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Becoming an IB World School: the Russian way

A school in Russia explains how it has integrated state curriculum with IB programmes, resulting in improvements in the quality of student learning

Around 30 state schools in Russia have implemented IB programmes as part of a pilot by the Russian government to raise education levels and provide students with the best opportunities.

One of these is the School Of Young Politicians—Gymnasium 1306 (SYP), which serves the families of the Ramenki district in Moscow, as well as that of the Moscow expat community. The students, aged 3-17, represent up to 44 nationalities.  

The task of integrating state and IB programmes has been a time-consuming but, ultimately, rewarding process for the school. SYP began by offering the Diploma Programme (DP) in 2010 and was authorized for the Primary Years Programme (PYP) in 2016. It is in the candidate phase for the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and had its authorization team visit this September. 

Varduhi Grigoryan-Avetisyan, Head of IB Programmes at the school, explains: “We were first faced with the necessity to rethink our school syllabus. As we are a state school we must meet all state requirements, in terms of curriculum, resources, language policy and examinations.”  

Making changes 

To manage the integration, teachers worked collaboratively in a three-step process. “For the PYP and MYP, we started with a comparison of the two educational programmes and their requirements in terms of approaches to learning (ATL) development and learning outcomes,” explains Grigoryan-Avetisyan. This helped teachers to plan the new curriculum.   

In the PYP, the school took the subject content of the state programme but explored those as part of the programme of inquiry. In the MYP, the school used state programme content, adding to it all the IB requirements, and introduced those in units of inquiry.   

“The second step was implementing the trial version of the curriculum in order to understand in practice what works in the classroom,” says Grigoryan-Avetisyan. “The third step, which we are actually going through at the moment, is to synthesize the final version of the integrated programmes.” 

However, for the DP the minimum requirements of state curriculum were already completely covered in the DP.   

Grigoryan-Avetisyan says that one of the main challenges was to introduce a completely new educational philosophy involving inquiry-based learning, conceptual learning and teaching, skills development as a core element of the educational process, cooperative learning and project-based learning.  

“That required a lot of effort from our staff as we had to go through a number of workshops, collaborative planning meetings, retraining and professional development,” says Grigoryan-Avetisyan. 

“The very process of implementation was also challenging as designing an integrated syllabus and implementing it in the classroom can be quite different. It was difficult to predict the reaction of students.” 

The school also renewed many resources, bought new equipment, and introduced the extensive usage of online libraries and teaching facilities. “Here, we came across another hurdle—the language. As roughly only 50% of staff were able to read guides and necessary materials in English, the other half of the staff had to do lots of translations (of both internal and external documents),” says Grigoryan-Avetisyan.   

She adds: “We implement the PYP with great focus on English but with Russian as the main language of instruction; the MYP is taught half in English and half in Russian, so that the students are prepared for completely English instruction in the DP.”  

The benefits for students 

The teachers’ efforts and dedication have been worth it. The school has seen an “impressive change in student learning and understanding since the IB programmes have been implemented”, says Grigoryan-Avetisyan. 

“The PYP students who have gone through inquiry-based and investigation learning, demonstrate a responsible attitude to learning, an eagerness to discover the world around them and a broad mindset. For example, in each PYP classroom we have a ‘question wall’, where the children can post questions of interest, and the teaching staff then try to design their investigations taking into consideration those questions.”   

In the MYP, the main benefit for children is project-based learning where they can implement their subject knowledge and acquired skills. “The most valuable result of the MYP is that children actually initiate certain projects and feel inclination to act on their decisions,” says Grigoryan-Avetisyan. “Students organized several projects for the elderly (both locally and internationally), ran a series of workshops in kindergartens raising awareness about environmental and social issues, led charity campaigns, as well as organized an all-school fundraising event (French Cuisine Festival) to support animal shelters. 

“It is very important for us to bring up holistic learners, and that students are turning into responsible and active members of the local and global community,” adds Grigoryan-Avetisyan. 

“For DP graduates, their practical knowledge of the chosen subjects together with the analytical skills and critical thinking gained through the core elements of the programme, enable them to enter and succeed at the top universities around the world.”