IB development in Japan

IB in Japan

Yesterday I attended the autumn meeting of the International Baccalaureate Association of Japan. The IB recently released an interesting research summary of a study looking at the implementation of Diploma Programme in local schools in Japan. The article summarized well the challenges and opportunities of expanding the IB in Japan local schools.

The “IB 200 Schools Project” launched in 2011 by the Japanese government. The goal is to have 200 International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme authorized local schools in Japan by 2018. Now in its fifth year, we see there are many challenges to overcome to reach this goal. There are only about 17 local schools that have taken on the IB curriculum, so they have a ways to go. The impetus behind it I think was the recognition of the growth of the global economy, especially in Asia, and business and political leaders realizing Japan needs young people that are internationally-minded and can lead Japanese companies in this new business environment. Japan’s economy is not growing and international business hubs in Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. are taking business and projects away from Japan.

I admire the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology (MEXT) for the initiative of bringing IB education to Japan, which in my opinion is the best way to develop globally-competent workers. This is a huge change in education in Japan, which is exam-driven, teacher-centered more traditional model of teaching and learning which is much different than IB philosophy. It must be difficult for experienced Japanese teachers to implement IB-style pedagogy, which requires using a lot of ICT in the classroom, criteria-based grading, and narrative feedback on assessment, among other differences.

One problem we are facing while trying to convince students from the Senri International School to take our IBDP is national curriculum requirements. For example, SIS students need 7 physical education credits in the three years of high school. There is also the calendar differences, with Japan schools starting in April and ending in March, the May exam session is very inconvenient. Another hurdle is SIS students wanting to stay in Japan for university do not see the Diploma Programme useful for university entrance. That is changing and more universities are developing programs to offer spaces for DP graduates.

MEXT and IB are doing a good job in making the curriculum in Japanese, through their “dual language” option for schools. The subject courses documentation and training are now in Japanese. Students can take 4 of the 6 courses in Japanese and it is my hope that Senri will offer IB DP courses in Japanese. MEXT IB facebook page link .

My advice for MEXT is to establish clear guidelines for graduation credits in the national curriculum and be more flexible in matching the two systems, give financial support to schools like they are doing for the Super Global High School (SGH) program, and ask universities to accept more DP graduates and offer IB training programs. They should also push more for schools to pick up the PYP which is the easiest of the three curriculums to implement.That will make it easier to add the MYP and DP later.

Another aspect of IB development in Japan is the lack of English here. The IB is being very accommodating to allow translation of  courses and documentation into Japanese. Some people feel the IB is too flexible when working with national schools. This may be causing some truly international schools to leave the IB and curricular programs like Kevin Bartlett’s Common Ground Collaborative is picking up more former IB international schools. OIS has no plans to move away from the IB at this time and no schools are leaving the Diploma Programme. However, the growth of the IB in national schools throughout the world is causing concern with international schools.

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