The Future of Education In today’s complex and fast-changing world, there are no easy answers. Innovators must go beyond the obvious to find new and creative solutions. Which is where the International Baccalaureate comes in – celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Story from Issue 10 of Aiglon's award-winning magazine.

Words: William Ham Bevan // Photography: Joe McGorty & Ian White

If the International Baccalaureate ever updates its logo, Aiglon’s Assistant Deputy Head (Student Life) has a suggestion. “It should be a giant question mark,” says Mr Brian Martineau, “because the IB is all about making young people question things rather than accept them at face value.” There is one question, however, that Aiglonians are unable to answer until they have gained their IB Diploma and left Villars: just how good is it at preparing them for the complexities of modern life, within higher education or in society at large?

After arriving at the University of Exeter to begin her degree in English, Shoshana Doherty (Le Cerf, 2016) soon found out. “In comparison with the others on my course, I felt I’d had an extra year to prepare for university,” she says. “Having to study a greater number of subjects meant I’d had time to discover what I was really passionate about and wanted to do at university. The IB is undeniably challenging – you have to have self-discipline and manage your time well – and it gave me skills that are directly relevant to my undergraduate studies.”

“In comparison with the others on my course, I felt I’d had an extra year to prepare for university.”

The IB Diploma is celebrating a landmark birthday this year. Fifty years ago, the International Baccalaureate Organisation was registered in Geneva, paving the way for the first cohort of students to take official diploma examinations two years later. It embodied an ethos that chimed with the founding values of Aiglon College, which registered its first students for a limited set of IB Diploma examinations in 1972, and continued to present candidates in Geography and French until 1997. In 2010, the school returned to the IB fold, introducing the full two-year Diploma Programme (DP) for Years 12 and 13.

The IB Diploma is best known for its academic breadth, with students taking six subjects rather than the three or four that are customary in the British A-level system. Many staff and alumni, however, would argue that what is most distinctive is the ‘DP core’ requirement. Diploma candidates are required to study the theory of knowledge and show evidence of participation in creativity, activity, and service (CAS) projects. Since 1974, an extended essay of 4,000 words has been a mandatory part of the programme.

Shoshana, who won the John Corlette Prize during her time at Aiglon, says: “There’s a lot of independent study and critical thinking involved in the extended essay, and the CAS programme teaches you leadership and independence. Theory of knowledge was present in every subject we studied at Aiglon, and it encourages you to think outside the box. That ability to reflect has definitely been useful. When I arrived at Exeter, it was very comforting to know that I was already used to this sort of learning environment.”

It is a story that is very familiar to Mr Martineau. He says: “When students get to university after the IB, it really can feel as though they’re taking their foot off the accelerator. They’ll be with people coming in who have never tackled anything as lengthy as a 4,000-word research paper, and don’t know how to reference properly or write a bibliography.”

Nicholas Gorham (Delaware, 2014) went on from Aiglon – where he was Guardian – to study Economics at the New College of the Humanities in London. He now works as a financial analyst and writer in Florence. He says: “We’d be doing the IB a disservice if we only looked at its academic strengths. I don’t think that’s why it’s special. Its overall breadth is beneficial to your development as a person.

“For example, when I look back at the CAS part of the IB, and at the Aiglon philosophy, I feel what I’ve taken most from it is that one’s life has to be balanced – in mind, body, and spirit, alike – for it to be fulfilling. This ideal is most useful when viewed in as practical a light as possible. So you should stay in shape, keep yourself informed about the world around you, and keep challenging yourself intellectually.”

“We’d be doing the IB a disservice if we only looked at its academic strengths. I don’t think that’s why it’s special. Its overall breadth is beneficial to your development as a person."

Given the shared history of the international schools movement, the IB and Round Square, it is not surprising that they have corresponding goals. “They all say a similar thing in slightly different words,” says Mr Martineau, “so the guiding principles of Aiglon feed beautifully into Round Square and the IB. The challenge is to ensure they aren’t just buzzwords that float around, but that we live and breathe them in our daily life and work.

“What’s interesting about Aiglon is that these principles are so ingrained in everything we do. For example, it’s almost impossible to get to the end of Year 13 without doing your CAS. At some other schools it’s considered a slightly irritating addition that has to be shoe-horned in. Here, it fits beautifully without us having to build in anything extra.”

The IB Diploma does not only offer breadth in terms of the number of subjects that can be pursued, but within the syllabus of each individual subject. Ms Claire Tierney, Head of English, believes her department benefits considerably. “It offers us great flexibility,” she says. “The prescribed lists of authors and texts is extensive, so at Aiglon we can design a course that’s exciting, innovative, and always keeps the students guessing.

“We expose them to a wide range of texts from different cultures and contexts, giving them a very good overview of literary genres and periods. It develops their knowledge more keenly than A-level courses, which have a narrower focus and are far more prescriptive. And because we’re an international school, our students’ own cultures will lead them to have different responses to language and literature.” Theory of knowledge permeates the way English is taught at Aiglon. “It complements our subject very well,” says Ms Tierney. “We’ll always incorporate it into our lessons, especially when it comes to starting on a new module or author. We’ll try to unpick the students’ knowledge – establishing what they think they already know, how they know it, and how far they can trust those beliefs. We’re always trying to develop them as critical thinkers.”

Gregor Grassie (Delaware, Year 12) is among the latest group of students to embark on the IB Diploma programme. Like many in his year, he finds the CAS requirement particularly fulfilling – and, as well as covering the ‘activity’ element through his role as House Expeditions Captain, he has been developing a more unusual skill for the ‘creativity’ component. “I’m playing the bagpipes,” he says. “I started it at my last school, Fettes, in Scotland, and I have lessons every week with Mr Logie, a maths teacher here at Aiglon. I thoroughly enjoy that part of the IB – it opens up a world of music, drama, and art in which we can get involved.”

For his extended essay, Gregor has opted to look into the business challenges facing budget airlines. He says: “I’ll be writing on topics such as Brexit and how it will affect future budget travel to destinations in the UK and Europe. My business teacher, who is now my essay co-ordinator, helped me find the initial sources, but now I have to go on by myself and find a lot more information. I’m finding this part of the IB really interesting. I think it gets us prepared not only for the university essays we’ll do, but for reports that we’ll have to write in our jobs.”

As Debating and Expeditions Captain for her house – and recipient of a Chamois Prize – Somphors Tann (Clairmont, Year 12) has thrown herself into Aiglon life. But when she first arrived, she experienced a degree of culture shock. She says: “It took me a while to adapt. My last school didn’t have things like theory of knowledge – it was entirely subject-based.

“It’s very different here. Take the extended essay, where you have to choose your own topic, formulate your research question and evaluate the sources you need. I’m finding it challenging, having that amount of independence. But at university, teachers won’t always be there to help us, so it’s for our own benefit.”

Like Gregor, Somphors raises CAS as a vital component of the IB Diploma, rather than an added burden. She takes an active role in the Philosophy Club, which discusses a different thinker each week, and practises with the Climbing Club on Fridays. “For service, I’m helping with the refugee centre nearest the school,” she says. “We try to entertain the children and give them a good time, as well as bringing in some educational value.”

Ultimately, it is all part of a scholastic blueprint geared to helping each individual become “truly and intensely alive”, in the words of school founder Mr John Corlette – a vision he shared with the maverick educationalists who conceived the IB Diploma, and their successors who have helped it to develop into a qualification taken by more than 157,000 students across the world.

“I really do believe that the school is carrying out an essential educational mission that’s beneficial to youth and modern society,” says Somphors. “Following the guiding principles of mind, body, and spirit will create future citizens who have well-rounded international knowledge that will help them integrate better into the world. And that’s the key to creating a more peaceful and prosperous society.”

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