Is the International School of Belgrade an International School?

During this semester my professional reading is the book, “Taking the IB Diploma Programme Forward” edited by Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson and published by John Catt Ltd. last year (2011). The book is a collection of essays about different aspects of the International Baccalaurate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP). The International School of Belgrade is an IB World School and our curriculum for grades 11 and 12 is the IB DP.  I’ll be blogging about many of the pieces in my principal’s blog.

The first article is entitled, “Growth of the international school market in China and its potential implications for the IB” by long-time international educator and consultant, Barry Drake. He spent 17 years in Hong Kong and really knows China. The most interesting part of the article for me was not the expected growth in China, but Drake’s statistical description of the international school market. It got me thinking about how “international” is ISB.

The definition of an international school is disputed. I liked ” (1) students and staff are representative of a number of different cultures and ethnic origins, where the (2) IB and/or a number of different courses are offered and where the (3) ethos is one of internationalism as distinct from nationalism.” With our nationality cap, all three IB programmes, the first two are very clear and ISB definitely is an international school. With the third statement, it is a bit more difficult to define, but with our students focused on different national systems of university entrance, we have to not be focused on any one nationality. I feel our curriculum offerings reflect this with many languages offered, and a mix of IB and AP (and other) classes offered.

Another measure of our “internationalism” is our accreditation with the Council of International Schools (CIS). We were re-accredited in April of 2011 and it is based on a set of standards. CIS grants accreditation to international schools based on three principles:

  1. Demonstrates and actively promotes internationalism in its students
  2. Applies the CIS Code of Ethics
  3. Undertakes an external school improvement process

Dr. Drake looks at the number of international schools worldwide and the growth of schools. He writes that CIS lists 642 international schools. This number is much smaller than the ISC Research website, a group that specializes in maintaining a database of international schools. They list 6,353 schools in 236 countries with over 3 million students and almost 300,000 teachers. The vast majority of these schools are found in Asia with Europe having the second most international schools.

There are various degrees of “internationalism” with schools. Our school is one of the most international, with 2/3 of our students being globally mobile expats, our teaching staff 60% overseas-hired, English language of instruction, and the original international curriculum (IB) offered at the school. I’ve worked in “international” schools with a mostly host-country national population and many local teachers, that by nature, are culturally more inclined towards “nationalism” rather than “internationalism.” Most of the host country nationals however, are the upper class of the country and will study abroad for their university, but many returning to their home country.

Year # of international schools
1964 50
1995 1000
2000 2584
2010 5676
2011 5788
2020 11,000

It was interesting to read on the ISC website, there are seven international schools in Belgrade. Of the top of my head, I would say they are counting the British International School, Britannica, Chartwell, Prima, and INSB. There is also the Anglo-American, a new one, Brook Hill, as well as Prima International School. Both Crjnanski, and Boskovic offer the IB DP, and they may also be included in the total. That is not including the French, German, and Russian schools in the city.

Drake finishes the article with the staggering growth numbers of international schools in the world and especially in China. The ISC website lists 329 international schools in China and 168 in Hong Kong. China is expected to reach 581 schools by 2020 and Hong Kong to reach 312.

Why so much growth? A rising middle class wants to put their children in international schools to give them a competitive advantage with their careers. Most of the new international schools are different from before, in that they are for-profit and locally owned. Most of the students are host country nationals because the number of globally mobile expats is not growing as fast as international schools. One thing about new schools however that is not different from the older international schools, is they usually hire teachers from the US/Canada/Australia/UK/New Zealand. This seems to be what the parents want and is the reason they will pay high tuition. Finding enough quality, trained, teachers willing to travel will be difficult for all schools and makes recruiting even more important for ISB.

I am happy to be at ISB and our cultural diversity in our students is the key to us being international. It will be important for us to maintain this diversity, even in a tough economic climate of  dropping expatriate families in Belgrade. I also see a lot of these new schools in Asia have huge enrollments. I feel that big schools are not the best environment for most teenagers. ISB is a great size for teenagers because it allows all students to make a significant contribution to the school. Students are asked to participate in a range of extra curricular activities. I’ve been in smaller schools and that is not good either for most teenagers, as they need the social stimulation and academic competition in the classroom.

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