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Thu 4 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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The value of difference

Globalised education does not equal international education, the head of the International Baccalaureate warns.

It has taken the International Baccalaureate (IB) 40 years to earn its reputation for high quality programmes of international education that can create a better world.

In that same time, the world has globalised, and there can be little doubt that the challenges of the 21st century demand that young people have a new set of knowledge, skills and experiences.

That is one of the reasons why the IB has become so popular. We now work with over 2400 schools in 131 countries, providing education to over 600,000 students.

So, is an IB education a globalised education? We hope not. The IB aims to develop enquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people.

Our three programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people with different opinions can also be right. Those words are not mine, but taken directly from the IB mission statement.

The difference that an IB programme can make is evident each time I visit an IB World School, authorised to teach one of our three programmes. I am always struck by the culture shift that takes place as students and teachers step up to the challenge and become more engaged in their schools and communities.

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, in the September issue of this publication, argued that schools should create an environment to motivate students to be actively involved in their school - this is what we see in IB World Schools.

Listening to them and their experiences, it is evident that they develop critical-thinking skills and a sense of international mindedness that is not as observable in their non-IB peers.

We value difference. In the IB, understanding one's own culture serves as a basis for understanding others'.

To develop a truly international education, such as the IB strives for, we promote intercultural understanding and respect. These are not intended as alternatives to cultural identity, but are essential tools for life in the 21st century.

Traditionally, the IB Diploma Programme is taught in English, Spanish and French, but we have assessed students in almost 100 languages. Today in the Middle East, a number of schools offer the IB Primary Years Programme and the IB Middle Years Programme in Arabic.

We're developing more teaching materials and documentation in Arabic, Chinese, Turkish and other non-Western languages. We believe that an international education must value the mother tongue as much as a second or third language.

At the heart of the three IB programmes is the IB Learner Profile. It defines what we mean by "international mindedness."

It goes beyond the expectation of most education systems by encouraging IB students to be knowledgeable thinkers, risk-takers and caring. Can students receive an international education and not care about the environmental, financial or racial challenges we face?

IB programmes are challenging, rigorous, student-centred, and stimulate young people to be intellectually curious. The Diploma Programme is recognised for admission into the world's leading universities. Forty years ago, we worked mainly with international and private schools.

Today, the majority of IB students are in state-funded education. The IB has opened up to students from different socio-economic backgrounds. That's because we believe an international education is more necessary today than ever before in this globalising world.

What is the learner profile?It's the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning outcomes for the 21st century.

The attributes of the learner profile express the values inherent to the IB continuum of international education. These are values that should infuse all elements of the three programmes and, therefore, the culture and ethos of all IB World Schools.

IB programmes promote the education of the whole person, emphasising intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge.

The three IB programmes

The Primary Years Programme (PYP) For pupils aged 3 to 12, the PYP focuses on the development of the child in the classroom and in the world outside.

The Middle Years Programme (MYP) For students aged 11 to 16, the MYP provides a framework of academic challenge and life skills by embracing and transcending traditional school subjects.

The Diploma Programme (DP) For students aged 16 to 19, this is a challenging and balanced programme of education with final examinations that prepare students for success at university and life beyond.

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