This is my last post on my travels this year. I have ended up my observations this year with a visit to a large (1000 students) K-12 school in Amman, Jordan. Travelling the cradle of civilization brought up the debate between global curriculums and local curriculums that is being debated back in New Hampshire. Interestingly, as I was in Jordan the debate of global versus local was occurring in the Middle East and in New Hampshire.
The Amman Baccalaureate School was founded by a member of the Jordanian royal family to provide an international education for Jordanian students. The school provides a wonderful, rigorous education; and sends many students to top colleges around the world. When I got to meet with the Board, they told me the story of when the school wanted to implement the IB curriculum. Jordan’s Ministry of Education had to approve the program, and reportedly there was a lot of resistance to the change. Some people in the ministry favored a more traditional, more Jordanian, more religious education. “Of course,” I thought, the IB is a secular education and a western-style education focused on global (not Jordanian) citizenship.
On one hand, I could see the concerns of the Ministry. The program is primarily English-based and most graduates go to colleges in the United States and Great Britain. In addition, a program on a specific religion does not fit into the IB credits. Ultimately, the program was approved and ABS is justifiably proud of opening that educational door in Jordan as other schools in Jordan also use the IB program.
The debate of how to weave an international education within the context of Jordanian culture and community is still an unresolved topic at ABS. Here are some examples of where that issue surfaces:
Through seventh grade, approximately sixty percent of the schoolwork is done in Arabic in the courses of social studies, math, religion, Arabic language, drama and PE. English language, science, art and ICT are the backbone of the English program. Creating a bilingual program within the IB curriculum has been a challenge. For instance, Anna’s school in Geneva (Mosaic) chose not to use the IB program because they felt it would not allow them to be a truly bilingual school. ABS brought in an outside consultant to help design the program and now they feel they have more of a dual language program rather than a bilingual program.
In the high school years, English is the main language of instruction. I asked some teachers what is the stronger language for most students by graduation. They responded that in terms for reading and writing, English was the stronger language. Families understand this reality when they sign up for the school, but some parents and grandparents bemoan that Arabic is not the primary language.
The Ministry of Education also requires that the school use its approved syllabi in religion, history and literature classes. These syllabi do not always match the IB requirements so some of this work has to be done in addition to the IB work.
The curriculum design highlights the tension between an international curriculum and a national curriculum. Some other examples of the dialogue between Jordanian traditions and international traditions appear in subjects as broad as school uniforms (pants and button down shirts for boys and girls) and as specific as what’s appropriate for a student fashion show in the auditorium.
ABS has done an admirable job of designing its program, but one if the first steps in their strategic plan is to “clearly define internationalism and bilingualism within the ABS context.” During my visit I participated in robust discussions on this topic. Over the past five years, ABS has done an impressive job of drafting their guiding statements, so I am confident that this will turn out well.
The curriculum debate at ABS mirrors questions at many schools of how to weave an international education with local culture. Just as I was visiting Jordan, the New Hampshire state legislature was debating legislation that would ban the use of the IB in New Hampshire schools for fear of handing over school curriculum to a foreign group. As I head back to Holderness, we will face this question as well. Thank you so much for reading.