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How the IB’s approach to global education changed over five decades

The International Baccalaureate, a rigorous academic program used in nearly 5,000 schools around the world, is now in its 50th year. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker sat down with Dr. Siva Kumari, International Baccalaureate director general, to discuss the program's goals and how to prepare students for a globally connected world.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For students across the country, the school year is underway. For some, that means learning from a curriculum known as the International Baccalaureate, an academic program growing in popularity that's used in close to 5,000 schools around the world. Schools say the rigorous course load is why they offer the program, which is now in its 50th year.

    Newshour Weekend sat down with the first female head of the foundation that develops the curriculum to discuss how it's preparing students to compete in a globally connected world. Christopher Booker has more.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Dr. Siva Kumari is on the road a lot, often meeting with educators from around the world. She's head of the International Baccalaureate foundation, or IB for short. The organization develops curricula, also called IB, for students around the world. The foundation was started in Switzerland back in 1968.

  • SIVA KUMARI:

    We were created as a reaction to the World Wars 50 years ago. Essentially, a group of international educators including those from America came together to say education is more than just about academic achievement.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    To design an education program that promoted more than just test results the founders looked to the progressive learning philosophies of the time. So instead of teaching rote memorization, they pushed analytical thinking.

    The first students to use IB often came from elite international families. But 50 years later IB can be found in both public and private schools around the world, more than 1800 in the U.S. alone, educating students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

    It consists of curricula for students three through 19. There are elementary, middle and high school specific programs, as well as ones related to careers, all aiming to foster independent, curious students.

  • SIVA KUMARI:

    And we want to create children who are able to think critically, solve problems able to write to explain. To be focused on what they're doing and to own the learning.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    The curricula include standard subjects, like english, science and math. But students also take design classes to develop their ability to create products. In middle school, subjects are combined to study how concepts overlap.

  • TEACHER:

    We are beginning to move towards a mono-culture. IB approaches learning from a worldwide perspective, teaching students not just about local issues, but global ones as well. Studying a foreign language is required. The goal of it all is an interdisciplinary approach to the complex world the students will enter.

  • SIVA KUMARI:

    We try to understand what is the psychology what is the brain functioning of the child at that point. How do you take chances? How do you fail? You know, the ability of the child even at that level and the primary level to be able to speak and to defend their thinking.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    But with a set framework of elements for students to learn, some educators are concerned too much control rests with an international organization and not enough at the local school level. Siva Kumari rejects that assessment.

  • SIVA KUMARI:

    It's a misnomer that we're sitting somewhere in some ivory tower and controlling the world. We have no such interest. The reason I think it works is we don't mandate exactly what happens in a local school.

  • KATHLEEN BUSONI:

    Please remember that you can always practice on another piece of paper.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Kathleen Busoni is an art teacher and coordinates the IB program for Brooklyn Latin, a public high school in New York City. She says that one thing that attracted the school to IB is its progressive philosophy, less instruction from a teacher and more active student participation in class.

  • KATHLEEN BUSONI:

    And that sounds so cliche, right? In education today we all say like student-centered is best. But for me as a teacher that was where I realized that's where the magic happens. That's where the students grow and learn the most is if you help and encourage them and coach them rather than tell them and demand from them.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    At Brooklyn Latin all 11th and 12th grade students use what's called the IB Diploma Program.

    It's a choice that a school might make instead of, say offering Advanced Placement courses.

    The curriculum has six subjects including art and science, and in order to receive an IB diploma, students must pass IB's own exams. But it goes further, requiring both community service and a 4,000 word independent research paper.

  • KATHLEEN BUSONI:

    The IB is not about one singular exam. So for one course a student might do a group project or do an oral commentary but then they might also do an extended writing. And then they might sit down in May and take a timed exam but each course has at least three different assessments that combined together to give them a score. That is so unique and important because our students are not all perfect at taking multiple choice exams. This gives them the ability to show their excellence in several different ways.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    But for all the benefits that Busoni sees in IB she's also concerned about the program's cost. And she's not alone. Educators around the world have called the program expensive.

    To cover operational costs the foundation charges fees for its various programs and services. Busoni estimates Brooklyn Latin pays about $1,000 for exams and fees for each 12th grader.

  • KATHLEEN BUSONI:

    The IB does amazing things. But it costs a lot to help to manage that program. And as a public school that's a lot of money when we have a hundred and eighty nine seniors this past year.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    But IB representatives say it's worth it. And Siva Kumari stresses that the programs produce students ready for higher education. 78 percent of IB diploma students go on to college right after graduation.

  • SIVA KUMARI:

    The successful IB student is one in whatever field they've chosen that they're able to be the person that colleagues consider this is a mindful person who asked the right questions, who is able to drive consensus, who is able to provide the long view on things and be the wise person in the room.

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