International Baccalaureate more than worth the cost


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Joanne Seiff

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Joanne Seiff

As a new teacher, I worked at a school that became an “IB” (International Baccalaureate) school. Experienced teachers enthusiastically discussed the details over our 20-minute lunches. They served on committees, assembled paperwork, and went through additional training.

Participating in a worldwide program that provided opportunities for their students excited everyone. Teachers and students were invigorated by the process and ready to welcome it.

Over time, I’ve met others involved with the International Baccalaureate programs. Students who attend IB programs know how they measure up against others across the world. A high mark on these exams meant they could bypass introductory university coursework and start learning at a more advanced level. This strategy can offer financial savings. They also specialize in their field of study sooner, allowing extra time for research or higher level learning.

When we moved to Winnipeg, our realtor told us when these public school programs were nearby. It was an additional asset in some neighbourhoods for families looking to buy a home. The programs brought prestige to communities and enrichment for students.

I remembered this when I heard that IB is being cut in Manitoba in St. James-Assiniboia and River East Transcona School Divisions. The rationale stated is that Advanced Placement (AP) programming is just as good and less time consuming for students, who may want more flexibility. Further, on the Westwood Collegiate website, it indicates a “lack of interest and student commitment” to IB.

However, how could anyone properly assess a lack of interest or commitment during the pandemic, when every educational program faced disruption?

Alumni and current academically minded students at Miles Macdonell Collegiate asked the River East Transcona School Trustees to reconsider this decision. They were right to do so.

IB offers exceptional students in Winnipeg an opportunity for enrichment in every class. These bright thinkers should get all the support and encouragement they need to mature and succeed here at home. IB is an internationally co-ordinated, respected program that provides supports in every class, starting in some IB early years schools at Grade 7. This allows public school students a chance to soar beyond the basic Manitoba curriculum.

The program offers even more for us in Manitoba. IB graduates must pass exams with international standards. Not only are students assessed locally, but their work is sent away to be assessed by outsiders abroad. Our province could have feedback from these established, rigorous assessment tools. This gives data showing how high achieving students “measure up” without paying for new or different tests. It’s a measurement tool for our whole educational system.

International standards, assessments and diplomas also mean Manitoba students who pursue an IB diploma can gain entry to top universities worldwide. By comparison, AP exams are mostly useful for students who want to study in the U.S. and Canada. Further, IB early years programming is not part of the diploma, but prepares all students who might be interested in pursuing the diploma later on. Many additional students in grades 7-10 have access to this enriched preparatory programming.

Ideally, Manitoba’s schools would offer IB and AP coursework along with lots of other supportive programming to give all students the best start. Money is the problem. AP programming is less expensive and easier to implement and maintain. With rising costs and provincial funding that has not increased in line with inflation, public educational divisions in Manitoba have cut IB programs to balance the budget.

These PC government funding freezes and cuts don’t affect Manitobans who are privileged enough to afford additional enrichment at private schools. The IB program, and to a lesser extent, AP coursework, offer those benefits for everyone.

High achievers from all socioeconomic levels who remain in the public school system will benefit.

After hearing about the IB cuts, I looked up the high school where I started teaching over 25 years ago. Their IB program is going strong, with enrichment opportunities in academics and training in the trades.

We won’t be able to say that in Manitoba if school divisions drop the IB program.

Cutting enrichment funding for the highest achieving students is an “easy” cost-saving choice but it punishes the province in the long term. We want our best and brightest to stay in province or return after university. They could become our political leaders, health-care professionals, professors, and entrepreneurs, but we must give them the educational resources they need to thrive.

They also need reasons to feel good about Manitoba. An excellent educational experience that competes internationally is an investment that can pay dividends for our future. It’s well worth the cost.

Joanne Seiff is an opinion writer and author from Winnipeg.

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