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Where are they now: The original IB World Schools

From the archives: The 45th anniversary issue of IB World magazine highlighted the very first schools to offer the IB Diploma Programme. Here are their stories, first published in September 2013. Look out for the follow-up to this story in the 50th anniversary issue of IB World magazine in 2018.

Students at UWC Atlantic College were among the first to study the IB in 1968.

UWC Atlantic College
South Glamorgan, Wales


“There is nowhere else like Atlantic College in the UK,” says the school’s current Principal, John Walmsley, who joined the college in January 2012. He was immediately struck by its extraordinary atmosphere.

“When I came to Atlantic, I wondered whether the school, with such a strong history, was still relevant today. It really is. Sixty per cent of our students are doing the IB in their second language, which I find incredible,” he says.

Atlantic College – founding member of United World Colleges and an original IB World School – entered a hefty 185 students in the IB Diploma Programme examinations in 1971.

In 2012, it celebrated its 50th anniversary with students, staff and friends of the school, and even a visit from Queen Noor of Jordan. It played a significant role in the design of the IB programme; with a strong emphasis on extra-curricular activities, the modern-day CAS system originated from this castle in Wales.

“In its earlier days, school students even helped to design the RNLI lifeboat,” says John. “Our mission, based on founder Kurt Hahn’s teachings, is lived and breathed throughout the campus. Part of his vision was to create rescue missions where kids and young people are out in a lifeboat, in adverse conditions, happy to work together. I think this is very in tune with the IB ethos today.”

Shanna Engelhardt, who graduated from Atlantic College this summer, believes she will be living the school’s values for the rest of her life.

“One of the key elements of UWC and the IB is the balancing act between academic work and extra-currciular activities, especially at this school because there is so much on offer that you just want to be a part of everything!

“I feel that we students are like tightrope walkers holding a bucket on each arm. It takes a careful balancing act to get through the IB, but I like to think I mastered it by the end of my time at Atlantic College.”

International College, Beirut
Beirut, Lebanon


International College (IC) Beirut is still very much part of the IB family – offering the Diploma Programme and PYP to 3,500 students – but was forced to take a 26-year hiatus when war broke out in Lebanon in 1975.

“All of my fond memories are related to my students,” says Mishka Mojabber Mourani, who has been at the school for more than 30 years and oversaw the implementation of the Diploma Programme second time around.

“Throughout the war, IC served as an island of peace and co-existence, and rose above sectarian and political turmoil to provide an education of the highest calibre. Perhaps my fondest memory is of our children coming to school every day, with smiles on their faces, having spent sleepless nights in basements by candlelight to escape the shelling. They would come to school for a few hours of respite from the violence and uncertainty beyond the school walls, and their presence motivated me and my colleagues to give them the education they deserved.”

International School of Geneva
Geneva, Switzerland


This venerable institution can rightly claim to be the world’s oldest and largest international school.

Fondly known as ‘Ecolint’ by staff and students, the school was set up in 1924, five years after the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO) were themselves founded in Geneva.

Its aim was to offer children an international education that accommodated their different origins and cultures. Ecolint later became the driving force behind the creation of the International Baccalaureate and, in1971, Lord Mountbatten presented12 proud students with IB Diplomas.

Gene Feder, now a professor of primary health care in the UK, was one of the original students to sit the exams and believes the IB has given him the open-mindedness and confidence to achieve great things.

“I remember writing for the student newspaper at Ecolint – I think it was called The Alexander,” he says.

“That was most exciting. We were in the midst of very political times, with Vietnam and female suffrage moving up the agenda, so there were always protests to cover and muck-raking to do on campus.

“I think it was the first time that we had ever considered looking beyond the country borders to the USA, Europe and even Africa for inspiration,” says Mary Roosevelt, a teacher at Ecolint who later helped to draft the school’s elementary curriculum in the 1960s. (This curriculum was a predecessor of the PYP, but is not directly connected with today’s programme.)

Today, Ecolint is spread across three campuses and houses more than 4,000 students between the ages of 3 and 18, who represent 133 nationalities. Leslie Fernandez Van de Ven, who sat the exams along with Gene Feder, admits that she didn’t do as well as she had hoped – but this didn’t spoil her memories of her time in Geneva.

“I remember one chemistry class with Peggy Ray (see Alumna, page 38), where we were distilling rose petals to make perfume and we blew up a swan flask by accident. The teacher was not best pleased,” she recalls.

United Nations International School (UNIS)
New York, United States of America


Self-confessed IB ‘guinea pig’ Stephen Hartke  – now Distinguished Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California – was one of the first UNIS students to sit the new exams. “The inauguration of the International Baccalaureate replaced our prep classes for the UK GCEs,” he says. “I was part of the initial group to study the IB, and took the full programme. “Some of the classes were quite small. Only two of us took scientific studies, which was taught by the school’s entertaining three-man team of science teachers. I also found the world literature component of the English curriculum stimulating, and it got me into the habit of delving into literature from all over the world. “The most valuable aspect of the IB was the research experience I acquired. I fondly remember studying George Orwell, as well as the growth of American power in the Pacific and the Spanish-American War.” UNIS still offers the IB Diploma Programme, and teaches children from the UN and diplomatic communities, as well as pupils from the local area.

Copenhagen International School
Copenhagen, Denmark


“My mental picture of CIS for most of its history is composed of a series of modest buildings with groups of willing students taught by a motley assortment of charismatic teachers,” reflects James Keson, who was Senior School Principal at Copenhagen International School (CIS) from 1974 to 1997.

He fondly remembers spilling freshly brewed beer in a biology class – “it still smells of hops to this day” – as well as the day he discovered that two 12th-grade students had cut class to get married, and – perhaps most indicative of the time – a visit from two CIA agents from the American Embassy.

“They came to investigate whether the American history teacher, who was spotted at an anti-Vietnam demonstration, was subverting his students,” James explains.

“He wasn’t.” CIS entered half of its 50-strong student population for the IB examinations in 1971 and was one of the smallest institutions to help shape the programme.

“While A-Levels suited some students, SATs were best for others, and the Danish studentereksamen was only suitable for Danish speakers. The IB was the only system that was useful for everyone,” James says.

The school, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, continues to grow. It introduced the MYP in 1995 and the PYP in 2000. “The school is seen by its students as challenging in its demands but laid-back in its approach,” James says.

Iranzamin, Tehran International School
Tehran, Iran


When Iranzamin, Tehran International School entered 55 students for the IB exams in 1971, they couldn’t have predicted that the school would survive in its original incarnation for only nine years.

Founded with the intention to “adapt the best Western methods to the needs of the country”, the school and its occupants suffered during the revolutionary crisis of 1978-1980. Against the backdrop of Iran’s upheaval, Iranzamin’s last IB class of 24 students graduated in 1980.

“I spent some of the best years of my life at Iranzamin and have enough fond memories to write a book,” says Mojgan Malek, a student who was present when Hezbollah disbanded the school in 1980.

“I loved my school, my teachers – especially Mr Carson – my class mates: all of it! I loved the library in particular, and it still appears in my dreams sometimes!” Up until 1980, the school had gone from strength to strength. It had more than 1,450 students from 50 countries and over 110 staff, all under the leadership of founder Richard Irvine.

“After the school was taken, most students had to leave the country to study elsewhere,” explains Mojgan.

“The remaining international schools in Tehran came together for a while in an effort to keep up the community feel, but eventually we all had to leave our IB experience behind and enter public schools to continue our education.”

Frankfurt International School
Oberursel, Germany


Staff, students and alumni of Frankfurt International School (FIS) have recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a published history and a six-month series of special events.

Founded in 1961 in an old villa in Oberursel, 15km north of Frankfurt, by six American and British families who sought an international education for their children, FIS entered 21 students in the 1971 IB examinations.

Caroline Joslin-Callahan is such a fan of FIS that, after graduating with an IB Diploma in 1977, she came back in 1982 to teach her own IB classes.

“I remember I was in the first history class offered at FIS. There were only two of us in the class and our teacher, Hal Judis – who still teaches history at the American School of Paris – enjoyed holding class in the café of the Parkhotel Waldlust! I wanted to continue to be affiliated with an international community so I jumped at the chance to return to the school.”

FIS began with 120 students and has grown to 1,800 – too many to house in the old villa – so additions have been made over the years, including a purpose-built primary school to coincide with the launch of the PYP in 1997.

International School Ibadan
Ibadan, Nigeria


The existence of a racially integrated school in Nigeria was just a dream until the International School Ibadan (ISI) was founded in 1963.

It provided a new kind of educational environment, one where children from within and outside Nigeria could live and learn together. ISI initially prepared its students for West African qualifications and examinations administered by the University of London.

At this time it was mandatory for students to achieve O- and A-level qualifications for entry into British and West African Universities. Thirty-nine students sat IB exams for the first time in 1971.

“The IB Diploma Programme was first introduced as an addition to A-level courses,” explains Dr Pat Oyelola (pictured above), who taught at the school during the 1960s and 1970s.

“I found the IB more intellectually demanding than the A-level. However, at this time I do remember the comprehension passages tended to be culturally biased towards Europe; for example, there were references to winter sports in the French paper.”

She believes that, in its early years, ISI was a world-class school. “It was a truly international community, in terms of both staff and students. I remember fondly the time we hosted an exhibition of traditional Nigerian art at the Institute of African Studies.”

ISI withdrew from the IB in 1992 when the Nigerian secondary school system changed, and today teaches more than 1,400 secondary students. The existence of a racially integrated school in Nigeria was just a dream until the International School Ibadan (ISI) was founded in 1963.

It provided a new kind of educational environment, one where children from within and outside Nigeria could live and learn together. ISI initially prepared its students for West African qualifications and examinations administered by the University of London.

At this time it was mandatory for students to achieve O- and A-level qualifications for entry into British and West African Universities. Thirty-nine students sat IB exams for the first time in 1971.

“The IB Diploma Programme was first introduced as an addition to A-level courses,” explains Dr Pat Oyelola (pictured above), who taught at the school during the 1960s and 1970s. “I found the IB more intellectually demanding than the A-level.

However, at this time I do remember the comprehension passages tended to be culturally biased towards Europe; for example, there were references to winter sports in the French paper.”

She believes that, in its early years, ISI was a world-class school. “It was a truly international community, in terms of both staff and students. I remember fondly the time we hosted an exhibition of traditional Nigerian art at the Institute of African Studies.” ISI withdrew from the IB in 1992 when the Nigerian secondary school system changed, and today teaches more than 1,400 secondary students.

Pupils sitting early IB examinations in Montevideo

The British Schools, Montevideo
Montevideo, Uruguay


After being hand-picked to join the IB, “we are still rightly proud to see our students write ‘centre number 0011’ on their IB examinations,” says David Rennie, the school’s Curricula Director, and one of the longest-serving IB teachers at Montevideo.

“The invitation to take part in the IB trial examinations from Alec Peterson, the first IB Director General, in January 1969 came at exactly the right moment for us.”

The school has since grown from 45 IB candidates in 1971 to more than 1,300 students. “The British Schools has always had a deep-rooted pride in its history and the success of its students,” says David.

“A photographic history of the school’s first 100 years was published in 2008 to celebrate our centenary, and we threw a birthday party for over 4,000 old boys and girls in the school’s grounds in honour of our strong alumni network.

“The shaping of our senior-school curriculum has been an amazing journey,” says David. “All our students take a programme that combines the IB Diploma Programme and the Uruguayan national programmes, which are required to enter local universities. This ensures our students are well prepared for further education in Uruguay or abroad.


This story originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of IB World magazine. Did you attend an IB World School? Join the IB Alumni Network by visiting www.ibo.org/alumni.