2022-2023 is the second academic year in an International Baccalaureate (IB) school for my son. Getting used to a new country, culture and school system is still a work in progress for him, with daily great adventures.
When we decided to stay in Qatar for more than one month, we obviously had to do some research before choosing the right school. If you are an expat, you cannot go to public schools as far as I know. Instead, you must sign up for a private school with a curriculum that you prefer, like the British, American, or International Baccalaureate, for example.
At first, I enrolled my son in a British school because it was closer to our house, had a reasonable price (prices vary greatly depending on the type of curriculum you choose), and appeared to be very similar to the Romanian educational system we were used to.
After some time, however, we chose an IB school (International School of London Qatar) because of all the positive things I’d heard about this type of educational system. Another important aspect was diversity, because I wanted him to be exposed to as many different nationalities as possible, to learn from them, and to broaden his horizons.
The IB system is very different from traditional schooling
The first thing we needed to understand is the school’s structure: from Early Years (which includes Early Childhood + Kindergarten), Primary Years (Year 1 – Year 5), to Middle Years (Year 6 – Year 8) and High School (Year 9 – Year 12). Grade 5 is still in Primary School here, whereas In Romania it is Middle School, which hurt someone’s ego last academic year, I won’t name them here…
Then, it was the approach: no textbooks! Children must bring their own digital devices every day (iPads, laptops) and learn how to integrate them into the educational process beginning in the Primary Years. I must admit that I’m still getting used to it from this perspective. Having a textbook would enable me to exercise with the child every day at home and give me a better general understanding of the subjects taught in the classroom. Of course, the school constantly updates the parents via a variety of platforms and apps, but I personally would have preferred to have textbooks (I still find it hard to keep up with the daily new concepts).
The teaching process is nothing like the old way. Children don’t have to stay in their seats and look at the blackboard while the teacher gives the new lesson in a routine way. In an IB school, the teaching process is built on student collaboration. The teacher is guiding them through the new lessons in a practical manner; children learn by doing, rather than memorizing; the disciplines are integrated – they don’t teach separate subjects, but rather combine the concepts in the same way that concepts are merged in everyday life: even to cook a meal, we need to know some Biology, some Chemistry and even Physics.
In this way, children enjoy going to school and engaging in various practical activities, they are given a voice and sufficient space to discover themselves and the world around them. Everybody is encouraged, supported and helped to discover their own talents and passions.
There is no blame culture and the relationships are based on respect and understanding. In an international school like the ones in Qatar for instance, the students come from all around the world and learn to accept and appreciate each other. Moreover, they are encouraged to learn from each other’s culture and background: how is it like living in Kenya? How is the food like in Romania? What sports do you practice in the Philippines? And so on.
The well-being of the child
As a parent, I really valued the school’s emphasis on the child’s well-being as one important part. The teachers here make sure that every student feels comfortable, understood, welcomed, and appreciated in their classroom before beginning any lessons, assessments, or instruction.
This strategy is essential in a country like Qatar, where a huge number of expats reside. Families move here with their children, and the adjustment period is not always simple or easy. Therefore, international schools must have solid Transition Policies and excellent counsellors to assist children adapt and feel comfortable in their new environment.
I know this because my child was not very happy in Qatar for a few months when we first moved there, and he still asks us every day when we’ll be going home for good. Even now, in Year 6 (the first year of the Middle Years Programme), we had to deal with things like switching him from Arabic to French classes and then from 6D to 6B because all of his friends were there. During these changes, the child’s well-being was the school’s main concern, and everyone was kind and willing to help him feel at ease and happy.
According to my research, IB schools in Romania can be even more expensive than in Qatar, therefore many children at home do not have access to a truly effective, 21st Century education. I don’t think things will change overnight, but the public school system might do well to learn from other, more modern programs.
At least a small amount.
It would make a huge difference.