Some say it’s easy…“If your child is not doing well in a ‘regular’ school, consider an IB school. They focus less on academics and more on overall personality development and skills.”
Some say it doesn’t have a future, especially in Pakistan…“At the end of the day, he will have to do O and A-Level, so what’s the point?”
So, we at ChalkTalk, decided to find out straight from the horse’s mouth – an International Baccalaureate (IB) certified school in Pakistan. We spoke to Mr. Taymur Mirza, founder and principal at The International School (TIS), Karachi and two of the school’s alumni, both high achievers in the IB Diploma Programme (DP) – Mahnoor Javed and Bilal Kamran – to tell us what IB is all about.
Mahnoor began her schooling at TIS in Grade 8 when her family moved from Dubai to Karachi. She scored 38/45 in the DP and was awarded Student of the Year in the Middle Years Programme (MYP) at TIS. She is now a second-year medical student at the Sindh Medical College in Karachi.
Bilal, on the other hand, began his schooling at TIS pre-school and went on to do his Diploma Program (DP) from here. He scored 42/45 (highest in Pakistan) in the DP and was awarded Student of the Year in DP. He is now in his second year at the Institute of Business Management (IBA), Karachi, pursuing a degree in Accounting and Finance.
According to Mr. Mirza, Mahnoor and Bilal’s scores are not considered high only in Pakistan; they are recognised as brilliant scores internationally as well. “A score of 38 brings the student under consideration at Oxford and Cambridge Universities”, he told us.
Here is what they had to tell us about The International School (TIS) and the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy:
Q. Tell us about your school – when was it founded and what is its teaching philosophy?
A. The International School (TIS) is the first International Baccalaureate (IB) school of Pakistan with the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the first of three continuum schools (offering at least three IB programs) in Pakistan. TIS was founded in 1996. We started with the primary section and a few grades in middle school and then, we continued to expand one grade every year.
When TIS opened in 1996, IB had the Diploma Programme (DP) for ages 16 to 19 years and had begun offering the MYP for ages 11 to 16 years in 1994. So, even IB’s own programmes were introduced in phases. They launched their Primary Years Programme (PYP) for ages 3 to 12 years in 1998. So, when we opened TIS in 1996, our focus was the DP and hence, we opened as an MYP school and then grew into the DP. Recently, we attained the PYP as well. So, our journey has been MYP, DP and then PYP simply because of the programmes being offered by IB at the time when we started.
Q. The International School prides itself on being the first IB World School in Pakistan. What does being an IB World School mean?
A. There are 26 IB certified schools in Pakistan. IB does not stipulate that a school has to offer all the programmes (PYP, MYP, DP and CP, which focuses on career-related technical education) to be an IB school. Due to this reason, there are some schools which are PYP and then offer O-Level (instead of DP) while others have O-Level and then offer the option of A-Level or DP. Recently, IB introduced the concept of ‘continuum schools’. These are schools that offer at least three programs – PYP, MYP, DP or CP. So, choosing an IB school basically depends on whether the parents are looking for a particular stage in IB or the entire IB journey.
Q. How would you explain IB in terms of equivalency to Cambridge or Matric to a layman?
A. IB has four programmes. PYP or the Primary Years Programme, MYP or the Middle Years Programme and DP or the Diploma Programme and CP or the Career-related Programme. MYP is equivalent to O-Level (Grade 10) and DP is equivalent to A-Level (Grade 12). In DP, students have to take six subjects whereas, in A-Level, most students take three subjects while some take four or five but that’s rare. In DP, students have to take two languages out of which English is compulsory. At TIS, French, Spanish and Urdu are offered. Apart from language, one Math and one Science is compulsory. For the other two subjects, students can choose Business, Economics, Arts or Science. IB also requires a minimum of 50 hours each of Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) – as part of its extracurricular programme.
Q. Do students studying IB programmes appear in a separate assessment at the end of the high school years such as the IGCSE or CIE or does their academic experience culminate in the same examinations?
A. IB culminates in the Diploma Programme which is 12 years of education (equivalent to the A-Level 13 years of education. Students from conventional education options can shift to IB at any time.
There are more subjects in MYP (around 10-11) than in DP and Pakistan Studies and Islamiat are not compulsory for students with a non-Pakistani passport. In MYP, a student can either take one Natural Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) or all three. Most students take all three in MYP to keep their options open but the ones who are very sure that they don’t want to pursue medicine later, take only one. Other than the Natural Sciences, there is English, Arts, Design and PE.
There are 6 subjects and two levels in DP – the standard level and the higher level (like Math and Add Math in O- Level). Each student needs to have at least three standard level and three higher level subjects in DP. In the higher level, there is more content and the grade boundary is also tougher.
Grading is the same in MYP and DP. A student can get a maximum of 7 points in each subject and each month these points are added to give a total score. Students are given points for class work, homework, assessment and presentation and each range of points represents a legend. Every subject is graded differently in the sense that it has a different legend or range since subjects like Math are generally more scoring as compared to subjects like Business Management. So the maximum point – 7 – for less scoring subjects is relatively lower like around 75 while for higher scoring subjects like Math or Physics it is higher like 85.
In MYP 4 and 5, students have to do a Personal Project on anything they are interested in. They can present it in the form of a book, a presentation, a documentary and so on. They have to maintain a journal of all the steps taken to make the project and submit a 3000-word written statement about it as well.
“I was into arts and so I illustrated a graphic novel about the problems in Pakistan. I selected five problems and drew them all.” – Mahnoor
The individual divisions within a subject are different and all subjects have an Internal Assessment (IA) and an Extended Essay. Internal Assessment is what a student does in the classroom while the Extended Essay is the exam itself. They are somewhat similar but the Extended Essay is a scholarly article while Internal Assessments are based more on primary research.
The grading criteria of the extended essay and theory of knowledge is based on a matrix. Interestingly, TIS uses a slightly different legend than that given by the IB. The TIS legend is slightly higher which helps students grade better in the final IB exams. As far as grading is concerned, there is teacher moderation in addition to student moderation. Depending on the class size, a sample is sent to IB which consists of the top scorer, the lowest scorer and three in between to give an average of the entire class. The IB examiner checks the papers based on this sample. If he/she feels that the teacher has been strict, the grade will be increased and if he/she feels that the teacher has been lenient, he/she lowers the grade. This is why TIS has increased the grade boundary so that a student who has earned a 7 for example in the Internal Assessment, might still earn a 7 during IB moderation.
TIS also has a Privilege List which allows students in MYP to wear home clothes on Friday while DP students can go home during a free class if they score higher than a certain number – another incentive for students to do well!
Q. How does the IB learning philosophy differ from traditional methodologies?
A. IB is a completely different approach to teaching/learning. Students are not required to memorise numbers, happenings, equations or formulae and these are provided in data booklets, even in exams. The task of a student is critical thinking and analyses. IB tests comprehension more than memory.
Another thing vital to IB is presentation skills, teamwork and social interaction. According to Mahnoor,
“This (presentation and social skills) was not emphasized even in Dubai as much as I found at TIS. I still remember my first day here – in the first class, the teacher told us to draw something that represented us, go around class and tell three students about what we drew and why, ask them about their depictions and then present before the entire class about what we drew and comment on what we liked about other people’s renderings. That’s how important presentation skills are in IB. Every class I took at TIS required a lot of presentations and teamwork which further helped build our characters and confidence – preparing us for the real world!”
“One major advantage to this approach is that while in conventional education, students study subjects and hence, if in O-Level or Intermediate they have not studied Accounting, it’s relatively harder for them to grasp the concepts if they choose to pursue Accounting at a higher level. In comparison, since IB is based more on applied knowledge, students are trained to learn concepts rather than course content and hence, it becomes easier for them to understand subjects at a later stage even if they haven’t studied them in the DP” – Bilal.
Q. Are all your teachers IB trained? From where do they receive their training and how often are they required to update their skills?
A. Unlike the Cambridge system, which doesn’t require teachers to be trained as a requirement to set up a school, a school can only become an IB certified school after a rigorous vetting process. For PYP and MYP, this process takes a minimum of three years while for DP it takes a minimum of two years. The documentation, policies, structure and resources are all quite stringent as compared to conventional schools. Professional development is something IB schools are required to do by law and it is an annual recurring cost for TIS.
TIS teachers undertake training in-house, online and abroad in countries like Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Dubai, Europe and USA.
Q. How do you ensure that teachers don’t fall back on traditional methods of teaching?
A. Through our management structure and a system of checks and balances. We have heads of departments followed by academic supervisors and then teachers to ensure that the IB approach is followed at all times. And ultimately, of course the results of students themselves make it clear how ‘IB-oriented’ the teaching has been.
Q. If a teacher comes to TIS without any IB background, do you recruit them?
A. We do recruit teachers without an IB background because we know that through our training methods, they WILL learn the IB approach. But when recruiting, what we look for is a genuine passion for students as well as for teaching. That raw drive has to be there for them to become successful IB teachers. Good English and presentation skills are NOT enough; they have to LOVE teaching.
Q. Can you tell us five advantages of an IB education?
- “Social and presentation skills. Most students are good at studying the course content and can even make the presentation if they are good at memorizing but the fact is that a good presentation is more than rote memory; you have to have your heart in it for it to be effective. Presentations and networking are crucial in the real world and TIS taught me this very well.” – Bilal
- “I second the social skills. Being a doctor requires more than just technical skills; doctors have to be good communicators as well – they need to be able to uphold a conversation, listen attentively to a patient’s problems and console a patient – skills I’m not very sure our medical students (or even experienced doctors) possess!” – Mahnoor
- “The aptitude for handling extracurriculars and societies. We had to serve a minimum of 150 hours of extracurriculars in TIS but most students served 300-350 hours. In comparison, at IBA a student can be in three societies at the most. Some students do try to be a part of 4-5 societies but then their academics get affected. However, for me and the other IB student in my batch at IBA, three societies was not an issue at all.” – Bilal
- “Applying knowledge to real (or hypothetical) situations. In medicine, we are taught concepts and then asked to apply them in simulated situations but I find that when faced with a hypothetical patient in a certain condition, some students are unable to connect and apply what they learnt while this is precisely what the IB approach taught me!” – Mahnoor
- “We never had to take tuitions at TIS because the curriculum was explained so well by the teachers. And in cases where students struggled, teachers were always available to provide extra help. There was never a need for tuitions whereas, I have friends from other schools, even one of the top-notch schools in Karachi, and ALL of them talk about having taken tuitions. It’s almost a culture!” – Mahnoor
Q. There is a lot of misinformation about IB, especially in Pakistan. Most people don’t know about it and those who do are immensely misinformed and they think that eventually the student has to appear for the CIEs. What do you have to say to this?
A. Well, where there is a new approach or idea that actually has merit, it’s bound to be viewed as a threat by its existing competitors and that’s when they start disinformning the public and spreading fake news. Cambridge exams exist in only four countries – Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – at such a magnitude while the rest of the world is moving towards IB.
Q. Do you feel that IB is a better approach for some kind of students versus others?
A. Well, not everyone is going to be at the top in any educational system but everyone is going to gain from the IB – it’s the journey and experience that enriches students. The real problem is the criteria sought when putting children in school. The school-hunt is more status based and some schools in the city fit that criteria but the interesting thing is that this ‘status’ basically pertains to local dynamics, whereas, IB has a stronger standing internationally – simply because it is more attuned to the demands of the 21st century. What IB does teach you is research and critical thinking – skills essential for the real world – while conventional educational systems promote a pattern of churn and burn. And I think ALL students would benefit from these skills!
“My parents realised the true value of IB when my cousin who was two years senior to me in TIS, was doing his DP and applying at universities because they saw that all American universities had a higher acceptance rate for IB diploma students.” – Bilal