IB Programme faces new challenges due to pandemic

December 7, 2020

Nine years ago, Central hosted its first class of students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, and has hosted a new class every year since. This year, the pandemic has presented new challenges to the IB Programme, both at Central and to the organization at large.

The IB Diploma Programme is a two-year higher-level education program that starts for students in their junior year and ends in their senior year. This year, Central has 25 students in its junior class and 29 in its senior class, with 27 teachers and administrators involved either teaching classes or overseeing parts of the program.

One of the biggest changes for the IB Programme as a whole due to the pandemic came at the end of last school year when the IB seniors were not able take the final exams they would usually take. Instead, the IB Programme did a statistical analysis across all its schools in 156 countries to compare factors including other assessment results and how accurately teachers could predict grades to give each student an exam score. This determined whether they would receive an IB diploma.

Central’s IB Coordinator Cathy Andrus did not like this way of assessing students.

“I would have much preferred for kids to have the opportunity to take the exams and show what they know,” she said.

However, she does understand why this decision was made, considering the circumstances created by the pandemic, and considering IB’s unique circumstances as well. While other programs like AP could roll out online exams because they had each students’ email address, IB was simply unable to do the same.

“IB has no access to individual students,” Andrus said. “They never ask your phone number, your email address, your mailing address. They don’t communicate directly with students, they communicate with two people in a school: the coordinator and the head of school; everything filters down from there.”

This is because IB has to work with many different schools in many different countries, she said.

“They had no choice,” she said. “It’s easy for us to forget that we are only a small cog in this wheel. Trying to come up with things that will work or be acceptable in all the countries involved in IB is kind of beyond our comprehension, because they have to look at it from every angle. Covid hit differently in different parts of the world, so coming up with a way to move forward was really hard.”

Since then, the biggest problem IB has faced has been communication, especially when it comes to younger students who might be considering joining IB.

“I’m worried that it’s going to be harder to recruit the students coming from eighth grade to ninth grade, to have them thinking about IB, because all the personal things that I try to do have now become either more difficult, less personal, or impossible to do,” Andrus said.

This makes her worried that there will be fewer students enrolled in IB over the next few years.

“If we don’t build a groundwork in ninth grade of kids at least thinking they’re considering the IB Diploma Programme route to go in eleventh and twelfth grade, come eleventh and twelfth grade, there’s not going to be anybody thinking about it—now, that’s a huge exaggeration, there will be some, but I think it’s going to be harder to recruit,” she said.

As for the students this year, Andrus also feels disconnected from them especially when it comes to the juniors who are in their first year of IB and have yet to meet as a whole group in-person.

“I feel like I hardly know the juniors at all, and that is really really difficult for me,” she said. “Most of them are at home, first of all. But even if they were here at school, my job is to not impose myself more on people than I have to, because we’re all trying to stay socially distant, so I can’t just stop in and sit in on classes and get a feel of the students and how they’re engaging this year.”

Andrus wants to start doing some events in the coming semester for getting students in earlier grades involved, as well as connecting with current IB students and getting them to connect with one another—but she isn’t sure if that will be possible.

“We cannot plan,” Andrus said. “We can think about things, but we can’t actually plan anything, because we have no idea what spring will be.”

In the longer term, however, there are some plans in the early stages of development for the IB Programme at Central. This includes the IB Career Programme, which involves slightly fewer classes than the Diploma Programme and allows students to focus on a career area of their choice.

“It would give a greater opportunity for students to be part of the IB Programme, to get some of the wonderful benefits of it without going through the entire Diploma Programme,” Andrus said.

Andrus would likely be involved in setting up this new program and has been involved in IB at Central every step of the way. Someday, she knows she will have to retire, but she is confident that the IB Programme will continue after she is gone.

“If I have learned anything in my teaching career, it is that absolutely nobody is irreplaceable; we are all replaceable,” she said. “In fact, if I am not doing things to help the next person be successful, then I’ve really not been very successful myself. If any program is contingent on one person or two people, then it really loses a lot of its value. So, no, this program is not contingent on me, and when I retire, there absolutely will be people to step in.”

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