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Here’s how international schools can help your child find their life purpose

The pace of change today means schools are being challenged like never before to ensure their teaching remains relevant. How can you as a parent be sure your child is getting the education they need for tomorrow’s world?

Here's how international schools can help your child find their life purpose
Photo: Getty Images

One solution could be to look at schools teaching the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP). Unlike most school curricula, the IBCP – which is the fastest-growing IB programme – was developed in the 21st century.

It aims to provide students aged 16 to 19 with a toolbox for their future lives and careers, promoting a wide range of skills and self-confidence.

The Local has partnered with Montreux International School, a Swiss co-educational international school for 16 to 19-year-olds that focuses on the IBCP, to highlight five ways in which your child’s school can prepare them for a complex future. 

Switzerland’s first IBCP-only school: Montreux International School will open its doors for the first time in September 2021

1. By letting them pursue their passions 

“Students need choice and they need to own their own learning,” says Jon Halligan, former head of business development for the International Baccalaureate. The idea that children can learn as passive recipients of information, whether by listening in silence to a teacher or simply reading a textbook, is on the way out.

The IB has always looked to encourage inquiry-based learning in the belief that learners construct their own knowledge. Now, the IBCP looks to do that in a way that is fit for the digital age.

Halligan says teenagers’ brains mature much more quickly now than in the past, making them more demanding in wanting to know why they should engage with something. “We’re trying to allow students to pursue their passions, making sure that their learning is relevant and authentic,” he says. “I’m consistently asked ‘Why am I learning this?’ They’re most engaged when they see purpose and relevance.”

2. By emphasising principles

From fighting climate change to personal wellbeing, young people expect ethical concerns to be central to their future careers. Being caring and principled are two of the ten key attributes all IB students are expected to develop. IBCP students have a clear framework for this through courses on service learning and personal and professional skills.

The latter encourages them to explore deep issues about personal identity, says Halligan, who is now Managing Director at Montreux International School. “Once you start to understand yourself, you can also appreciate how other people can be right even if they don’t have the same values or identity as you,” he says.

Students are also asked to focus on what it means to be part of a team and what constitutes leadership, he adds. Montreux International School also offers its own Global Perspectives series of courses to encourage students to “step back and explore their place in the world”. 

3. By giving them real world relevance

Teenagers today want to know where they’re going and why. The well-known International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), developed in the 1960s, focuses on preparing for university studies. But the IBCP is broader, providing accelerated routes to leading global universities and clear career opportunities.

“Life has moved on a lot,” says Halligan. “The IBCP opens up industry pathways, as well as a path to university, and allows students to see the purpose of what they’re learning.”

Students at Montreux International School will take at least two courses from the traditional DP to give them a solid academic grounding, the IBCP core (focusing on interpersonal skills and problem-solving), plus a professional learning qualification with an external industry partner.

The choices for the final career-related part are Business, Luxury Hospitality and Brand or Business and Digital Marketing. There are huge opportunities in both sectors, says Halligan. “Hospitality is undergoing a huge transformation and it’s an amazing time to be the generation who shape it,” he says. “Digital marketing has boomed because of the pandemic and is going to become even more important whatever industry you’re in.” 

Nor does choosing one route mean you can’t change course. “Business is a huge field and the skills you learn on our programmes are transferable,” he adds.

Learn more about the IBCP pathways at Montreux International School – applications are open for when the school opens in September 2021

Jon Halligan. Photo: VIE Education

4. By unleashing their entrepreneurial spirit 

“I think all students are entrepreneurial,” says Halligan. “As humans, we’re naturally creative and everyone has ideas.” But not all schools or curricula stimulate or foster that creative impulse. “We like the IBCP because it teaches students how to generate, analyse and interrogate ideas,” he continues. 

A key differentiator compared with most educational programmes is the focus on helping students to analyse risks and see how to apply their ideas in the real world. 

“All the tools you might see taught in an MBA or a higher level degree are taught in the IBCP,” he says. “It’s quite unique in that regard.” So teenagers learn how to do a SWOT analysis and use the starbursting technique for brainstorming to name just two.

The emphasis is on developing the competency to get things done, rather than just passing an exam. “Learning from failure and understanding your mistakes is the most powerful learning you can do,” adds Halligan. “History is littered with examples of this, from Churchill to Steve Jobs.”

5. By helping them ask big questions about tech 

Teenagers studying an IBCP need to develop a wide range of technical skills. But to think that’s the whole point so far as education and technology is concerned is to miss the point, says Halligan.

What’s more important than ever is allowing students to explore their relationship with technology, and the positive and negative impacts that can or could happen,” he says. Teenagers should understand not only their identity but also their “virtual identity”.

At Montreux International School, students will study the THRIVE curriculum, based around the work of US-based organisations such as the Center for Humane Technology. They’ll be encouraged to reflect on both practical and ethical questions. 

The former include understanding what accepting cookies means. The latter extends to one fundamental question facing the world, says Halligan: “Just because we have the technology to do something, should we?”

Learn more about the first Swiss IBCP-only school. Is your child ready for tomorrow’s world? Admissions to Montreux International School are open for September 2021 and you can take a 360 degree VR campus tour online

Member comments

  1. How weird that you can ignore that half of the employment scene which is publicly provided — and the intended goal of at least half of young people today.

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READER INSIGHTS

What schools do foreigners in Sweden send their children to and are they happy?

Most foreign parents in Sweden told The Local's survey they take advantage of the country's school choice system and send their children to international schools, or to private or non-profit free schools. Here's what they think of the quality of teaching.

What schools do foreigners in Sweden send their children to and are they happy?

Our survey was not scientific, but out of the 157 people who responded before we closed it, 65 (41 percent) sent their child or children to a standard municipally-run school which did not offer an international programme as part of their teaching. More than a third (34 percent) sent their child to an international school offering the International Baccalaureate diploma (which could be municipal, private, or non-profit).

Almost a quarter (39 respondents, 24.4 percent) sent their children to a profit-making free school. And almost a fifth (29 respondents, 18 percent) sent their child or children to a free school run by a non-profit organisation.

The survey was carried out as part of The Local’s investigation into schools in Sweden. We’ve previously published interviews with foreign teachers at the IES (Internationella Engelska Skolan, International English School) free school chain herehere, and here, and are now looking into other schools as well.

Since the “free school reform” in 1992, private and non-profit companies have been able to run schools in Sweden, with the state paying them for each pupil educated. 

The system has come under growing criticism over the past ten years.

This has partly been due to a decline in the performance of Swedish pupils compared to those of other countries in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The system of school choice has been blamed for increasing segregation. 

In the run-up to September’s election, schools are likely to be one of the big issues. 

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson looks set to campaign on a pledge to ban free schools – dismissed as marknadsskolan, “schools driven by market forces” – from siphoning off profits. 

“The school system we have in Sweden today, which is unique in the world and no other country has chosen to imitate, is a system which essentially drives increased segregation,” she said in an interview in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper at the end of last month. 

“Researchers are pretty much unanimous about that. Pupils with the worst prospects are collected together in one school and those with better prospects in another.”  

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the centre-left Social Democrat party. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Swedish schools too slow 

The most common complaint from parents who answered the survey was that the pace of education at municipality-run schools was too slow, and the level of academic demands placed on their children too low. 

“[It’s] very slow-paced,” complained a US mother living in Uppsala. [The] education is several years behind grade level in the US.” 

Mangla Sekhri, an Indian mother and IT director based in Stockholm, said she had pulled her children out of the local municipality school after a year and moved them to a school run by the IES chain.

“[I] just couldn’t continue due to [the] slow pace there. It was very slow, but now at IES things are much better-paced.” 

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“The only thing which bothers me is lower expectations on the kids, compared to Poland where we come from,” said a Polish respondent. 

“She’s ahead of the other children because she’d already finished two years of school in Guernsey. They don’t give her learning materials of a high enough level without us asking them to,” complained a father from the British Isles. 

Better integration at municipal schools 

For those who had chosen to send their children to a standard, municipality-run school, the big attraction was better integration, both in Sweden and in their local neighbourhood. 

“Their peers and friends at the school are generally their neighbours as well, [so it’s] easy to hang out with school friends,” said an American living on Sweden’s northwest coast, whose four children all went through the local municipal school. 

“My now eight-year-old daughter learned Swedish within months. One year on, she’s completely fluent. She has also made many Swedish friends and has playdates several days a week,” said a British father living in Gävle. 

“If you are an immigrant and planning to settle down in Sweden then municipal schools are good options for your child to learn Swedish quickly,” agreed a dad from Bangladesh, living in Malmö. 

More flexibility and better discipline at private schools

Many of those who had chosen to send their children to a privately-run free school seemed to prize the additional flexibility and better discipline they offered. 

“My child was already three years ahead academically and was very bored in lessons (had already learned everything in maths and science in the UK), so IES let him attend higher years group classes in these subjects,” reported an English respondent living in the middle of Sweden. 

“Free schools have stricter discipline and they focus more on studies,” said a mother from Sri Lanka whose child went to a school run by the Kunskapskolan chain. 

“I like the discipline and all the support that teachers give to the students,” said a mother whose child goes to a school run by IES. 

A parent whose child went to a school run by the AcadeMedia chain, said they were drawn by the additional subjects, such as music and theatre, on offer. 

Better possibilities to study internationally and move schools if posted elsewhere

Those who chose to send their children to schools running the International Baccalaureate programme did so either because they liked the programme’s more demanding curriculum or because they were only on a short or medium-term posting to Sweden and wanted to make it easier for their children to shift their education to a new country. 

One parent, whose child went to the British International School of Stockholm, cited the “ease of transferring to a new school when moving to a new country”, and “exposure to different cultures and points of view” as advantages. 

“I love the IB. It’s one of the best but also most challenging educational systems in the world and this is widely recognised,” said one parent, whose child goes to the international school run by the Bladins Foundation in Malmö.

“Here in Malmö, the big risk is that there are no options for the final years outside the one school. If your child doesn’t achieve the academic standard required, then you are screwed.” 

Who was happiest with their choice of school? 

There was little variation in parent satisfaction between those who sent their children to a municipal, private or international school. 

The parents who sent their children to standard municipal schools rated their school on average at 7.7 out of 10. Those who sent their children to a privately run free school rated their school at 8.2, while those who sent their children to a school run by a non-profit organisation rated their children’s school the highest at 8.6. 

Those whose children went to a school running the International Baccalaureate programme rated the school on average at 8.3. 

There was slightly more variation between types of schools when parents broke down their ratings, with standard municipal schools falling further behind on the level of discipline parents perceived at their children’s schools, and also on the quality of extra-curricular activities.

  Overall Teaching Happiness of child Discipline Extra-curricular
Standard municipal 7.7 7.4 8.3 7.1 6.6
For-profit 8.2 8 8.5 7.9 7.4
Non-profit 8.6 8.6 9 8.5 7.1
International school 8.25 8.2 8.8 8 7.3

Which individual schools/chains came out tops? 

The schools which won the highest approval rating tended to be the international schools run by non-profit foundations, such as British International School Stockholm, Bladins International in Malmö, The English School Gothenburg, Sigtunaskolan, and Stockholm International School (although note that there were only one to three respondents for each of these schools). 

When it came to the for-profit free school chains, there was more variation, with some parents loving their children’s schools and others disappointed. 

Four parents sending their children to the IES chain gave the school ten out of ten, but two IES parents gave their school four or five out of ten. It was a similar story with the Kunskapskolan chain, where one parent gave an eight, another a four.

“The best thing about my child’s school is how respectful the children are towards each other,” send one parent who sent her child to an IES school. “There is a culture of the children being kind and supportive of each other. The teachers have all been amazing, and it’s been really interesting for my child to meet teachers from a huge variety of different countries.” 

Several IES parents also praised how well organised their child’s school was, with high standards of cleanliness and discipline. 

“I chose IES because the school inculcates the right values that I would like my children to have – discipline, respect for teachers, diligence in studying, academic excellence,” one wrote. 

“The staff seem genuinely interested in our concerns. The kids enjoy being there and enjoy learning,” wrote another. 

On the negative side, one noted that “teachers are not paid as well as [at] public schools”, another that “teachers are very often changing”, and another that “no proper curriculum [had been] followed”. 

In general, the most dissatisfied parents had children at municipal schools, perhaps because they were less likely to have actively chosen them. Ten respondents gave their municipality-run school a four or five overall. 

“[There is] nothing to do in their free time and an extremely low level of teaching,” complained one parent, while another complained of “incompetent staff with a lack of social-emotional intelligence”, and another of “extremely large classes”. 

“I’m not entirely sure of the quality of the education,” wrote one Irish parent. “At least one of the teachers seems to think the Republic of Ireland is part of the UK.” 

A particular complaint about municipal schools was the way teachers seemed unwilling to use imaginative and engaging teaching methods. “Some teachers are not able to engage the class with interesting teaching methods,” complained an Australian father. 

Given the level of variation in answers to The Local’s questionnaire between both the best and worst municipality-run schools and the best and worst schools run by the free school chains, it is clearly important to talk to local parents about which school in your area of Sweden seems best. 

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