03 SES 09 A, Curriculum Reform and Evaluation
International curriculums have gained rapid traction in the education market with institutions providing international benchmarks for global performance. The growing interest in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB DP) stems largely from the basis that the curriculum offers various educational benefits in comparison to non-IB DP curriculums. The programme aims to develop ‘inquiring, knowledgeable and caring’ students to meet the needs of the twenty-first century (IB, 2020a), and IB DP graduates are believed to ‘perform well academically – often better than students in other programmes’ as illustrated by the number of students who enroll at top universities around the world (IB, 2020b). As a result, the IB DP has been endorsed worldwide as a curriculum of choice for mobile futures and elite post-secondary education.
Given the growing worldwide attention to the IB DP, a number of local education authorities in South Korea (hereafter Korea) have begun to propose the implementation of the IB DP in public high schools, which has been only offered in international schools or a few elite high schools. Despite Korea’s longstanding high ranking in international assessments, some scholars and policymakers have declared that the current national curriculum is no longer fit for the globalized economy. In fact, local curriculums are being interpreted as outdated and failing to provide the knowledge and skills needed for the global economy (Hong, 2019). Thus, the advocates of the implementation of the IB DP in public high schools state that a wider accessibility to the programme will help more students acquire global capital and become internationally competitive (Hong & Lim, 2019), as well as galvanize teaching practices to be student-centered and inquiry-based.
However, although Korean scholars believe that the IB DP is superior to the current national curriculum for its pedagogically progressive qualities and globally renowned status, closer scrutiny reveals that these prevalent perceptions are not undergirded by empirical data (Hong, 2019; Kim, 2018; Ryu & Kim, 2018). Besides, although many studies have investigated the long-term outcomes of participating in the IB DP, studies on the voices and lived experiences of students who took part in the IB DP are missing. In particular, narratives concerning students’ IB DP experiences and whether they believe the IB DP is truly beneficial have been absent both in the global and Korean context.
In addition, it is important to understand how the cultural backgrounds of students shaped their experiences of the IB DP and how the participation in the IB DP influenced their later experiences in local society. According to Rizvi and Lingard (2010, p. 24), ‘the globalized world is fundamentally heterogeneous, unequal and conflictive, rather than integrated and seamless’. As students are bound to modify and reinterpret the ideas, instructions, and goals through local realities (Anderson-Levitt, 2003), the cultural backgrounds of students and the academic context of Korea must be taken into account. Given the global-local nexus, students’ individual experiences may not align with the prominent beliefs of the IB DP and thus need to be carefully examined.
For such reasons, this study aimed to gain a better understanding of students’ IB DP experiences through these research questions: (1) How did the IB DP graduates experience and respond to the structure of the IB DP? (2) How did the IB DP graduates experience the teaching and instruction of the IB DP? (3) How did the Korean backgrounds of the IB DP graduates intersect with the IB DP? By examining the IB DP graduates’ experiences and perceptions and analyzing them within the global-local nexus, this paper draws broader implications on the implementation of the IB DP.
In addressing the major research questions, this study made use of qualitative interview data collected from IB DP graduates. This method was believed to reveal how people interpret their experiences – in participating in the IB DP, in this case – and the meanings they draw from their experiences (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). International school graduates who participated in the IB DP and currently attend Korean universities were chosen to be interviewed as it was believed that they could most accurately describe their IB DP experiences as well as their transition to Korean universities. A total of 13 participants were selected after factoring in the location of their international schools and their current universities and majors. All of the participants possessed Korean nationalities and were from high SES backgrounds. In-depth interviews were conducted with each participant from March to December of 2019. Each interview took one to two hours depending on the thoroughness of the interview and the participant’s participation. In order to draw in-depth responses from participants, semi-structured interviews were conducted (Morse, 2012). Although a consent letter and a common interview tool were emailed to participants prior to interviews, the specific content and length of each interview were adjusted accordingly. All the interviews were recorded and transcribed for an extensive analysis. In addition, follow-up interviews were conducted with 11 out of 13 participants from February to March of 2020. This was to examine topics that newly emerged while analyzing the first round of interviews. A three-step interpretivist approach was adopted in this study (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). First, the transcribed interview data was perused multiple times to identify emerging patterns and recurring themes in relation to the research questions. Second, themes and patterns were assorted into relevant codes that allowed raw data to be understood at a conceptual level (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). Sample codes included “participants’ high socio-economic family backgrounds”, “variance in the number of elective courses”, “heavy burden of learning in a limited amount of time”, and “prevalence of private tutoring”. Third, these codes were revised, clustered, and combined to create meta-matrices that helped develop comparisons, note patterns, quotes, and themes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014).
RQ1: How did the IB DP graduates experience and respond to the structure of the IB DP? Although the dominant perception is that the IB DP offers students a broad and balanced range of subjects, the enactment depended on school conditions and personal beliefs. Larger schools were more financially equipped to offer a variety of subjects and specialized programmes whereas smaller schools offered limited options. Students also explained that the inflexibility and impracticality of switching their chosen IB subjects hindered them to explore unforeseen areas of interests or professions. RQ2: How did the IB DP graduates experience the teaching and instruction of the IB DP? The narratives of students portrayed that their level of critical thinking varied depending on how they wanted to embrace their learning experiences. Some students questioned the critical dimensions of student-centered learning, rather showing higher interest toward the Korean approach to learning, such as the ‘spoon-fed’ or short-sighted approaches. Students explained that they preferred didactic lectures to acquire content knowledge for courses such as mathematics or science. RQ3: How did the Korean backgrounds of the IB DP graduates intersect with the IB DP? Despite having lived outside of Korea for a substantial period, students indicated that their family backgrounds, social and cultural contexts shaped their learning experiences. Students were familiar with the academic culture of Korea, emphasizing that they participated in the IB DP to gain admission to elite universities. Although students agreed with the IB DP philosophies, they stressed the need for high IB DP scores through private tutoring and memorization. Additionally, students explained that they returned to Korea because they believed Korean universities gave them opportunities to maximize their global capital. Students stated that because their IB DP qualifications already served as proxies of their global competence, they would thrive in Korea.
Anderson-Levitt, K. M. (2003). Local meanings, global schooling: Anthropology and world culture theory. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008) Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). CA: Sage. Hong, H. J., & Lim, Y. N. (2019). Restructuring academic high school subjects and courses based on implications from analysis of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Korean Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(1), 29-56. In Korean. Hong, W-P. (2019). Critical Examination of the Expansion of IB Diploma Programme in Korean Public High Schools. The Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(3), 199-222. In Korean. International Baccalaureate. (2020a). Mission. Retrieved online from: https://www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/#:~:text=The%20International%20Baccalaureate%C2%AE%20aims,through%20intercultural%20understanding%20and%20respect International Baccalaureate. (2020b). Benefits for students. Retrieved online from: https://www.ibo.org/benefits/benefits-for-students/ Kim, C. (2018). A critical analysis on the introduction of International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in public schools in the Republic of Korea. Korean Journal of Learner-Centered Curriculum and Instruction, 18(2), 637-665. In Korean. Merriam, S & Tisdell, J E. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). CA: Jossey –Bass. Miles, B. M., Huberman, M. A., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. California: Sage. Morse, M. J. (2012). The implications of interview type and structure in mixed-method designs. In F. J. M. Gubrium., A. J Holstein., B. A.M. Marvasti., & D. K. McKinney (2012). The SAGE handbook of interview research: The Complexity of the craft (2nd Ed.) (pp. 193-204). CA: SAGE Publications. Rizvi, F., & Lingard, B. (2010). Perspectives on globalization. In Globalizing education policy (p. 24). London: Routledge. Ryu, Young-Kyu, & Kim, Dae-Hyun (2018). Exploring the prerequisites for the introduction of International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in the public education. Korean Journal of Educational Innovation Research, 28(3), 195-224. In Korean.
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