IB programs will be offered to all grades
A student attending Dwight School takes notes in this file photo. Based in New York, the esteemed school has global campuses in London, western Canada, and Beijing, with also plans to open a Seoul campus in August at the Digital Media City in Sangam-dong. / Courtesy of the Dwight Schools
By Na Jeong-ju
South Korea is luring major international schools to serve the needs of the growing expatriate population with an aim to become an economic hub in Northeast Asia.
The number of foreign institutions and international schools registered here is expected to surpass 50 next year with a handful of municipalities still eager to attract more, thanks to huge financial and administrative support from the central government.
Such a quantity-oriented policy will be short-lived. The government is now shifting its focus to improving services and curriculum at those schools, telling them to lower the proportion of Korean students.
That’s because some existing schools have accepted many Koreans to boost tuition income, prompting complaints from foreign parents and students. Educational policymakers are now paying attention to the situation in some “sub-standard” schools that have failed to satisfy foreign residents.
Against this backdrop, schools providing the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, dubbed the gold standard for international education, are gaining popularity among students preparing to enter prestigious universities around the world.
Then why does the IB matter?
According to Stephen Spahn, chancellor of the Dwight Schools, it measures student capabilities against the same universal benchmarks, and prepares them to attend ― and thrive at ― any university in the world.
“The IB also goes well beyond academic rigor by encouraging students to become caring, reflective, open-minded communicators, inquirers, and risk-takers,” Spahn said in an interview with The Korea Times. “In short, the IB equips young people with the knowledge and insight to become thoughtful human beings and global leaders.”
Dwight plans to open its Seoul campus in late August, which will be the first international school here to offer the IB program to all grades. The campus will include an indoor gymnasium, an outdoor soccer field, a two-story library and a performing arts center with more than 400 seats.
Dwight officials hope that Dwight School Seoul, located inside the Digital Media City in Sangam-dong, will create a new paradigm for international education in Korea. The school will open with some 300 students from 25 different countries, and plans to have a total enrollment of 540 students from preschoolers to 12th graders.
IB model school
The chancellor said Dwight chose Seoul because it is one of the most innovative and exciting of the leading Asian cities, and its citizens have an uncommonly strong commitment to education.
“All these factors make it the perfect place to start an IB model school that can also serve as a training center for IB educators throughout Northeast Asia,” he said.
The government is now encouraging schools here to adopt the IB, but some schools have been providing Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
Regarding the difference between these two curricula, he said the IB pedagogical approach is a better way to prepare for the rigors of top-notch universities.
“The primary difference between the IB and AP is that the AP focus is essentially on a set of stand-alone exams and the IB is a holistic educational approach that goes well beyond testing to encompass service learning, training in philosophy and logic, as well as an extended essay, which is essentially a 4,000-word mini thesis,” he said.
Spahn cited Marilyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard University, as saying, “Success in an IB program correlates well with success at Harvard. We are always pleased to see the credentials of an IB program on an applicant’s transcript.”
Spahn said Dwight students next fall will be attending Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Penn, and Oxford Universities. Moreover, some of them will be able to go directly into their sophomore year after receiving college credit or advanced standing for IB courses.
“There’s no doubt that the IB will thrive in Korea, since this nation has a singular commitment to educating its children,” he said.
“The IB opens a global vision to residents of Seoul that provides more opportunities for their children to succeed as global citizens. Our IB experience, coupled with our leadership in global education, is why Seoul selected Dwight to operate the city’s first IB model school.”
In terms of tuition in Dwight Seoul, Spahn said the school will strive to remain on par with other not-for-profit accredited international schools.
“But it’s very important to us that our educators are supported to the fullest extent possible, both from the standpoint of remuneration and professional development,” he said. “We help talented children with limited resources access a Dwight education, and we are committed to doing the same in Seoul.”
Balance and diversity
Touching on Dwight’s admissions policy, the chancellor said it is very similar to the school’s educational philosophy ― looking beyond testing and metrics to get a sense of the whole person.
“Without a doubt, we seek students who have the potential to meet the rigorous challenges of the IB. But we also strive to achieve balance and diversity because we know that students are often more influenced by their peers than by anybody else and that those relationships will stay with them, in some cases, for their entire lives.”
Spahn said his family has a soft spot for Korea, as his father-in-law, Alfred Perlman, engaged in efforts to develop Korea’s rail system after World War II.
“We find it particularly gratifying to return to Korea and to be part a movement that could have similarly revolutionary effects on Korean society,” he said.
The history of Dwight dates back to 1872, when the school was established in New York. It now has a global network, having campuses in England, Canada and China.
The school in New York was the first one in the United States to offer the IB program to all students from preschoolers to 12th graders, and the first independent school in the country to have an overseas campus.
About 850 students from 40 different countries are studying in New York, making it the most ethnically diverse student body in the U.S., according to the school.
Spahn said Dwight’s educational philosophy is supported by three pillars ― personalized learning, community and global vision.
“The old, one-size-fits-all factory style of education is not going to train the next generation of global leaders. Our students benefit from a customized approach and we find that it works tremendously well because it feeds their creativity, intellect, and need for discipline all at the same time,” Spahn said.
He said all Dwight families are an integral part of a tight-knit community dedicated to fostering success for their children, as well as nurturing a commitment to being an active contributor to bettering the community at large.
Spahn also noted that Dwight offers its students multiple opportunities for artistic, scientific, service, entrepreneurial, cultural, and athletic exchanges with their peers on other campuses. This enables them to form ongoing, lasting relationships with their counterparts on three continents, he said.
Who’s Stephen Spahn?
Stephen Spahn is chancellor of the Dwight Schools, a global network of educational institutions and programs with campuses in New York, London, Canada, Seoul and Beijing. He is also on the board of the International Baccalaureate Organization, founder of the Guild of IB Schools, and recipient of the 2011 Louis Hine Award for Distinguished Service. He is the longest serving head of school in New York City.