What Sets Apart the Nile International College



Tue, 17 Feb 2015 - 09:45 GMT


Tue, 17 Feb 2015 - 09:45 GMT

New Cairo’s Nile International College is set to become Egypt’s first fully accredited school to offer the International Baccalaureate program from primary to secondary grades. But why should parents consider the new academic approach? Egypt Today speaks with NIC Principal Dr. Reham El Demrdash about what sets their institution apart.

By Noha Mohammed 

So what is the IB system exactly?

When you graduate from school, you should be equipped with not just knowledge, but also the skills that will help in real life. That's what the International Baccalaureate is all about. It's an inquiry-based education where students not only learn concepts, but know why they are learning them and how they are connected to the real world.

Children start out as inquirers, but the traditional ways of teaching discourage the process of inquiry so they become less [inclined] to ask questions and think as they move through their grade levels. They are just expected to listen and repeat the expected answers. "Inquiry-based" means it involves the student in the learning process developing not only a hands-on but also a minds-on disposition.

Another advantage of this system is differentiation and the ability to cater to each child's individual needs. When you walk into a primary classroom, you won't find the traditional layout of a teacher lecturing students sitting in rows. What you'll see is students put into groups doing different activities so that they can reach the conceptual understanding on their own and at their own pace. This layout allows the teacher to differentiate activities according to the different needs of the children.

The IB Diploma has earned universal reputation for rigorous assessment, giving students access to top colleges and universities around the world. Some universities even offer scholarships to IB diploma holders.

You explain the IB system as an approach built on students taking control of what they learn. Do you feel that Egyptian schoolchildren, particularly those transferring from other international or local systems, can make their transition smoothly or will they be incapable of assimilating the new approach?

Because of the differentiation that occurs in the classroom, any student who transfers to the IB is well catered for. Students learn at their own pace, but of course the earlier you join the IB, the better, so that you can adapt more skills faster.

It's also true the other way around; if a student wants to transfer from an IB school to another system, they also find the transition easy. IB students are more self-confident and learn to think things through and not panic so they are better equipped at handling new situations.

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The IB system is fairly new, what other countries around the world are starting to implement it? Globally, has it proven more effective than systems already in place?

The IB primary system is new in Egypt but has been around for a while all over the world. Here it's common for students to take the diploma after they take their IGCSE or SAT exams because it gives them a competitive edge and more credit when applying for colleges whether here in Egypt or abroad. But only high scorers in other systems can take the IB Diploma because they find it very difficult since the students are used to studying certain books and then being tested on them. IB students are given priority when applying to colleges over any other degrees all around the world and they are the ones who are more likely to excel because they are better equipped with both knowledge and skills.

IB assessment methods include portfolios/dossiers, written essays, studio-work, experimental work, oral commentaries, as well as written exams and are tailored for different learning styles. Considering that exams may or may not reflect what a student really knows and what he or she is able to do, having a variety of assessment tools allows the IB organization to fairly assess the student’s true ability. IB examinations test students' knowledge, not their memory and speed. Students who start out early in the system gain the skills and thinking methods that make it easier for them.

What sets Nile International College apart from other schools that offer IB?

This is our second year in operation for students, but the school was open for a year beforehand for teacher training. As for what sets NIC apart: so many things, but I think that part of our uniqueness comes from our sense of community.

At NIC, we build a family community which includes our students, parents and staff. Everyone has a voice. My friends often tell me that they are not heard as parents at their schools and their concerns are just brushed aside. But at NIC, where our slogan is "Together we make a difference," the collaborative environment we all believe in makes everyone comfortable in coming forward knowing that they will be heard.

We also have a very active ATP (Action Team of Partnership). At the beginning of every year, we hold elections for parents to vote for two parents from each class to represent them. These parents and a few staff members form the ATP which meets periodically to discuss suggestions, ideas and so on.

Would you say that “interventionist” parents in Egypt can accept the new teaching methodology, given that many equate progress with regular exams, quizzes and daily homework?

We hold workshops to help “interventionist” parents understand the IB more, and to be able to be involved more productively with their children. And because they really feel the difference in their children, they try hard to adopt our methods in communicating with their children. We get frequent feedback from parents on how they see that the types of questions their children now ask and the comments they make are more advanced.

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You brand your teaching approach as one that focuses on “all aspects of student development: the academic, the intellectual, the creative, the social, the physical, the ethical and the emotional.” How are these seven factors incorporated into the NIC curriculum?

At NIC, we have a policy called "promoting a principled culture." We want our children to be principled while maintaining their dignity. It starts with how the lessons are taught then delves into teaching our students to "reflect" on their actions. We don't believe in rewards and punishment but in consequences for actions. We also have a school psychologist who works side by side with the teachers for any issues that may arise.

When implementing the IB methods, we try to go above and beyond. Our teachers are very creative in coming up with different ideas for students to experience and experiment. Even when going on field trips, they can turn a regular place into a great inquiry experience.

[When it comes to community service], we try to teach the children how to help others. There are so many examples, starting from our "Buddies" program (in which our grade 2 students read to our KG 1 students) to going to a school in a poor area and refurbishing the library (painting, decorating and providing it with books).

One of our subjects is PSPE (Personal, social and physical education) which is concerned with an individual's overall wellbeing. It includes physical, cognitive and emotional development which goes into maintaining relationships with others and participating in active, healthy lifestyles. As for the physical aspect, we take advantage of the facilities we have in regards to the sports areas, green areas and swimming pools.

One of the major grievances with international schools in Egypt is that while they have great sports and leisure facilities, academic learning is often lacking. NIC claims its “subject areas are taught through transdisciplinary themes to help students make connections between the subjects, thereby facilitating more effective learning.” Can you explain what that means and how it would differ from, say, British or American approaches?

I believe it's not about what facilities you have; it's about how you use them. Of course, we have swimming pools, a soccer field and various playground areas, but we use every part of our facilities to reach our objectives, meaning not only the obvious. For example, students frequently inquire in the playground during sessions; we have blackboards and a sound area in our playground for the children to use during breaks. They also go from door to door with different questionnaires and surveys and so on.

In British or American systems, each subject is taught as a separate entity even when making connections whereas everything taught in the IB primary stage is taught through transdisciplinary themes. These themes are selected for their relevance to the real world, so that everything that a student learns is connected to something in real life. They are described as transdisciplinary because they focus on issues that go across subject areas. These themes are who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves and sharing the planet.

Let me give you an example. In a non-IB primary stage school, children who are learning about data handling in math may take a 40-minute lesson to have tally marks and graphs explained and then practice on their own through worksheets. Children in an IB primary stage context could inquire in the theme, "Who we are." They may notice that they all come from different countries. Teachers would grasp that moment and investigate data handling by helping the students create a survey in order to observe, collect and record data about the nationalities represented within their community.

One thing that really stands out at NIC is how we believe in international-mindedness while maintaining our own cultural identity. We teach our children to accept and respect other cultures and religions but not to follow them. We're still a new school but my plans for the future are to create a community in each classroom that is similar to the outside world.

Additionally, English and Arabic are taught as Language A (so the children know that they are equally important) and starting from grade 2 we provide a choice of French or Spanish as Language B (to add a little international value).



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