Equipping young people to take on the world

Adrian Kearney says UK schools can learn from those overseas who are gaining life skills through the IB

Since this summer’s examination season, there has been much said about the examination boards’ monopoly and capabilities, and the (potential lack of) quantifiable skills acquired by the most recent school leavers.

We must remind ourselves that examination boards are uniquely set up to deliver qualifications which remain highly regarded on an international scale. However the question we should be asking is, how equipped are our young people to tackle the world that awaits them after compulsory schooling?

UK students’ achievements in examinations have been widely compared to those of students abroad, with the UK failing to make the top-20 list in recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests. So what exactly can UK schools learn from schools overseas to move up in the rankings?

The Amman Baccalaureate School (ABS) in Jordan is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering the complete continuum of IB programmes, providing natural progression for its students to follow on from one programme to the next. It is because of this offering that the school’s students are better prepared to undertake the IB Diploma Programme by reflecting the depth, breadth and balance that is characteristic of all IB programmes.

Since the introduction of the Middle Years Programme (MYP), the teachers at ABS have seen a real difference in their students, who embrace the IB learner profile to become well-rounded students. The development of life skills alongside academic studies prepares MYP students for any post-16 educational offer, wherever they are in the world – and it is this balance that schools in the UK can learn from.   

In a similar way to the newly-recommended English Baccalaureate (EBacc) programme, the IB’s MYP  is the method of learning a school adopts to teach its students aged 11 and 16 years, and can be combined with the school’s existing assessment practice, or alternatively used alongside the IB’s bespoke MYP eAssessment. Although IB is not the default option for Middle Years education in the UK, it is widely recognised abroad as the best programme to prepare young people for UK and US university courses (which consistently monopolise the list of best global universities), and life beyond study. For instance, 12 universities in Spain recognise the qualification with official policies for admitting IB students to their courses.

The benefit of the MYP programme is the emphasis on students’ ‘take-home’ experience. Investment is made to ensure the process of learning is tailored to the students, thus developing school leavers who are creative, critical and reflective thinkers.

The MYP curriculum framework consists of eight subject groups, referred to as concepts: language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical and health education, and design. Cross subject teaching is key to the programme’s ethos, as is the infusing of global points of view to promote understanding of multiple cultures. Students also reflect on the ‘core’ MYP elements of action and service through undertaking community and personal projects (an essay, artistic production or another form of expression), which integrate their learning across different concepts.

A typical example of how the MYP approach could work in practice in the UK is:  instead of students learning about World War One as a stand-alone project, MYP students would learn about conflicts, power and identity, allowing them to develop insight, take on proactive learning habits, and foster a life-long mind frame of questioning and participation in our increasingly interconnected world. 

To equip our young people with the best skills for later life, UK schools can learn from practices in schools overseas and should focus on offering educational pathways which inspire collaboration, developing well-rounded individuals who respond to challenges with an open mind and optimism, armed with the skills necessary to survive, and thrive, in life after school.    

Adrian Kearney is Regional Director Africa, Europe and Middle East for International Baccalaureate



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