Have degree, will travel: international baccalaureate program at UBC
 

UBC’s International Baccalaureate Program: Have degree, will travel

UBC produces teachers with an international outlook—and ambitions to match


 



      Meredith Fenton, professor and program director of the International Baccalaureate Educator Stream program at UBC in Vancouver, Canada, teaching at the front of a class which focused that day's learning on lesson planning. (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

      Meredith Fenton, professor and program director of the International Baccalaureate Educator program.  (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

      After four years of teaching English in South Korea, Greg Zimmerman was ready for a change. He still wanted to be a teacher, and still wanted the opportunity to work abroad, but also aspired to have the added credibility of a bachelor of education degree.

      So, on a visit to Vancouver between teaching contracts in Seoul, he stopped in on an information session about UBC’s education program. “I heard something with the word ‘international’ in it,” says Zimmerman who needed no further enticing.

      The following year, he applied and was accepted to UBC’s bachelor of education program in the international baccalaureate educator (IB) stream. Three years later, he’s graduated and working full time at a private IB school in Bogota, Colombia.

      What differentiates the IB method of teaching from the traditional public school model is vague but significant. The teaching philosophy was launched in 1968 by a group based in Geneva, Switzerland, who sought to modernize the educational system; it’s now used at 4,775 schools around the world. UBC’s faculty of education describe the approach with terms like “international-mindedness,” “inquiry-based education” and “learner profile.” Ultimately, though, the difference is that instructors teach to specific goals or learning outcomes rather than teaching prescribed assignments. That opens up countless doors to how they can guide students to understand concepts and develop skills and knowledge. It means teachers have the luxury of being creative, and the responsibility to adapt their lessons to every student. “There’s a lot of emphasis on teaching to everyone, not just one kind of student,” says Zimmerman. “It’s trying to find students’ strengths in different ways.” That could mean letting a student give an oral presentation or create a piece of visual art rather than write an essay, for example.

      Students collaborate on a lesson planning brainstorming excercise in the International Baccalaureate Educator Stream program at UBC in Vancouver, Canada. . They all work together to glue concepts for class structure in a certain order. Different teams in the class will have different working orders. (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

      Students collaborate on a lesson planning brainstorming excercise in the International Baccalaureate Educator program. Different teams in the class will have different working orders. (Photograph by Jen Osborne)

      The chance to work abroad is a big draw for many students who choose the IB specialization at UBC. “So many schools internationally are IB focused,” says Gary Little, former director of the IB stream at UBC. “Our grads are very attractive [as employees] for that reason. The schools don’t need to go and get teachers IB training—they already come with that extra layer.” The main added value is teachers’ ability to adapt lessons to students’ unique learning styles—a critical advantage when working with students from myriad cultural backgrounds.

      But the program is increasingly attractive in British Columbia, too. The one-size-fits-all approach to education has been heavily contested in recent years, and B.C. is updating its public school curriculum in response to that. “They’ve borrowed a lot from the middle [school] years IB curriculum,” Zimmerman says. “We were very happy to hear such things.”

      Meredith Fenton, who recently took over as director from Little, notes that IB schools “are popping up everywhere” in B.C. Meanwhile, non-IB schools are already courting their grads. “They’re hiring our IB graduates, because they know this training is the best practice,” she says.

      Certainly, it’s a good time to be a teacher in B.C. On top of modernizing the curriculum, the province has reduced the class size limit, effectively adding 3,600 new teaching positions to fill those rooms. Of Zimmerman’s tight-knit cohort of about 30 students, half a dozen or so are working abroad. Undoubtedly, though, they take comfort in knowing there’s almost certainly a job at home for them if they return.

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