- High School
One of the questions that parents considering THS High School often ask me is whether they wouldn’t be better moving their child to a school that teaches the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program. Afterall, according to the IB organisation’s website, the qualification seeks to send children “off into life with the skills they really need to grow and develop in a successful, happy way.” Few people would argue with that notion and it would indeed sit comfortably with the guiding principles of The Harbour School.
So what is IB? Founded in Switzerland in the late 1960s, the IB organization aimed to deliver a curriculum that developed world citizens through the promotion of global peace and understanding at the height of the Cold War. It quickly gained a reputation for rigour and is accepted at universities around the world. It requires students to study a broad range of subjects, as in the American tradition, but at a depth more akin to English A levels. Students typically study three subjects to a lesser depth and three to a greater depth. Alongside this they must write an essay on the theory of knowledge, an extended essay on a self-directed research project and activities relating to service and creativity.
There is little in this that would go against what THS High School believes in and promotes.
So where does the difference lie? If IB is about promoting a broad curriculum, as THS seeks to do, and IB seeks to help students to grow into ‘world citizens’, as THS does, why doesn’t THS just follow the IB?
There are multiple ways in which the approach at THS High School differs from the IB approach. The education in the High School is extremely rigorous and the expectations of teachers are very high, but we have the freedom to innovate and develop multiple curricula within our diploma program that can meet the widely varying needs of our student population. Some students take their studies even further through Honours projects that allow for greater depth and learning extension. This adaptability and personalisation allows students to achieve on their own terms - for some of our students, the next stage of their life journey might be a highly selective university in the US or UK, and for some others of our students, completion of the diploma will be their final piece of formal education. The needs of these two groups, and the very many others we serve, are entirely different.
Which leads to the key characteristic of what the High School at THS is able to offer - a level of personalisation that is unrivalled in Hong Kong and perhaps anywhere in the world. The faculty and administration of the school get to know each student really well, supporting them in developing their own plan and goals and helping them to harness the tools to achieve in their own journey. Some of this is about curriculum choice and adapting the existing curriculum, some is about developing novel course offerings to meet very specific individual needs and some is about identifying and accessing additional experiences that will help our students to stand out in a competitive university application program.
So are IB schools letting down their students? Some are, no doubt, in the same way that some schools in whatever curriculum system place an overwhelming emphasis on exam outcomes. For the record, at THS we usually find that students best demonstrate their mastery of skills in ways other than in tests or exams, which might include ongoing assessments, projects, presentations or films. But it is the emphasis on living and working by a shared value set that really marks THS out. A school whose sole purpose is to achieve academic glory for the students (and in so doing for itself) will go all out for this at the expense of developing the individual. At THS, we want to nurture and develop young people to be successful lifelong learners who are adaptable to the challenges of the twenty-first century. This emphasis on values shows through in every aspect of the school and in the consequent experiences of our students.
This week alone, students in their senior year have had university offers from Georgetown, University of California San Diego, Scripps College and Colorado College, all exceptional institutions. One student interviewed for Stanford last week. Does IB give students an advantage over the THS American qualification? No. Clearly not. Our students are welcomed into the finest institutions in the world and we are incredibly proud of them!