By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
A letter from the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board went out last month to International Baccalaureate Program students, families and staff to inform them that this program will be discontinued as of June 2027.
In Northumberland County, the only school affected is Cobourg Collegiate Institute.
“This effective date will allow all current Grade 9 students to complete the program before it has ended, but new students would not be admitted to the program next year,” the letter said.
The move is the result of the board’s review of such specialized programs as IB and French Immersion.
As of last weekend, the CCI website still had information on the IB program, saying that it “prepares students for success in post-secondary education and in life beyond. It is designed for highly-motivated Grade 11 and 12 students who want an internationally-recognized and rigourous education.”
Highly successful students can even potentially receive university credits for IB subjects they studied at CCI, the site added. And the experience of studying at an IB level gives its graduates polished research skills and “a capacity for in-depth and interdisciplinary study, while maintaining a broad perspective informed by different subject areas.”
Having polished these intellectual advantages, thus gaining international perspective and articulate oral and writing skills, the site says, “IB Diploma graduates provide the whole package that post-secondary institutions are interested in: strong academics blended with leadership and commitment to community.”
Interested students can also prepare for the IB program in Grades 9 and 10 through the school’s Preparatory Years Program.
The letter lists four reasons behind the phase-out.
Equity of access – the program is not available throughout the board, but only in Cobourg and Peterborough.
Cost – Families of Grade 11 and 12 students enrolled in IB must pay a total of $2,600 for administrative and course fees.
Extremely low retention and graduation rates – Over a five-year period, though an average of 106 Grade 9 students registered for IB, the average number of students who graduated with an IB Diploma over this same timespan was eight (8% of IB students).
Budget considerations – Through the annual budget process, $171,000 is dedicated to the IB program in terms of teaching sections, program-related costs and transportation.
Grafton parent Justin Vanden Bosch, whose daughter entered the program this year, says the decision “has sparked deep concern among parents, students and educators.
“We believe the reasons cited for the discontinuation, such as equity of access and budget considerations, can be addressed constructively without resorting to the program’s complete elimination,” he added, mentioning a petition that is being organized to advocate for the program’s continuation in light of its “long-standing reputation for academic excellence and its role in preparing students for a global future.”
Local trustee and KPRDSB board of education vice-chair Jaine Klassen Jeninga said that the move is “an administrative programming decision,” though it was thoroughly discussed at the board level.
“The board supports administrators when they make decisions – we are not programming experts, they are,” Klassen Jeninga said in a recent interview.
“We agree, or disagree. But at the end of the day, it’s all an administrators’ decision.”
She must agree, for example, that the 8% graduation rate can be termed “dismal.” And of the intake of 106 students in IB, she added, that’s out of an average board intake of 36,000.
Board chair Steve Russell pointed out that having the program at only two schools (Cobourg and Peterborough) completely leaves Durham students without access.
He also cited the cost as another area of inequity.
“We have to ask, are there families who are unable to access the program. And if we try to find some way to support those families financially, how do we limit that? How do we manage that to make it fair,” Russell said.
The parents he is hearing from are understandably uneasy, he continued.
“They are very supportive of a good-quality program for their kids and, of course, when you tell people you are going to make a change, their immediate response is to be fearful that they are losing something in that change. So we are trying to give them as much information as we can about the reasons why.
“And the question remains – what offerings remain to challenge academically-inclined students?”
The board strives to find ways to challenge all its students, he said, “for whatever pathway they are going towards, We want to make sure we have a wide range of offerings to keep kids engaged in their learning.”
Russell has had experience himself with a robust IB program years ago, when he taught at the Peel District board, but he pointed out that the IB program is only offered in roughly half of the province’s school boards.
IB began in Europe for the children of diplomats, to provide a standardized educational framework that would lessen disruption for these young people as their families moved among different countries. Closer to home, it was first offered in private schools and, eventually, in some public schools.
“Ontario has an outstanding education system. People come from all over the world to see what Ontario is doing in education,” Russell said.
Some IB features don’t line up with what the province is doing – like the very high-stakes IB final exams.
“The administration looked into the program and did some literature review, trying to learn about the program from an academic standpoint, talking to students and trying to understand what need it satisfied for our students and whether or not it is the best way to meet those needs.