at various stages of the assessment and accreditation process,' Chambers says. 'And I would assume more national (or government) schools are now looking to offer IB programmes because, essentially, the demands in terms of parents' expectations and, more broadly, for a well-educated workforce with a global outlook seems to be fairly consistent across the region. Schools need to fill that gap.'
Originally, Chambers notes, the IB programme was born in schools and overseen by educators. It didn't develop from an existing national system, but started with a clean slate. The aim was - and still is - to provide an all-round education for students, with relevant courses, high academic standards, and inherent values, encouraging each person to play a full part in their community.
'Education without engagement with the world around you speaks of isolation,' Chambers says. 'The point should be to learn how to serve others, and to make the world a better place.'
In this respect, he points out the importance of 'compelling' IB students to interact not just within the general school environment, but with the wider community. The objective is to develop social skills and a better understanding of society, and to give immediate purpose to learning.
'When students engage with others and apply what they have learned, they see the point [of education] and that they can make a difference,' Chambers says.
Ensuring a regular review process - for individual schools and for overall curriculum content - the IB organisation is also constantly weighing up new initiatives and seeking feedback. Some potential improvements are aired at regional conferences or more localised events for educators. Others may evolve from discussions with parents or general input from students, which may lead to the inclusion of new subjects - perhaps extra language options - or a shift in emphasis.
'The programmes are constantly developing as we go through the different rounds of review, which involves educators all around the world,' Chambers says. 'We have been looking at a global studies extended essay for the diploma, and the MYP [structure] is currently under review.'
In response to feedback, one pilot project is now being converted into a formal diploma-level programme. It sees the introduction an IB career-related certificate for students to take a more vocational path. Students will have the chance to gain a recognised vocational qualification in their respective countries. The career-related certificate could focus on accounting, engineering, or travel and tourism.
'Within any education system, [one must] acknowledge that there are different types of learners. It helps to have a recognised vocational pathway,' says Chambers.