Commissioner Parsons – IB Program – Questioned the credibility of the completion of the IB program and the Challenge for Credit program. He noted that St.F.X. and Cape Breton University do not recognize the program as Challenge for Credit. He further noted that only St. Thomas University recognize (sic) the program.
-Minutes from the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board meeting, May 22
Because the minutes of a June 4 meeting of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board meeting will not be made public for weeks, that’s about all we know about Commissioner Steve Parsons’ fear and mistrust about the dastardly sophists who run Sydney Academy’s International Baccalaureate Program.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I graduated from Sydney Academy in 2005 with an IB certificate in three courses. The artsy ones, not the science ones.)
Parsons “questions the credibility” of promoting those classes – sort of like a university prep course, except you actually get university credits if you perform well enough – as a worthwhile use of one’s formative high school years. He notes (erroneously) that Saint Francis Xavier does not grant credits for the completion of an IB diploma or certificate. He notes (erroneously) that only Saint Thomas University, in far off New Brunswick, will take the bespectacled bookish teenagers into the groves of academe.
At a meeting Monday night, Parsons made a motion to do away with Sydney Academy’s IB program. Again, because the minutes are not public, and because Parsons wouldn’t answer a single question when I spoke with him this morning, we can’t know the member from Big Pond’s mind on the matter.
But we do know the board’s decision. In a June 5 letter, the Academy’s Principal Kevin Deveaux said the school community is “surprised and deeply shocked” by the board’s decision to do away with the program.
“The recent decision will have extremely unfortunate consequences that will impact negatively on a significant number of Cape Breton youth resulting in lost educational opportunities that students in other jurisdictions take for granted,” wrote Deveaux. “This decision means that Cape Breton-Victoria Regional District will be the only district in the province without an IB opportunity for students.”
Even if Parsons was right about the credit thing, which he is not, what is the board saying with this decision? That we should only fund courses that get students an advanced standing in university, and only at Nova Scotian universities? If that’s the case, I’d recommend cutting phys ed.
The decision to cut IB from the only school in the board that offers the program is not only boneheaded and backwards – it’s downright self-destructive for a region of the province that can little afford more self-destruction.
According to the Department of Education, IB graduates’ grades are on average seven to eleven per cent higher than their university classmates. It gets better – those university classmates are actually a year older, with an entire freshman year under their belts, already accustomed to university studies. Because IB allows you to skip those 800-student first-year survey classes that makes any diligent, hard working student want to pull his or her hair out.
In 2010, 266 out of 294 IB diploma students in Nova Scotia accepted a combined $3,746,300 in scholarships to North American universities. That’s an average of $14,083 per student. Both of Nova Scotia’s Loran Scholarships, worth $75,000 each, went to IB students.
And the students perform well when they get to university. The department noted that one major Ontario institution reported that while only 27 per cent of students maintained their scholarships after first year, every single IB diploma student – every single one – kept theirs. Until graduation.
While on the topic of Ontario, did you know there was anecdotal evidence of a bidding war in the Toronto real estate market? Apparently people really wanted to live near IB schools.
But that’s hoity-toity Hog Town, where “people” can go to fancy private schools and spend $5 on a coffee and have a subway that doesn’t sell foot-long sandwiches. This is Cape Breton, Nova Scotia! We don’t need no fancy “economics” classes, or to introduce students to philosophy or art, or, heaven forfend, have them learn that other official language spoken by those awful students in Quebec.
Except we do. Those scholarships might well be the only way for a student in Cape Breton – an area of the province with an unemployment rate hovering around 14 per cent, mind – to get to university. And once the students get there, it’s going to be awfully important to maintain those scholarships, so outperforming your older peers becomes extremely helpful.
That’s just sticking to a utilitarian view of the benefits of the program. But those intangible things, like remembering the first time you read Notes from Underground or uttered a full sentence in German or the feeling of finally wrapping your head around this or that law or equation, tend not to sway decision makers. These are tough times, they say, and we have to work with what we have.
That is true, these are tough times. The provincial government is currently reviewing the Nova Scotia curriculum, and based on the direction the Department of Education is going, I would not expect to see more classes like “theory of knowledge” added. That exercise is being undertaken while Premier Darrell Dexter is actively promoting the skilled trades in anticipation of a number of “mega projects” and a declining labour force.
These two initiatives are, of course, independent of the school board’s decision. But those external factors will keep pushing the boards to focus more and more on “useful” classes to the detriment of students who think English, history and philosophy are pretty damned useful – if not for future employment, then at least to be a well-rounded, responsible citizen. In this particular instance, the board’s decision is also to the detriment of students who took Math IB because Advanced Math wasn’t challenging enough for them.
In tough times, we need to protect the interests of those students, not disregard them.