Same setting as Part 1. I’m talking with my graduating seniors and their families when a parent tells me his youngest is getting a lot of push-back from his international school on his IB package and subject choices. He will start the IBDP--a two-year curriculum--after this summer.
Ab (his nickname) is really keen to take Chinese. He has signed up for it at the Standard Level (SL) as part of his DP (diploma programme), which he’ll begin this coming fall. He truly enjoys learning Chinese even thought it's challenging for him.
And, it's true: Ab's grades are average in Chinese.
But…he really enjoys this subject.
So, where’s the problem with the school? I ask.
The school has called Ab and his parents in twice to discuss his “package”--the courses he plans to take his next final two years of secondary school. The first time they met they wanted to confirm his intention for signing up for the courses he did and suggested perhaps another language other than Chinese. The second time, they were more direct with this message: We don’t think it’s the right course for Ab and we want him to succeed in the DP programme. We think he’ll struggle through his next two years of secondary school if he takes Chinese and the consequences can be something very difficult to manage.
So the family went home concerned, Ab deflated. Would you consider another language, Ab? asked his Mom. Ab wondered why his school wasn't confident in his choice.
It took a couple of days to sink in after taking a closer look at the school, how they promote themselves (average IB score is their biggest “asset” in their marketing and promotional material) and the realization that perhaps they were not looking out so much for Ab but really looking out for themselves.
The family went back to school the following week. Ab wants to take Chinese. The school said he runs the risk of a lower IB score than if he took a beginner level course like French or Spanish. But, he doesn't want to take those languages, said his father. Do you worry he will fail or do you worry he won't score a 6 or 7 and risk your overall average for the graduating class? The school didn't respond.
It wasn’t the first time I was seeing this. There are several schools who will start to weed out their weaker students before they go into the IBDP—some for legitimate reasons that they believe the child cannot manage or is not right fit for the IBDP (not every curriculum is for every student, of course, and parents need to be aware of this and choose accordingly), and sadly some for their own benefit: they need to keep their average IBDP score high for marketing and prospective families and to maintain their "status" as turning out high scores.
And, this is where I see once again educational institutions placing numbers and their own institutional needs above those of the students they are meant to serve. The ramifications of these methodologies of education management can vary. With these parents and students we went on to discuss this school and others like it. Almost all of this schools' students fare well on the IB. Almost all of their students are very competitive academically. Almost all of their students will go to universities with names you’ve heard of. They are hand-selected, so of course. The students, then, also know no other way, no other type of student, no other standards, no other goals than the ones set forth for them: achieve, and achievement comes in the form of grades and university placement. A lot of these kids are supremely stressed.
This is when a mother piped in. She had just attended her daughter’s graduation at another school. What I loved seeing in the programme was the sheer variety and types of universities—many of which I had never heard of—in all different countries, including the variety of programmes from nursing to education to engineering to liberal arts--that kids in Jaqueline’s class are going on to pursue. So, for me, I am less impressed by fancy names that we all can recognize and more impressed by a school that cherishes each student for who she is and helps her reach her own unique potential.
And, to that point, there was silence. Everyone nodded. There was only agreement.