UWC Mahindra College monthly newsletter

Monday, October 31, 2011

DoS meeting Hong Kong

Parallel to the College Heads’ meeting, Directors of Studies from different UWCs met at LPC Hong Kong in the week of Oct 17. All UWCs with the exception of Pearson, Adriatic, Maastricht and Bosnia were represented. Unlike Heads’ meetings, which take place at least twice a year, this was only the second time that UWC DoS’s were meeting (the previous one being 9 years ago)!

Such meetings are an excellent opportunity to benchmark one’s practices with practices in other UWCs with a similar student body, and see if other good practices elsewhere can be adapted to one’s local conditions. Some can’t. An afternoon class in a temperate climate works well, and allows some UWCs to start at 8:30. In the heat of Mahindra, afternoon classes rarely work, and hence classes end at 2:00 and hence must start at 7:30!

But such meetings  also  leads one to pose the question again: Are we one movement or a collection of 13 different colleges? At times it felt like the latter. For some Colleges – largely in LDCs -- the main challenge was retaining good faculty beyond two or three years. In several others, usually in the developed world, it was the lack of turnover that was a problem. (One UWC is mid-way through an early retirement program which will see 9 long-time faculty – 40% of their existing staff – leave!)

For some UWCs the IB and IB averages were very important; for others it was less so, and even occasionally an impediment toward implementing the UWC Guiding principles. On the whole, compared to 2002 when most DoS felt that the IB fulfilled most of the intellectual and academic needs of UWC students, this time the IB was seen as “currently the best available option”. In the words of one DoS, whose sentiment was widely shared, “It is important that the IB monster does not dominate the larger UWC experience.”

Has the IBDP transmogrified so much in 9 years?  Perhaps, in size (with UWCs constituting an ever-shrinking fraction). And in the IB’s corporate determination to expand into national school systems very dissimilar to UWCs – both philosophically and in student and faculty composition. Also, the IBDP – for instance in its ideal “IB learner profile” -- has also been recently influenced by MYP and PYP programs which are irrelevant to the vast majority of UWCs, which do only the IBDP.

But, perhaps more significantly, since October 2010, the UWC’s finally have a clear articulation of their goals and identity: the UWC Guiding Principles. Less controversial than the UWC Code of Conduct, and less glamorous than the UWC branding exercise, the Guiding Principles are perhaps a much more substantial achievement. They allow curriculum designers to pose a clear question: How many of these goals can be accomplished simply within the IB classroom? And where and how do we step in to supplement or transcend the IB, when it falls short? And is there scope for defining a common UWC curriculum which embeds these UWC Guiding Principles?

It was unfortunate that this question could not be taken up at any length in the final session, when Heads and DoS’s were scheduled to meet together, because several Heads had to leave to attend a local fundraiser. Oh well, there’s always next time. This time considerably well before 2020, one hopes.  

Cyrus Vakil
Director of Studies



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