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To IB or not to IB?

By Aparna Datta

Parents today increasingly face a dilemma in choosing an appropriate educational system for their school-going children. Currently, India has one of the most diverse markets in secondary education in the entire world, with a veritable smorgasbord of examinations and certificates. In addition to the SSLC, CBSE, ICSE, over the last decade the advent of new, high-end international schools across India has resulted in further options in obtaining a school-leaving certificate. These include the International Baccalaureate, popularly known as IB, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), other options from Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and the Advanced Placement Program (AP) offered by the US-based College Board.

The fee structure of the international schools sets a threshold; therefore, these schools are not for everyone. For those who can afford the fees, there are still a number of issues to unravel. The transfer to an international school, more specifically the IB programme, represents a paradigm shift, for the student as well as the parents, so it’s worth assessing whether the move would actually translate into improved prospects for the child.

There are indeed some fundamental differences in approach between the IB programme and Indian school certificate courses. According to Dr Gideon Arulmani, Director of The Promise Foundation, a Bangalore-based organization that specializes in education and career counseling, “the IB takes a more skills oriented approach to the teaching of a subject; a greater range of skills oriented courses are offered; the methodology is more student-centered than teacher-led and the curriculum content is more up-to-date.”

The IB diploma adheres to an international curriculum prescribed by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), a non-profit educational foundation established in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. It was set up to facilitate students preparing for universities abroad, the core proposition and the key advantage being that the diploma is recognized by universities around the world. It proved so successful, that apart from the two-year diploma programme, curricula have been formulated for the primary and middle years (refer www.ibo.org).

The recent trend to cash in on the international school craze has led to some schools simply tagging on “international” to their identity. It is advisable to ascertain the affiliations and credentials of the international schools: for instance, true blue international schools are supposed to maintain a healthy constituent of international students (foreign students and NRIs) ranging 40 to 60 percent. Parents need to do their homework and take time out to understand the ethos of schools on their short-list.

“Offering the IB programme is simply the starting point…what really matters is how the school interprets and implements the programme,” says Zai Whitaker who taught for many years at the Kodai International School, and is currently associated with Outreach School, Wilson Garden, Bangalore.

Credible international schools stand out not only on the basis of impressive campuses or physical infrastructure, but also on account of the mission and vision of the school management, the experience of the teaching staff, and the application of best practices.

International schools promise a global orientation, so it’s important that the parents share and subscribe to this outlook, allowing the child to adjust easily to a new multi-cultural environment. The selection of an international school is often a question of socio-cultural compatibility, a personal judgment that co-relates to the values and lifestyle of the parents.

“The key to extracting the most from the IB,” says Dr Arulmani, “is that the family recognises and accepts that memorising something is not equal to learning that concept. The IB lays a significantly lower emphasis on committing things to memory and then reproducing it in the exams. Parents sometimes get anxious when their IB child is not required by the system to memorise. Further, a considerable amount of work is required of the student. This includes project work, research and exploration of a concept with the teacher as a guide, not as the leader.”

For a child making a transition from a teacher-focussed methodology to the IB system, a good deal of re-orientation may be necessary. “There is of course the real risk of the child coasting along, without really working hard and acquiring skills and knowledge,” says Dr Arulmani.

A reputed international school is essentially a microcosm of the world, in whichever city the school may operate in. The better international schools play a crucial role in graduating students with specific life skills and orientation, who have what it takes to successfully navigate a borderless world. As attributes such as creativity and innovation gain currency across all professional spheres, opting for the IB programme could result in a fresh trajectory in the child’s development, a catalyst to finding a unique place under the sun.

Reference list of schools in Bangalore offering the IB programme: Canadian International School; Indus International School; The International School Bangalore

© Aparna Datta, 2005

Published in Deccan Herald

References and visits to international schools:

Hebron School, Ooty; Canadian International School, Bangalore; Indus International School, Bangalore; United World College, Singapore; El Camino Real High School, Los Angeles Unified School District

 
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