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“Being truly inclusive means being equitable not equal”

In 2023 the International Baccalaureate (IB) supported nearly 13,149 students with various inclusive access arrangements through its access and inclusion policy.

The access and inclusion policy allows the provision of arrangements for all students who require support, based on their unique need and preferences. This could include access to a reader for students with barriers to reading, graphic organisers to help students with barriers to writing, or access to a reader for a student with anxiety who may benefit from this during an examination.

We spoke with Karen Youakim, an 18-year-old Diploma Programme graduate, after studying at GEMS Wellington Academy in Dubai. Karen is originally from Egypt but has lived in four countries during her lifetime. She thinks of herself as “an activist in training” – she loves volunteering, reading and public speaking and did a TEDx Talk in 2021. She loves travelling and taking risks and as an adrenaline junkie she has made it her philosophy to challenge herself every day. Karen is also deaf in both ears and has bilateral cochlear implants.

What was your experience of the IB?

I initially chose to the Diploma Programme because of the wide variety of subjects that I would get to explore. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study yet, and I had many interests. I didn’t want to give up learning maths, or practicing a foreign language, and I’m beyond glad I picked the IB.

I would be lying if I said the DP wasn’t challenging – as a matter of fact I believe it is the most challenging academic program I have ever done and will ever do. But what I enjoyed the most was how customizable the programme was.

My brain was stretched to its limits and because of that I would say I’m much more creative, critical, and imaginative than I was before. I had complete freedom over what I was learning and producing, and it made me all the more interested in taking charge of my education.

Every internal assessment (IA) was a chance to explore something I was passionate about, not something I was forced to learn. My math IA I did on curly hair, approaching it in a way I doubt anyone had considered before. I used my childhood doll as a test subject and my own experiences as rationale, and still managed to get 19/20. I did my Extended Essay on church history, something I was learning outside of school and wanted to expand on, taking a niche angle by starting my exploration from within my denomination of Christianity. My English oral took the Disney movies of my childhood and linked them to posters from WWI – the DP really does take you in directions you could have never imagined.

My teachers always encouraged debates and – being the risk taker I am – I would always jump at the opportunity to play devil’s advocate in our heated class discussions, making my classes more fun than just reading out of a textbook.

How about when it came to taking exams?

DP exams were my first time ever sitting formal external exams, due to the fact that my GCSE year was at the height of covid. Taking that into account, I think the examination period wasn’t as hard as I imagined it would be. I mainly focused my studying on subjects that I found the hardest, while revising subjects I found easier a little closer to the exam date. I had practiced the exam questions, I knew how to pace myself through the exams, and I knew what my weaknesses were so I could pay attention to them in the exam.

Because I had spent the last 2 years getting used to the IB way of thinking, to taking charge of my own learning, to being creative when it came to tackling a challenge, exams were an arena where I would get to show off the skills I learned.

What support did your receive throughout your studies?

Because I am deaf in both ears and have bilateral cochlear implants, learning was a bit of a challenge for me at times. In my classes, I would always ask to be sat in front, so I could read my teacher’s lips, and when needed, I had an FM mic that my teachers could wear that would allow me to hear them as if they were right beside me. My teachers were very helpful and let me know that I could ask them questions at any time if I hadn’t heard something.

The IB itself also allowed me some accommodation for my exams so I could perform as well as possible. In all mock and real exams, I was given 25% extra time so I could process verbal instructions before starting the exam. In my French listening test, I had a teacher with a transcript reading out the audio files that all other students were listening to from a computer, since my ears can’t filter background noise and I need to read lips in order to be able to hear.

What impact did that support have on you?

Being offered support so easily, without having to struggle to ask for it or to find it, made me feel like I was on “even footing”. I didn’t feel any different to other students, I didn’t feel disadvantaged in any way, I didn’t feel as if I would have to work harder than other students in order to get the same results.

As Head of Inclusion at my school, I focus heavily on equality vs equity when I speak about being inclusive. I think both my school and the IB nailed the difference – being truly inclusive means being equitable not equal. Giving every student what they need instead of giving every student the same thing is the key to achieving true equality, and I was a witness to this myself. Being offered support during the IB also taught me a lesson – it’s okay to ask for help if you need it.

What’s next for you?

My next step is going to university! I’m so excited to be able to study at UCL – it truly is a world class establishment. Although I am studying law, I’m not sure if I will continue to work in this field in the future. I want to explore humanitarian law while I’m at university. My dream is to one day be a humanitarian lawyer, an activist, and an advocate. I want to change the world one word at a time. My plan is to one day open a series of orphanages in my home country of Egypt, to find disadvantaged kids from broken families, give them the privileges I grew up with, and support them with any legal problems they may have. If that doesn’t work, my backup plan is to be a teacher, maybe I’ll end up working for the IB…