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How do we evolve when education is a traditional profession in a system that is slow to change?

By Paul Campbell

There is no doubt that education is advancing towards a place where what is taught and assessed also connects with what is relevant. But here we have an inherent paradox, particularly in the public sector, where education is also a traditional profession in a system that is slow to change. A new solution may come along every year or so, but teachers are rarely given the time or resources to make it work before the next fix comes along.

Over time it is easy to understand why there is a reflexive reluctance to commit to the latest reform. Real change, including the impact of IB programmes, takes time and commitment from teachers, students, schools, communities and governments.  

During my 30-year career at the IB, I have continued to believe and see how an IB education provides tools that help young people to be engaged, compassionate and critical citizens in a complex world. We change the world one student at a time, one school at a time, and one community at a time.

A big part of my team’s job is to make it easier for schools to access IB programmes by trying to remove barriers that some schools face. Our work is about cost, complexity and competition.

As long as the IB requires a financial commitment, we are going to eliminate the possibility for some schools to participate. But, in the long run, there are ways to make our resources and programmes available and inexpensive. Right now, the IB is expensive because it’s voluntary. And most schools adopt an IB programme because they think it will make them a better school. So, we work with schools in different circumstances to try and reduce these costs and make the IB more accessible.

We have strong programmes, but the process of authorization is complex. We must acknowledge that schools don’t have to start at the finish and may not deliver the perfect IB programme on day one. When I joined the IB in 1988, we only offered one programme—the Diploma Programme (DP)—and there were fewer than 300 IB World Schools globally. We now serve 5,000 schools and offer four programmes for ages 3-19years. I have been fortunate to play a small role in starting hundreds of IB programmes.

The USA and Canada are the two largest IB countries in terms of their number of IB World Schools. For a long time, the IB stood alone with very little competition. But now things are much more competitive with other education providers. At this point, our Primary Years Programme (PYP) is the only programme that stands out as having no comparable competitors. So, my team helps interested schools understand what we offer and why it is still unique, valuable and relevant.

Visiting our schools is always a highlight. I see teachers excited about teaching, students excited about learning, parents excited (and sometimes exasperated) by the new questions their children are asking, and graduates excited when they realize how well prepared they are for education and life.

We offer world-class curriculum, assessment and professional development for our educators. But the IB is more than the sum of these services and more than an organization. The IB is a movement. Movements are not made of products, they are made of people. People that are part of a movement have an inherent need to come together; to connect, to reflect, to learn, to inspire, to be inspired, and to celebrate. That’s what makes our global conferences special: people from many places and many perspectives coming together, and leaving with ideas on how they make their own IB programmes better.

In the USA and Canada, nearly 90 per cent of IB World Schools are state-funded. There is also an emerging number of schools in Latin America. This is good news because it means that more students can get an IB education regardless of their personal circumstances. But our private schools—independent, international and provincial—are just as important to us, and they are often hotbeds of incubation and innovation.

Four countries combined—the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia—enrol over 70 per cent of IB graduates worldwide. Another important responsibility of my team is to grow recognition of IB programmes at universities across The Americas. Our efforts take many shapes: direct outreach, conferences, newsletters, research, updates on curriculum changes, help to recruit IB students, and lots more. Ultimately, the single most powerful advocates are the IB graduates themselves. I hear again and again from higher education faculty and staff that what convinced them of the IB’s merits was working with students who are well prepared for university and committed to their communities.

Paul and colleagues at the IB Global Conference in Orlando 2017

Paul Campbell has worked at the IB for the last 30 years and is based in Washington DC, USA as our Head of Development and Outreach for The Americas. Of his 30 years at the IB he says: “First, I wanted a job; then the job became a career; then the career became a mission; and then the mission became a legacy. I had incredible good luck”.