By Paul Shaw

MY wife and I visited Fairview International’s Kuala Lumpur campus last month to learn about its International Baccalaureate (IB ) Primary Years Programme (PYP) in preparation for the opening of its school in Bridge of Allan in August. I am not a teacher but have 33 years’ experience of my wife’s ups and downs and, more recently, a daughter who qualified just two years ago.

The essence of PYP is to help students increase their confidence and self-motivation to develop the skills and knowledge required to excel in their studies and personal growth. Students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning as they explore issues like friendships, climate change and migration. The whole school community, including parents, are viewed as partners in learning, and actively contribute to the pedagogy.

PYP is inter-disciplinary and focuses on six main themes which include “Where we are in place and time” and “Sharing the planet”. “Where we are in place and time” might explore the central idea that human migration is a response to challenges, risks and opportunities, students inquiring into the push and pull factors of human migration, patterns of human migration, and consequences after migration.

We attended a few classes to help gain a better understanding of the practice of IB teaching. An art class for P6 asked the students to use a Venn diagram to highlight the differences and commonalities between posters and comics and then to draw a poster using the current unit of inquiry, in this case climate change. Internet searching was an essential tool in helping the student’s generate ideas for the poster design.

A P4 gymnastics class involved interactive whiteboard presentations demonstrating balance and counter-balance positions for different body positions. Team discussions on new ways of applying these balances was followed by presentation of these positions and then class discussion of each performance.

After every class each student evaluated the usefulness of the lesson and how they performed. The teacher did the same. All pupils seemed genuinely engaged and enthusiastic throughout the lessons.

Teachers hold weekly meetings to discuss feedback and adapt lessons if required. Student assessment is continuous and discreet. There is a “Celebration of Learning” at the end of term where students take a lead role in expressing with teachers and parents what they have learned and how they learned it along with reflecting on their perceived strengths and weaknesses during the semester.

The below attempts to summarise some differences in approach to primary school education:

1 PYP inter-disciplinary learning is extensive. Synthesising information incubates higher-order thinking skills.

2 Active learning means minimal textbooks and sheets, more group discussion, research using laptops and feedback, creating an atmosphere of positive inquiry and respect for each other’s viewpoints.

3 PYP gives scope for pursuing different avenues and applying learning in different ways

4 Wide access to digital technology makes it easy for teacher and student to incorporate ICT into lessons.

5 Time is set aside weekly for collaborative staff planning and discussion on approaches and ideas for lessons rather than further training and paperwork.

One of many famous quotes on posters within the wide corridors of the campus reads “There are two educations – one should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live” (John Adams). Education needs to have intrinsic value – judging a child’s maturity and a school’s success on exam results alone does not achieve that. For Scotland to lead the world in primary education once again is an IB style of education the way forward?