International school IB system in Almaty - WorldMonitor

International school IB system in Almaty

Today, it is difficult to overstate the importance of preschool and primary education. How does KIS approach this strategic challenge? That’s an interesting question. Every curriculum teaches students to read, write and do arithmetic, but not every curriculum focuses on teaching students how to t...

Ole Bernard Sealey,
Head of Kazakhstan International School

Today, it is difficult to overstate the importance of preschool and primary education. How does KIS approach this strategic challenge?

That’s an interesting question. Every curriculum teaches students to read, write and do arithmetic, but not every curriculum focuses on teaching students how to think for themselves. As an IB school (International Baccalaureate), we emphasize inquiry and agency across the curriculum, especially among our youngest learners. In Early Years, a play-based learning approach fosters important skills like creativity, communication and cooperation. The outcome of a play-based approach is self-regulation. Our Early Years Principal Ms. Kirsi, who hails from Finland, mentors teachers who have previously worked in systems that try to start on academic systems far too early. Three-year-olds should not be sitting down quietly and watching power-point presentations. Ms. Kirsi is an expert in early childhood brain development and emphasizes the need for students to move, share, play and experience. We focus on having our students control their own emotions and behavior – abilities Ms. Kirsi calls the bedrock of a curious, flexible and connected mind.

As our students get older, we augment self-regulation with agency. Students have choices in what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Their learning is structured by the teachers, of course, but in our best lessons, students have a real sense of ownership of what they learn, how they learn it and how they communicate that learning. By giving students this sense of agency, two things emerge. Firstly, students view their education as something deeply personal and relevant to them. Secondly, they are curious about the world and want to do work that is both meaningful and progressive. Interestingly, I have noticed in my observations that once students have made such choices, they are far more willing to listen carefully through the more traditional/mechanical, teacher-led, knowledge-based instruction so they can take that information and go do something with it. It’s fun to watch.

What disciplines are the main focus? What skills and experiences are taught to students in the first place?

As I mentioned before, the essence of every curriculum is the same. The IB approach is a ‘how’ rather than a ‘what’. It is a thinking and learning framework that can be applied to any curriculum. Every school will teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, PE, music, arts, and, in most cases, a second language. It’s true that we focus on reading, writing and arithmetic, but it’s so much more than that. We have aligned our curriculum to the AERO (American Education Reaches Out) standards, which allows for consistency between teachers. In some IB schools, the teachers write their own curriculum. This can be fantastic if you have low teacher turnover and only one class per grade, but in most international schools teachers will move on after three to five years – so having an established and well-resourced curriculum provides consistency in academic standards.

As for skills, in addition to self-regulation and inquiry, we actively teach learning and thinking skills. These include: Self-Management Skills (Organization, Affect and Reflection), Research Skills (Information and Media Literacy), Thinking Skills (Critical Thinking, Creativity and Transfer), Social Skills (Collaboration, Empathy) and Communication Skills (Listening, Paraphrasing, Speaking and Writing).

So, with AERO we have a solid, well-resourced backbone to our ‘what’ – through the IB we have an effective, research-proven approach that many people feel is the best for developing the whole child.

What qualities do children develop at KIS? How will they help a new generation in the future set and meet global challenges?

Our ethos is proudly altruistic. We teach children to inquire critically and creatively, learn enthusiastically and follow their passions. Every student and class will engage in service-learning projects that have real impact. A few examples that come to mind are the group of ten Grade 10 and 11 students who go to an orphanage every Saturday, volunteering to teach the children English. We have a group of Grade 8 students who wish to reduce educational inequality by fundraising to purchase a set of laptops for a class at a rural school. And, we had a group of Grade 6 students plan and execute a ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ week. The seeds of these projects are planted through the self-regulation and agency of Early Years and Elementary School. By the time they get to Middle and High School, our students do some very impressive work. The teachers gush with pride at the commitments our students make. It’s great to be a part of this.

How much are children at KIS prepared for modern realities? In what society will modern children live, love and develop professionally?

We spend a lot of time in our homeroom/advisory programs talking about the importance of flexibility, agility, self-care and resilience, and the pandemic is teaching our students much about how to apply those skills. It certainly isn’t easy, but our students have far exceeded any reasonable expectation in the past year. To me, the COVID experience serves as a metonym for the future. Upwards of 65% of the jobs we know of will be automated by 2040, so we can expect most of our students will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet. We simply do not know what the future holds, but I can say with absolute fidelity that I believe the young people at KIS with whom I am privileged to speak every day will be ready for whatever lies ahead.

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