x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Learning to give peace a chance

The globally renowned International Baccalaureate programme is targeting the Middle East as one of its major growth markets.

Shayan Khan, from Pakistan, is a student at the at the Al Raha International School, which hopes to offer all three International Baccalaureate programmes.
Shayan Khan, from Pakistan, is a student at the at the Al Raha International School, which hopes to offer all three International Baccalaureate programmes.

It began as a programme for teaching the children of diplomats, but 40 years after its inception the International Baccalaureate has become one of the most sought after qualifications, allowing holders to enter some of the world's top universities. Now, a series of schools in the UAE hope the IB will give them the educational boost they need to foster world-class pupils. "The programme has a really strong element of internationalism," said Wayne MacInnis, principal of Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, a staunch supporter of IB's brand of education.

Located on a strip of land adjacent to Al Raha Beach, Raha International hopes to become one of the small number schools in the country offering three International Baccalaureate programmes. Dubai International Academy (DIA) is currently the sole school in the UAE authorised to teach all three of the IB programmes, but many others offer, or are seeking to offer, at least one of the IB's qualifications.

Poonam Bhojani, DIA's executive director, said the programmes were particularly well-suited to Dubai, with its large expatriate population. "IB education is portable to any corner of the world, and as Dubai is a melting pot of cultures, it is but natural that IB education would meet the needs of many," Ms Bhojani said. The Geneva-based International Baccalaureate was founded in 1968 as not-for-profit foundation by a coalition of international secondary schools seeking to establish a single curriculum that would be recognised by universities around the world.

"The International School of Geneva was created for the children of the employees of the League of Nations, in 1923. In the late 50s and early 60s it started working on an international diploma," said Monique Seefried, chairman of the board of governors at the IB. "They were helped by another movement called the United World Colleges which was founded by Kurt Hahn, a German educator who also founded Outward Bound."

From the beginning, according to Ms Seefried, the IB programme aimed to provide education as a means towards developing international understanding. "Hahn wanted to avoid another world war and having seen officers at the Nato war college from former enemy countries studying together, he thought the best approach would be to have young people studying together from different parts of the world. "Really the strand that created the IB was the desire to have an end-of-high-school diploma that would be recognised around the world but at the same time as it had a very strong philosophy to work toward a more peaceful world."

Today, IB administers three curriculums in more than 2,000 schools worldwide. The Primary Years Programme, which is offered to children from three to 12, is a "framework" that can be paired with a pre-existing curriculum: it is an interdisciplinary programme that explores subject areas through six themes and encourages children to learn through inquiry. The Middle Years Programme, for children from 11 to 16, takes a similar approach.

The diploma programme demands that pupils take six courses at higher or standard level. It also requires pupils to do a set number of community service hours, to write an extended essay and to take a course called "theory of knowledge", which requires pupils to reflect on the nature of learning and education. "I think that it is the only system in the world that requires a service component," said Ms Seefried. "It is to the credit of Kurt Hahn, who felt very much influenced by the two world wars, who believed that it was only through access and service that you could develop a sense of responsibility and a value system."

With more than 665,000 pupils in 131 countries, the IB is entering a new phase, and the number of IB-affiliated schools in this region has more than tripled in the past five years. The IB is now targeting growth markets and the Middle East is one of them. On a trip to Dubai last week, Dr Jeffrey Beard, director general of the IB, said he wanted to see the number of IB schools in the Middle East expand dramatically over the next decade from 87 schools to 400 by 2020.

At the core of the IB programme is the notion that peace between nations will be advanced by educating pupils about other cultures. Mr Beard said the IB was looking to expand operations in the Middle East in part because it wanted to create a more peaceful world through cultural understanding. "We know that in this part of the world there tends to be more conflict," Mr Beard said, adding that he believes the IB helps promote understanding between different cultures.

Mr Beard said the IB would target state schools as well as private schools. It is currently looking to translate the curriculum into Arabic. "We are undertaking a major initiative to introduce more Arab speaking courses into our curriculum." klewis@thenational.ae