Cover interview: Dr Siva Kumari, International BaccalaureateSeptember 13, 2017, 4:35 am GMT
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is arguably the most popular curriculum choice for expatriate families today. Whether opting for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) in the senior years, or an IB continuum school, more families are leaning toward the IB, thanks in no small part to its internationally-minded curriculum, its flexibility to adapt to various cultures, and the curriculum's ease of transferability across countries.
Heading the IB Organisation since January 2014 is Dr Siva Kumari, who is also the first woman to be appointed head of the organisation. Although Dr Kumari took over the role in January 2014, the first three years were spent "focused, as any CEO would, on making sure that internally everything is working as it should," she tells Education Journal Middle East during a visit to the UAE. However, the first half of 2017 was spent visiting IB schools around the world, with the UAE being Dr Kumari's last stop in late May.
"This year I specifically focused on getting out and visiting our schools, with UAE being the final leg. I love spending time with our students they're the most direct with me about what's working and what's not. I spend time with the IB educators, and I spend time with the authorities, and I spend a lot of time with heads of schools to tell them where we're going. These six months have given me more and more confidence in what we're doing because around the world, it's universally attested that we're doing the right thing," Kumari states.
Commenting on the curriculum's growth in the Middle East, Kumari says: "In general, we are experiencing really nice uptake in the Middle East. We are in Saudi Arabia, in the UAE, in other GCC countries, and in Jordan, where we have a pretty big footprint of schools.
"We're pleased with the emphasis on culture in the Middle East. We, in the IB, believe that students have to be very certain about their own cultures and values first, before they become global citizens.
"We are working closely to see how we work with the Arabic language the history etc, which I think is important in the world. But more than that I'm very delighted because we're working with a lot of Middle Eastern teachers who are able to go out into the IB world and demonstrate how they interpret the IB and work with other teachers around the world. That's what the IB is about building communities of teachers."
Given the extensive use of data by schools today in determining student attainment, Kumari is keen to use data and technology more diagnostically.
She says: "We have a strategy 2.0 technology has changed dramatically, big data has changed dramatically. The world of education is waking up to the technology, and we want to be that organisation that distributes best practice. We have a very vibrant community that spends a lot of time thinking about good teaching and we have thousands of teachers around the world who are invested in good teaching. So we want to become a platform for distribution of these practices.
"In the future, my personal ambition and the organisation's strategy is to be able to get really good at quickly sharing what's working well in a certain type of school. We have so many different types of schools all around the world, so I hope we get really precise about saying we know a certain type of school in a certain setting will need a particular kind of thing, and we can be predictive. And with data the way it is right now, and what you can do with it, in future we'll be able to use it much better.
"Our future ambitions are at some point, if we get really good at using this technology, we don't want to restrict those best practices to only IB schools. We are a not for profit with a mission and we want to be able to open up those practices to anyone who has a device essentially.
The IB is also offering more opportunities for teachers to share best practice among their peers by training fellow teachers and through peer observation. Kumari says: "Besides just teaching in schools, we give teachers opportunities to teach each other. So we train them if they want to go and teach someone else. We also train them to go see other schools. Why this is important is because it's different than what a school offers. A school offers them the chance to teach other students, and there's an art to that and it's their responsibility.
"What we're offering them in addition to that is professionalization. So if you go see another school, you become an evaluator, you're a peer evaluating another school. And when you go teach another teacher, you're also doing something other than teaching in a school. So I think what we try to do is give all those sorts of experiences to teachers as well."
The focus on technology will also help connect the larger IB community, including students, Dr Kumari says.
She explains: "What I want the IB to become is this great connector of students and educators. We have an amazing opportunity to connect our students in real project-based work across the world. If a student is studying environmental sustainability or building the tallest building in Dubai, there's no reason why they can't collaborate with someone in south-side Chicago or Yokohama Japan.
"I think students these days are playing in their social space so why not truly connect students in collaborative learning across the world because then the learning becomes real, and that's what they'll be doing when they grow up anyway.
"And as far as educators are concerned, I hope we are able to become this huge connector and curator of really good teaching practices so that more and more teachers can use them. Why should every teacher have to create their own teaching resource? There's so much knowledge we have in our community; if we could put it in one place and lots of people can use that, it would be great.
"And my third big ambition for the IB is that it becomes extremely data crazy. We should know how to collect, use and create intelligence out of that data for schools. It's mostly a case of how can we become this great data-rich organisation that distributes back to the schools
"At the end of the day, all of this is to create really good education for the students," Dr Kumari concludes.
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