What happened to the IB mission?

Today my colleagues and I finished crafting the new IBO Theory of Knowledge course for the school that I have just finished working for. And it got me thinking about how we, as educators, consider the obligation we have to the world around us.

The IBO mission statement states –

“The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”

As those who choose to work in an IB school we are obligated to honor this mission.

But what does this mean for us who work under this banner?

One of the key insights I have gained over the last little while is the importance of definitions. Until we have clear definitions of the words that we use the message that we are imparting is one that is open to interpretation. While the IBO mission may seem clear, then, we can legitimately ask questions about what, for example, “a peaceful world” or “intercultural understanding and respect” may mean.

This year, the culminating program of the IBO, the International Baccalaureate Diploma, came under severe criticism for the way in which graduating student grades were determined. In the past, grades have been calculated based on moderated classwork and examinations. This year, however, due to the fact that exams were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the IBO had to determine final grades without the authority granted by examination scores. In order to do this the IBO used an algorithm that drew on teachers’ predictions of student performance (assuming exams were held), internally assessed and moderated work, externally assessed extended tasks, and schools’ accuracy in historic grade prediction. And it was a bit of a mess, with many students awarded grades that people felt were lower than they should have received.

There has been a real outcry, make no mistake, and much of it has been centred on the impact that these lower grades had on students’ academic futures – on their university acceptances.

This clearly brings into focus the complexity and purpose of schooling, how despite the thrust of mission statement being on making the world better, the focus of many constituents is on personal achievement.

This is not to demean the aspirations of students, parents and teachers, nor to denigrate the many functions of schools around the world, but it does beg the question of whether getting into the university course of choice is how we can create a “better and more peaceful world”. And it also forces the question of how central this mission is to those people who are complaining of the current situation.

One question I would like to ask is whether and how the Covid-19 scenario has lessened the impact that IBO programs have had in this regard, and to do so I’d like to turn to what we might mean by Peace.

I hold little qualification in this regard and so I turn to Building Peace: Living and Learning for a Better World which considers peace as more than the simple lack of violence but as a state where all people are free from any form of “…oppression which includes poverty, homelessness, preventable disease, hunger and lack of clean water.” Peace here means living in harmony with others, even though they may be different from us. Indeed, this is an ideal, and the naysayers can well ask the question of how we can do this in the face of others who choose not to act in this way, but it is the intent that is important. For such an intent demands us to act in ways that are thoughtful, sustainable and impactful.

So if we are to consider the IBO mission statement, and the ways in which it ought to impact on the community who is a part, by association, with this mission, we have to ask the question of whether we, as educators, have done the most we can in this regard, rather than simply rue the situation where students have not received the grades “they should have”.

We have to ask whether our work has been as impactful as possible in helping young people become “active and compassionate” and “inquiring, knowledgable and caring.”

Unfortunately, this has been missing from all of the recent dialogue in the current social media channels, and this lack of perspective troubles me. As a long time teacher and advocate of the Theory of Knowledge course, and as someone who has seen a bit of the world, it is worrisome that there is a lack of perspective at the current moment. I ask myself, therefore, why the silence on something that is, ostensibly, central to us.

Again, I must emphasise that I am not denying that the situation may have resulted in some unfair outcomes, but I would have hoped that at least some attention could have been given to the work that we have done in developing young people to make a difference, to help create a better world.

There is no question, in my mind, that I have worked with young people who have developed a deep and sophisticated understanding of the world we live in. Teenagers who genuinely give a damn about the inequity that exists around us, and who really want to make a difference. So it bothers me that we are not acknowledging the work of those teachers and students that has helped cultivate, in some, the very aim of the IBO mission, and it saddens me to have to end my chosen career in such a climate.

Maybe I still have some work to do.

Martin Cathrae – Forest Floor

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