What is the International Baccalaureate in Belgium, who can benefit from it, and which Belgian schools offer it? More than one million students are currently enrolled in International Baccalaureate (IB) programs globally, and the curriculum is popular among expat students in Belgium.
Being a ‘career’ expat family certainly has its perks: there’s adventure, incredible life experiences, cultural immersion and new language skills.
For young expats, it can also be a unique educational journey which need not be daunting or disruptive when they relocate to Belgium with their family.
Pascale Hertay, director of BEPS International School in Brussels, and Andrew Mitchell, the secondary school’s curriculum coordinator, explain how the IB curriculum ensures an educational continuum for expat students moving to Belgium.
“Each school in the 5,000-strong global IB community subscribes to a common philosophy and learning approach. So for expat students moving to an IB school in Belgium it is a smooth transition,” Pascale explains.
BEPS International School
BEPS International School provides high quality education in the region of Brussels for children aged two and half to 15 years old. Located in the beautiful greenery of Bois de La Cambre, the experienced teachers follow the International Early Years Curriculum (IEYC), the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and The International Baccalaureate® (IB) Middle Years Program (MYP).
The IB: an organic approach for expat students in Belgium
At the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, billionaire Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma said: “How can we teach kids to be more creative and do things that machines cannot do? Machines have chips, but human beings have hearts … education should move in this direction.”
IB has been moving in this direction since launching 50 years ago. The International Baccalaureate says its four programs (Primary Years Program (PYP), Middle Years Program (MYP), Diploma Program (DP), and the Career-Related Program) encourage both personal and academic achievement.
For the DP, the IB assesses student work as evidence of achievement against the stated goals of the program’s courses. In combination with academic skills assessment, this encourages an international outlook and intercultural skills; it’s perfect for expat IB students. Examinations form the basis of the external assessment for most courses.
It’s a far cry from rote learning, which was once the educational staple.
“IB emphasizes concepts rather than content,” Andrew explains. “Students seek to understand why they learn something, and how it may apply in real life. We equip students with 21st -century skills such as self-management and organization. Students can transfer these into the real world.”
The IB curriculum also addresses students’ intellectual, social, emotional, and physical well-being, Pascale adds.
“This develops attributes beyond subject-based skills. It creates well-rounded, balanced individuals better prepared for higher education, work, and life in general,” she says.
Advantages of IB for expat students in Belgium
In addition to imparting useful life skills and improving wellbeing, IB offers many other advantages for expat students in Belgium. For a start, IB requires the study of at least two languages. This puts students at a competitive advantage in the hyper-connected global economy.
Even more vital for expat students relocating to Belgium is the shared philosophy among the 5,000-plus schools in the global IB network. Whether programs are delivered in Brussels, Beijing or Bogota, the learning approach is familiar to the student.
Pascale, a mother of three who returned to her native Belgium after years working on the international school circuit, has first-hand experience of the almost seamless transition for IB expats moving to Belgium.
“IB lays excellent foundations for higher education pathways,” she says. “In my family’s case, for example, the IB Diploma Program provides a clear academic route into a European university.”
The international baccalaureate: a passport to the world’s best universities
Gone are the days when knowledge-based learning was the only route into the world’s best universities. IB’s broad, holistic approach is ideal for an evolving higher education system. Indeed, increasing numbers of IB Diploma Program graduates are gaining places at top-ranked universities. As an IB graduate, you’ll join an impressive alumni network, too; it includes the likes of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Willem-Alexander, the King of the Netherlands.
“The type of undergraduate degrees available locally and internationally are changing. Students no longer enter narrowly defined subject areas which were once common,” says Andrew.
And what about for students who are less academically-inclined?
“The Career-Related Program is an alternative pathway to higher education,” says Pascale.
The flexible education methods and curriculum of the IB
If consistency among IB schools is invaluable for relocating expat students, the tailored methodology adopted by each school is also highly supportive.
“You can visit ten [IB] schools and each will have a different approach to implement IB learning,” says Pascale.
“At BEPS, the focus is on engaging the students. We encourage them to take ownership of the learning process and develop their passions. We want them to have real-life experiences. As a school, we must keep up to date with teaching trends. We do this by developing partnerships and sharing ideas with international schools around the world.”
Andrew adds that all schools face unique challenges in equipping students with the skills to flourish in a volatile, uncertain world.
“There is unprecedented uncertainty in career pathways for young people today,” he notes. “For educators, that’s both a challenge and an exciting prospect. With IB, we have the latitude to develop and deliver programs that are relevant to learners in the future.
“Engaging with the world around us is vital. A school cannot hide behind high walls. Any learning opportunity – whether internal or in the community – is a valuable opportunity.”
Because it is so holistic and supportive in approach, many IB schools don’t have a model profile pupil. Although some schools have admission tests, the prime stipulation is that the child must have the potential to benefit from the IB environment – the onus being on the school to develop (or modify) a program that does that.
“When schools apply the IB vision and mission, they can create an environment where all students can have a measure of academic success,” says Pascale. “This is our secondary school mission.”
IB schools in Belgium
Expat families relocating (or returning) to Belgium currently have ten schools offering one or more IB Programs to choose from:
- Antwerp International School
- BEPS International School
- Bogaerts International School
- British Junior Academy of Brussels
- British School of Brussels
- D Y Patil International School
- DaVinci International School
- Ecole Internationale Montgomery – Brussels
- European School of Brussels
- St. John’s International School
- The International School of Brussels
Some are classed as candidate schools that are going through the rigorous process of IB authorization.
Pascale explains that to become authorized for any particular IB program a school moves from consideration to consultancy and finally authorization which can take two or more years. Once authorized each school must then undergo a continual five-year cycle of evaluation which ensures that the IB philosophy becomes part of the school’s DNA.
“It’s not just simple certification. As a candidate school, you have to have a clear vision and mission, and ascribe to the IB philosophy and approach to learning,” she points out.
Having successfully run the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) for many years, BEPS launched its MYP at the beginning of this academic year.
“We had a choice which curriculum to offer. Many schools in Belgium offer the DP, but not the MYP. Given our experience with the skills-based IPC (a curriculum with similar origins to the PYP, it made sense to pursue a skills-based curriculum,” says Pascale.
Choosing the best option for your child
While there are an estimated one million students globally enrolled in IB programs internationally, Pascale admits that not all parents are immediately convinced of the advantages of taking the IB path.
“The school must demonstrate that the move is based on years of research. As the creators of educational programs, we don’t know what the future holds. Some jobs won’t exist in five or 10 years.
“Our job is to develop today the skills and attributes that young people will need tomorrow, and IB is the best vehicle to enable us to achieve that.”