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The IB Diploma Program at ISKL: A Smarter Educational Benchmark

By Charles E. Davis III
The IB Diploma Program at ISKL: A Smarter Educational Benchmark

“The IB set me up well for university life. It taught me how to study and to learn.” These are the words of Emma Clark, who graduated from the International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) with the class of 2015.
In the spring of 2015, Emma completed her extended essay comparing the themes of book burning in The Book Thief by Markus Zucker and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. After taking her final International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, Emma learned that she was to join an elite group of students worldwide with a perfect score of 45. Now studying BioMedicine at the University of Melbourne, she is settling well into the rigors of university life.
While not every student emerges with a perfect 45 (only about 200 did so worldwide in 2016), Emma’s story is similar to that of many ISKL seniors whose close collaboration with faculty mentors reflects the breadth and depth of the IB Diploma program experience. As the IB asserts itself as a global standard for entrance into top universities around the world, students with this credential are finding themselves well prepared for their next educational setting.
Unlike most IB programs, the ISKL program is “non-selective,” meaning that any student is offered the opportunity to participate and is supported along the way. Taking the course of study prescribed by IB standards and making it unique to ISKL is the challenge and opportunity that falls to Michael Ortiz, the school’s IB coordinator.
ISKL Heritage
ISKL enjoys the distinction of having the first and longest-running IB Diploma program in Malaysia. In addition to that heritage, it operates on a “non-selective” basis.
“We believe as a school, that each student has the capacity to learn and to achieve”, said Dr. Norma J. Hudson, ISKL’s Head of School and the first woman to hold that post. “The power of ‘each’ is important to us. It is reflected in our mission and vision statements and has a particularly strong impact on our long-running IB program.”
Over the years, the school has seen students with GPAs from 2.31 to 4.5 successfully complete the full diploma program, demonstrating that each student has both the capacity and ability to succeed. As a non-selective program, ISKL faculty work exceptionally hard to ensure that each student is mentored and supported throughout the rigorous course of study. In fact, despite offering the program on a non-selective basis, ISKL graduates 98 percent of all full IB Diploma students.
“One of the most rewarding things for me as a teacher is seeing the students who no one thought could finish the diploma, do so successfully,” said Ortiz, who is not only the IB Program Director but a former Department Chief IB Examiner in Math. “We work extremely hard with every student to pull out their best. This is time-consuming work, but it is our calling and our mission. Often, our greatest success stories are not with those students who score the highest, but with those who have challenged themselves the most, overcoming great odds just to pass.”
Faculty Make the Difference
The IB Organization employs a rigorous process in choosing examiners and selects only a percentage of those who apply. Among ISKL’s 49 faculty in the High School who teach IB courses, 17 are IB Examiners in their subject. This statistic means that approximately 35 percent of the IB teaching faculty are actually grading exams in their disciplines from IB students around the world. In addition, many ISKL faculty hold master’s and doctoral degrees from some of the world’s leading universities—all of which points to the centrality of recruiting to program success.
Recruiting in international schools is one of the most important aspects of work each year, and often the most difficult, notes Jeff Farrington, High School Principal. “I am convinced that hiring the right faculty is one of the single most significant contributions I can make to this school as an administrator,” says Farrington. “In addition to credentials, we are always looking for that ‘spark’ that separates one educator from another. We are a busy school and expect much from those we hire to teach and mentor young people. With regard to the IB in particular, it is those educators who understand their role as mentors who see the most success here.”
Destination: The World
In addition to those students who pursue the IB diploma, many students at ISKL choose either to select an array of IB courses or to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are offered in a variety of disciplines at ISKL. Giving students both “voice and choice” in determining their course of study produces better outcomes. For the 150 members of the Class of 2016, over 1,100 applications were submitted to universities around the globe with 133 acceptances in to the Top 50 Global Universities (The Times Higher Education Global University Rankings). Among this cadre of students, US$4,010,475 was received in scholarship support, with most renewable for all four years of study.
Charles is Director of Strategic Development for ISKL in Malaysia.

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