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Anti-discrimination task force: Creating diverse, inclusive, safe, equitable and welcoming international schools

Earlier this year, the IB shared a new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) statement, refreshing and solidifying its commitment to a series of values. As an international employer and a global education organization with enormous reach and responsibility to help shape the learners of the future, the IB is dedicated to providing guidance on ways to cultivate practices that address racism, implicit bias and discrimination of all kinds through an inclusive IB education for our students and community.

As part of our DEI journey, the IB has come together to establish an International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force with the Association of International Educators and Leaders of Colour (AIELOC), International School of Geneva (ECOLINT), and The Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS).

The inaugural event of the task force took place on 14 and 15 October 2022, at ECOLINT, Geneva where school leaders and educators with an interest in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice began the collaborative effort of bringing systemic change. Nearly 100 educators from over 25 countries travelled to Geneva, representing international schools from North America, Europe, and Africa.

The IB was represented at the event by Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director General, Dr C. Michèle Rice, Head of DEI and Fidelis Nthenge, Head of IB World Schools. We spoke with them after the event to learn more and hear about the inspiring conversations that took place.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are principles, and we are looking for action to strenghten them in the IB ecosystem. We have the tools of curriculum, assessment, programme standards and practices, and teacher training among others to make sure that our guidance supports and steers the DEI work at the school level. Although principles are clear, the ways to act in concrete situations are sometimes not. It is useful to have other external organizations and colleagues come together to advise on the work.

At the same time, we have committed on the IB organization level, that these same principles need to be lived true. That starts with the personal internal growth of each one of us to become more aware of understanding the biases in how we treat each other.” Olli-Pekka Heinonen

How did the IB get involved with the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force (ISADTF)?

Michèle: The Executive Director of ECIS, Kam Chohan, invited the IB, ECOLINT, and AIELOC to serve as founding members of the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force. Fidelis and I were honoured to be nominated by the Director General, Olli-Pekka Heinonen, to serve on the planning committee of the taskforce.

Can you describe the inaugural event of the task force?

Fidelis: The initial focus of the taskforce is supporting and connecting school leaders and those who have been assigned the role to lead school wide diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that provide an environment that allows everyone to flourish by promoting practices that eliminate racism, implicit bias, and discrimination of all kinds in schools. The feeling at the inaugural event reflected that initial focus and there was a lot of energy and excitement around the work being discussed.

Michèle: Representatives from each of the founding organizations presented on an aspect of DEI. Fidelis and I discussed the IB’s launching of the DEI commitments and the work we are undertaking to support this commitment. I shared with the audience my examination of the IB’s and IB World Schools’ practices around DEI and discussed my findings and recommendations on how we can build upon our existing work.

I shared with the audience the IB’s areas of priority that have been mentioned so far during my listening tour by teachers, administrators, students and alumni from IB Schools. These include incorporating more diversity, equity and inclusion training in teachers, administrators and staff through the IBEN network, through the educational resources the IB provides and through curriculum development.  Another theme that has come through is the need to enhance access and equity policies to support minoritized staff and underserved students from various regions in the world.  Also, we must examine issues surrounding private and international education—the idea that these programs only serve a certain kind of student and are elitist in nature must be addressed.  We must also consider how IB schools and the IB engage with local communities around DEI issues.  Finally, we must look at how we can incorporate more of our students’ voices into what we do.

The event included presentations from the other founding organizations and other guest speakers, such as:

  • Kam Chohan, Executive Director of ECIS, shared her childhood experiences while growing up in the UK as part of an immigrant family and the intense discrimination that her community faced.
  • David Hawley, Director General of ECOLINT, candidly shared that the school had experienced issues around racism and the school’s intention is to work on addressing these issues through its diversity work, particularly around recruitment.
  • Yasmine Sadri, Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice at ECOLINT and member of AEILOC alluded to the continuing work that must be done to counter systems that are oppressive of women, of people of colour, and of minoritized and marginalized groups in schools.
  • Kevin Simpson, Director of AEILOC, discussed several studies and initiatives the AEILOC has been working on. He asserted that discomfort is a normal part of courageous conversations.
  • Cynthia Roberson and John Wray, from Mulgrave School in Vancouver, an IB continuum school, shared their impressive work to embrace Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice in their school.
  • Anna Clara Reynolds and Xoài David, from the Organization to Decolonize International Schools (ODIS), raised vital questions like “why did we need to unlearn so much?”. The student voice represented by these two IB alumni pressed on a morally grounded case for more inclusive international schools.

How will the work of the task force inform an IB education?

Michèle: Our programs at the IB serve students, teachers, and school communities. In schools, teachers have a great role to play in helping students feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. Their sense of belonging comes from whether they feel seen, valued, respected, and accepted by their teachers and classmates, regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, religions, disability, sexual orientation and other vectors of diversity and identity. A sense of belonging provides the basis for students to be their best selves and achieve self-efficacy—the idea that they can achieve what they set out to do academically and later in terms of future careers. Just as establishing a sense of belonging in the classroom and schools leads to equitable outcomes for students’ academic performance and college and career aspirations later on; similarly, establishing a sense of belonging in the workplace leads to greater retention, wellbeing and job satisfaction for teachers, administrators and school staff.

The taskforce workshops included brainstorming sessions around six principal areas:

  • Governance
  • Leadership
  • Accreditation
  • Recruitment
  • Curriculum
  • Student and staff agency

Groups in these sessions worked together to address the current DEI situation in their school and then determined what could be done to enhance key areas of development in DEI policies and initiatives in those six areas.

What are the next steps for the IB and for the task force?

Fidelis: We are now gathering the outlines for recommendations, key areas we need to focus on in the short term and long term, and next steps from the six brainstorming sessions.  The executive teams of each founding organization will be debriefed to determine next steps on how to build upon the work that began during the ISADTF inaugural event. The overall goal is to disseminate recommendations to schools so that they can be equipped to bring about transformational change in the areas of anti-racism, discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For more information about the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force visit: https://www.ecis.org/taskforce