#Culture of #Excellence: #Accountability & the #International #Baccalaureate

The culture of excellence” – Presidente Rafael Correa of Ecuador, referring to the International Baccalaureate…

Firstly, let me make my position clear: The International Baccalaureate has the best education system in the world.

If you doubt the sincerity of my conviction, and ask me for the evidence that supports my assertion, then I would respond by saying that the IB system of education functions worldwide, across national borders, with the same level of quality: excellent. Those standards of excellence are never lowered. If a student, a school, a nation desires an International Baccalaureate education, they must meet the same standards of excellence, which are never lowered for any reason.

With all due respect to the high performing national education systems, such as Singapore,Finland, Korea, Japan, China, each one is a product of a particular society, and a particular culture, confined to a national history, a national narrative, with its related circumstances. That is the way education of the past century, the 20th century, has functioned, and in some cases, many cases, functioned well.

Nonetheless, nobody would go to Finland, Korea, China, or any other high performing education system, copy that education system, and return to their own country to implement the foreign education system, no matter how great it has proved to be for the high performing country of origin.

The reasons are obvious, and I will state them, using Chile and Finland, as my only example. Finnish education is characterised by high levels of equality, while Chilean education is characterised by high levels of segregation, the highest in the OECD. Given this contrast, I ask: Could the Finnish system of education work in Chile?

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

Chile isn’t Finland. What works in Finland will not work in Chile. Let me give you one example. In Finland, they do not have standardised national tests. The Finns trust teachers to be professionals, to be accountable to a profession, to deliver high quality education to the children, day in and day out, every school day.

In Chile, on the other hand, we have an extremely large number of standardised national tests. Teachers are not accountable to a professional body nor a profession. Little wonder that educators are not trusted to be professionals, to deliver high quality education every school day. Therefore, testing is the instrument which ensures accountability, that teachers are in fact doing what they are supposed to do, namely, teach all students, the advantaged, the disadvantaged, the rich and the poor, regardless of all arguments that might suggest anything less than teaching all students is admissible…

Let’s be clear: Nothing justifies failing to teach students, no matter how many obstacles we may face, no matter what the challenges we face, no matter whatever may make this a herculean task.

If teaching calls for a Hercules, then we become Hercules.

If the task is difficult, and calls for a Superman or a Superwoman, then we become Superman or Superwoman.

Anything less than rising to meet the challenges of the day and of the hour are not acceptable.

We are talking about not only the lives of our children, but their childrens’ lives and their grandchildrens’ lives, generation after generation. The price of failure is horrible, because it echoes in eternity, infinitely, every hour of every day.

I know the idea of accountability may sound harsh, especially to a dedicated, highly motivated teacher like myself. I love teaching, it is my “raison d’etre“, my reason for existence.

Yet I do not doubt, not even for a moment, that if Chilean teachers were not held accountable through standardised testing (SIMCE), that the results would be extremely detrimental, adverse, in some cases debilitating, for many children.

Quickly, I hasten to temper my pessimism by saying that the Chilean teacher has not been socialised with a positive self-image of excellence. On the contrary, a look at the history of education and its development in Chile tells a different story.

Chile is not, and never has been, Finland. Finland chooses its teachers from the top 10% of high school graduates in the country. Finland educates all teachers to a Masters degree level. Being a teacher in Finland has tremendous prestige in Finland. In fact, teaching is one of the most highly sought after professional careers. As you might expect, along with the prestige comes a corresponding level of pay for teachers in Finland. In Chile, as you can imagine, the exact opposite is true.

The perception of Chilean society, in its majority, is that only people who could not study a more lucrative, more prestigious career (engineering, medicine, law, etc.), become teachers. I admit this is debatable, but the evidence of poor quality, lack of professionalism, must, in a fair debate, tip the scales in favor of my pessimism, rather than give hope for optimism.

Again, to adopt the Finnish system of no national accountability testing, no national standardised testing of all students, would be extremely harmful for large numbers of students in Chile.

The results, as I have said before, would echo in eternity, and Chile would pay a high cost in terms of personal quality of life, at the individual level, and in national terms, in international competitiveness.

It could send Chile into the Dark Ages, one day at a time, one student at a time, and I do not exaggerate when I say Dark Ages, though you are welcome to dispute the bleak picture I paint with those two words, “Dark Ages“…

I have been clear in my example: What works in one part of the world, in one country, will not work in another country. If we compare apples and oranges, they are both round, yes, but they are nevertheless quite different.

Chile is not Finland, no more so than an apple is an orange. In sum, education models that subscribe to a “one size fits all” philosophy are doomed to failure when it comes to exporting national systems of education from one country to another.


The International Baccalaureate, however, is the only education system in the world today that is operating across international borders, successfully. For more than 40 years, the IB has delivered high quality education on a global scale, not confined to national borders, national circumstances, or even socioeconomic levels.

In the International Baccalaureate, both the rich and the poor have to meet the same high standards of quality, across the globe. Again, for more than 40 years, students from all walks of life, from all circumstances, have achieved success in the International Baccalaureate. Yet no one tells the story of the IB better than the IB itself:

About the IB

Founded in 1968, the International Baccalaureate (IB) is a not-for profit foundation, which offers four high quality and challenging educational programmes for a worldwide community of schools.

For 45 years, IB programmes have gained a reputation for rigour and high academic standards, for preparing students for life in a globalized 21st century, and for helping to develop citizens who will create a better, more peaceful world.

Currently, more than 1 million IB students attend nearly 3,500 schools in 144 countries.
(Source: www.ibo.org )

“An international education must go well beyond the provision of information and is involved in the development of attitudes and values which transcend barriers of race, class, religion, gender or politics.” -International Baccalaureate Organization Subject Guide (1996).

It is my belief that any education that does not unite the nations of the world in a common endeavour is a relic of the past century. A common sense of sharing the responsibility, equally, for the welfare of the planet, globally, is needed more than ever today.

Finally, I can only say one thing: The IB program is a positive way forward for any education system in crisis, any education system that desires quality, any education system that aspires to excellence, any education system that wishes to educate its citizens in the image of the twenty-first century, rather than the past century…

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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