Today we look at the globalization of curriculum markets with Professor Catherine Doherty. Catherine uses the example of the International Baccalaureate Diploma in Australia to think about the movement of global curriculum inside local markets.

Why do schools choose to include global curricula like the IB? And what impact do these new curricular offerings have on educational choice both locally and globally?

By looking at various schools across Australia, Catherine unpacks the social ecology of the IB, highlighting ideas about educational strategy and imagined motilities. She empirically demonstrates how the global-local binary is a historical artifact.

Catherine Doherty is a Professor of Pedagogy and Social Justice in the School of Education at the University of Glasgow.

Citation: Doherty, Catherine, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 73, podcast audio, May 15, 2017.

Transcript, Translation, and Resources:


Will Brehm 1:45
Catherine Doherty, welcome to FreshEd.

Catherine Doherty 1:47
Thanks, Will, this is a … I really appreciate the invitation and the opportunity to talk about my work here. Thanks.

Will Brehm 1:55
So, what is the International Baccalaureate?

Catherine Doherty 1:58
Ok. So, the International Baccalaureate, which lots of people call the IB, started in about the 1960s around the expatriate population that collected to service the UN Office in Geneva. So, it was a … it bubbled up as a sort of a movement of quite well-educated parents working in that setting concerned about their own children’s’ education and capacity to get back into the country of origin educational system. So, that rather unique history has created a rather unique curriculum. And the International Baccalaureate organization was, I suppose, the first organization to perceive the demand for a more globally mobile curriculum and find a way to deliver it or design it And they’ve really set the tone for a lot of subsequent efforts to create the global citizen; they’ve set the agenda in many ways. So as an organization, they started off offering the, what I call, senior secondary curriculum – they are the final years – with an eye to university entrance. But subsequently, the organization has sort of grown and changed over time, and they now offer a primary years curriculum, a middle years curriculum, and a more vocationally oriented curriculum, which has been taken up in different nations under different sort of logics for different reasons.

Will Brehm 3:42
So, you basically can go to an IB school from kindergarten to 12th grade?

Catherine Doherty 3:49
Yes, I would think that a setting that offers the whole suite, they are not common, so you would have to look hard to find that. But yes, there will be places where you can do your whole education in the International Baccalaureate programs.

Will Brehm 4:06
So, which level of education is more common among the others? So, if the whole suite is not there, what is typically there?

Catherine Doherty 4:14
Well you get different kinds of things happening in different places, and that is why I am interested in the IB as a phenomenon: because it gets taken up in different local ecologies. So, it is a fantastic sort of educational phenomenon to look at the global-local glocalization processes. I think … I’m a bit out of touch with the actual numbers because they’re constantly changing, and it sort of grows rapidly in one place and then picks up in another place and that, but I think the Diploma is its flagship program; what people would most … you know that’s the pre-university, the end-of-schooling years.

Will Brehm 5:00
So, if this started for diplomats in Geneva – for their children to learn abroad and then return back to their national school system – how has the curriculum, or how has the IB changed? I mean, now like you are saying, it is happening around the world, so are they teaching curriculum that children are capable of returning back to their home country to finish school? I mean how does this work between this global curriculum and these national level students trying to go back to their home countries?

Catherine Doherty 5:41
Well, that was that was its original purpose, and it was offered as an alternative to having a French school, a German school, a Swiss school, you know that kind of thing, which you know particular … fragmenting that international market. So, it tried to create a curriculum that sort of was recognized by all those systems, which interestingly created quite a conservative, sort of humanist curriculum which served the purposes of university entrance very well. It has subsequently been exposed to the rolling agenda thinking around curriculum; what kind of citizens we should be producing, such and such. But they set out to try and actually have it both ways: They wanted to produce the international minded, sort of cosmopolitan and also dignify the child’s national origins. But how they did that was sort of by making a fairly conservative, high end academic curriculum and with a strong focus on second language learning, so that languages was had a high profile. And they had some other distinctive aspects of the curriculum, which to me speak to the kind of people that they were targeting. So there was the Creativity, Service, and Action (CAS), which is a requirement that students get out into the community and do stuff, and to me, that’s quite like the service orientation of your ruling class or middle class. Then there was the Theory of Knowledge, which is a really interesting core part of this curriculum that has a mode of philosophical discussion around ways of knowing.  It is quite a unique piece of curriculum. And then it had the Extended Essay, which gave the students space to choose their own topic and do an extended piece of work, and this was considered as preparation for university studies. Now when they created the IB, of course University was a much more elite thing than it is now. But you know, it was a curriculum targeted high achievers with university in their sights. Now there has been a lot of other pressures on that end of the curriculum as more kids down for schooling and so on and so forth.

Will Brehm 8:27
You use the word “conservative” twice to describe the curriculum. How is it a conservative curriculum?

Catherine Doherty 8:34
Well I suppose here I am drawing on Michael Apple’s lovely work that pointed out the ironic combination between neoliberal and neoconservative forces in the educational sphere. By neoliberal, I am referring to the interest or the effort to promote markets and choice. So, the International Baccalaureate curriculum, of course, enters into local markets as a choice of sorts. So, you know, it sits beside local curriculum and creates a curricular market with differentiated goods that speak to different kinds of students. By “neoconservative,” Apple was talking about, I suppose it was a turn, in about the 1990s, back to more conservative curriculum in terms of “back to basics”, less progressive knowledge construction, and more traditional pedagogies, that kind of thing. So, what Michael Apple was pointing out is that: “Isn’t it interesting, as we go down markets, and under the rhetoric of increasing choice and differentiation, but in fact, what we find is that everyone converges around these rather neoconservative ideas about what is a good education”, responding to perhaps, you know the conservatism of parents thinking about what education should be. So, we see the resurgence of public-school uniforms; marketing tends to have the uniform safety glasses for science, and violins for art. So even though we are marketing, and we are supposed to be creating a market of difference, we’re actually all converging on this same template, which is a rather conservative template. So, when I talk about the IB as conservative, what I am saying there …. it is distinct from … Well, I was in the Australian setting at the time, so what differentiated it from the local curriculum was firstly its requirement that students carry subjects across disciplinary range. So, they had to take an arts, they had to take a humanities, they had to take a language, a math, a science, that kind of thing. In Australia, by that late stage of schooling, students are actually encouraged to specialize and play to their strengths. So, it’s conservative in terms of this rather humanist notion of “What is an educated person?”, “What is a cultivated education for itself?”, whereas the other curriculum that was sitting beside becoming increasingly instrumental and vocationalized. So, it is conservative in that regard, in that it keeps those traditions of “rich bought education” going. I would also say it was conservative in its assessment design, with with external exams at the end of the two years, and its hiring standard levels. Very reminiscent of the English O and A’s. Now sitting in Queensland, Australia, I was sitting in a local system that had got rid of external exams, was into school-based moderated; we were probably one of the more radical ends of systemic assessment regimes. But if you take that product, the IB, and plop it into different places, it becomes a different thing. So, while it looked conservative in the Queensland setting, it may well look radically progressive in places with very didactic pedagogies. So, my work, I often talk about its relational properties, and my interest was not in the IB on its own terms, but rather what does the IB do when it enters curricular markets? So, how does it affect what is going on locally when it comes in and brings its practices and sort of culture?

Will Brehm 13:07
So, let’s turn to Australia. How did it affect the Australian market when the IB entered the possible choices that parents could make for their child’s education?

Catherine Doherty 13:20
It is an interesting history, I think, and it is an interesting story. There were a number of waves I would call it, of how the IB Diploma was taken up. Initially, it was taken up in two places: one where there was a diplomatic population – so that was its sort of historical target group – and another place where there was a large international business community because of a particular manufacturing industry. And so, it was taken up there for the internationally mobile expatriate. However, then in about the 90s in Victoria, the local curriculum went through a review. (This is my understanding of the history.) The local curriculum went through a review, and it was redesigned to be more inclusive and less targeted towards the university entrance. Now, of course, the people who are comfortable with the university targeted curriculum did not like what had happened to their curriculum. They thought it was being dumbed down. So in that space and in that debate, the IB started to look like a very desirable product and it was embedded in some high-end, private schools as a niche of distinction and a way for them to keep up there at their academic standards. So, we had a wave of schools in that space under that logic. Then we get it taken up in more haphazardly around the place, but what really triggered my interest was a move by the Queensland Government under a Labor party, it must have been early 2000s – 2005/2006, somewhere around there; I should be more precise. The Labor government had become concerned after a decade or so of neoliberal marketization policies. They were concerned about this “middle class drift” away from the public sector to the private sector. So, they adopted a strategy of producing selective senior colleges that were specialized and attached to universities and offering the International Baccalaureate. So, what they really did was radical intervention in the public schooling market to recapture the academically bright, ambitious student for the public system. By offering an arts-based, medical science-based, and a science technology-based sort of senior college. To me, I’d been looking at the IB as a phenomenon, and then to see my local government choose that curriculum – when it actually designed and operated its own curriculum – to underpin specialized colleges, to me that was cognitive dissonance because the IB is actually the anti-specialist curriculum. So, there was a lot of stuff going around about who consumes the International Baccalaureate? Why? Under what conditions? It is not a natural, neutral thing. It actually takes up and is consumed in different ways.

Will Brehm 17:12
And when you say “consumed”, you actually mean like the governments have to pay for this curriculum?

Catherine Doherty 17:19
Well, it is consumed at different levels. In my work, I talk about the school strategy. Why would a school decide to offer the IB? And then, the parent and child strategy. Why did they choose? So, there’s different sort of layers. At the government level, for the International Baccalaureate. (This is Australia I am speaking for.) For the International Baccalaureate to be offered in a public system, there actually must be the legislative conditions that allow that to happen. Now Victoria and Queensland made it possible. Interestingly, New South Wales that has a fairly conservative, academically oriented curriculum, didn’t want a bar of the IB. So, they have actually made it quite difficult for public schools in that state to take up the IB, though there is some activity in the private sector. And then you get another ecology in South Australia, that where the private schools are not required to offer the local curriculum. So, the private schools could shop around, and there was quite a lot of uptake of the IB, both the primary and the diploma curricula there. So, it becomes this lovely sort of “lived experiment” of a global product being glocalized and embedded in local environments, which both change the product and the product changes the local environment. So as something new comes in, the endogenous ecology is impacted.

Will Brehm 18:59
And so, talk a little bit about the students and their parents and these family choices that were obviously impacted when this global curriculum entered these local markets.

Catherine Doherty 19:12
Right. Well, I will start with my own personal story. I was sitting in a suburb in Brisbane with three children and I realized that I had around me when I was choosing a high school, I think it was three high schools, in easy commuting distance, that had decided to offer the International Baccalaureate as a diploma for various reasons. But I do not think the cluster was accidental. I think the cluster of schools making that choice was a little micro competitive environment. So, across my work, we have looked quite a lot at interviews and surveys of parents choosing and not choosing the IB when it is offered in their local school, or in the school they have chosen. And what we found is that the IB is chosen by the better educated and the more socioeconomically advantaged parents in the school. So, it is a product of distinction that is used to create a sort of rarified niche, that is you know by its selectivity is quite advantageous for the child. Now, to create that selectivity of course, it has to send out … it’s like a very interesting ecology … It has to send out messages of its intellectual ambition. And it is not for everybody. In the Australian context, it required a lot of time and commitment on part of the kids, and it had this exam at the end of two years, so there was risks attached to it. So, by sending out those messages, it created its niche not only by the people it selected in, but also the people who took the message and selected themselves out. So, it was kids who are academically ambitious that chose this “high octane” learning environment, and that, of course, pulled that kind of kid out of your local curriculum classes down the corridor. So, you have got this scholarly advantage pooling in the IB and stripping that kind of advantage out of the other classrooms. Some of my work was interested in the kinds of conditions for teachers – work that the curricular market created. So while a teacher might have these bright, applied, engaged students working on the IB – and it was typically small class groups – down the corridor, you’d have another teacher with the big non-selective class picking up the externalities of the IB. So, we have to look at it ecologically in terms of when it comes into a space, it creates a market that has a fake ripple and flow on effects, for not just people in the IB.

Will Brehm 22:24
Right, right. And it seems like it also has a very clear class distinction, like social class.

Catherine Dohery 22:33
Yes, it has a class appeal. I think it has an appeal. And it appeals to people and parents who have been successful in the academic curriculum. So, you know, they will be able to help their child or understand the kinds of cultural capitals and symbolic capitals that accrue through doing this. So, there was one school, a case study school I spent some time in, and there was an interesting explanation of some students who had chosen the IB for “the wrong reasons”. The family were looking for a space where the kid was not going to get bullied, but the child was struggling academically. So, there is a Canadian scholar, Paul Tarc, who’s done a great little book that’s a history of the IB, and he talks about the tension between the “I” and the “B” in the IB. So the notion of this progressive social agenda of the international, inclusive, cosmopolitan, but the “B” is the academic competition, the Baccalaureate, the capacity to benefit and be advantage by the high academic value of the IB, and how those two struggle in the consumption of the IB.

Will Brehm 24:01
In the schools that you were looking at, were the students primarily Australian, or were these students coming from other countries as well?

Catherine Dohery 24:09
Well, the article in the British Journal of Sociology of Education, where I sort of report on a focus group interview, then some survey data: that group of students were sitting in a public school, but they included – we did a careful analysis of their backgrounds – we had students, international students who basically shopped around the world and found this version of the IB available at a good price, so they’d come to this school from China. We had expatriates that were temporarily in the Australian town but were due to go back because of parents’ work. We had people seeking permanent residence, we had temporary migrants, and then we had locals who had got interested in the International Baccalaureate because it turned up in their local school. Over the time that I have been watching the IB, it is really interesting how it’s sort of escaped its original design of servicing the expatriate. And now it is much more available to local populations in their local schools. Which of course raises questions about whether or not it can deliver on international mindedness. The international mindedness is one of its key claims, but there is a bit of literature there saying that is actually achieved vicariously by pulling kids together with a variety of backgrounds and they educate each other, so to speak. But whereas, watching classes, it was hard to find it, to see international mindedness being produced pedagogically.

Will Brehm 26:09
I would imagine that would be quite hard to find, right? What does that look like, “international-mindedness”?

Catherine Doherty 26:17
Well, I should be able to point to the paper, oh, it was a chapter in a book, that is right with Byram and Dervin, where we explored how different teachers in different subjects of the IB diploma interpreted international-mindedness, and it is a very protean thing. Everybody’s got a different take on it, and I really wonder whether the branding can deliver. However, that said, you’ve now got every curriculum in the world, or curricular organization, struggling with, “How do we produce versions of global citizenship?”, “How do we teach students to be citizens of the world and not just strident nationalists?”  So, they are not the only curricula body struggling with this question. To their credit, they were early adopters or people who got into this space and have been thinking about it for a while. I think we’re all struggling with this question and there’ll be lots of experiments on what does global citizenship look like in its curricular expressions.

Will Brehm 27:33
In that local public school that you were just talking about, you were saying that some students were aim…chose to be in the IB program. Were there other students in the local public school that were just in the normal local curriculum?

Catherine Doherty 27:47
Yes, yes, absolutely. And that tended to be how the IB happened, or was realized, in Australia. That is why for me, the concept here is curricular markets. So, if the IB does not run its own schools, there was the world schools that were exclusively IB, I think, early in its … I’m on dodgy ground here… But in Australia, it would be brought in as a curricular choice, not as the only curriculum. Maybe that is not true now with the primary curriculum and the middle school’s curriculum, but in the secondary. So, what you tended to get was the IB would be offered alongside the local curriculum, and so therefore the choice was a comparative choice. So, students, teachers, schools will be thinking about, “How does one curriculum sit beside the other? How do they relate? Is one considered higher than the other?” So, some of the case study schools I went to, there was a sense that the IB was a step up; it was selective, you had to earn the privilege of being in that space, or pay additional money. Sorry, I didn’t answer the question before about how do schools offer it. Schools have to be registered to offer the International Baccalaureate. I think there is some money involved in that and fees for exam papers flying around the world. And students pay exam fees, so they pay to sit. And whether or not the school adds additional costs to that differs. So, the price of an IB can change in different places, depending on how the schools add or pass on the costs that they incur.

Will Brehm 29:48
So, it is interesting, right? It is like a … it is a local market that can have a certain price of the IB, as well as other curriculums I would imagine. But then it is a global curriculum, in that there is all these different locales that are offering it. So, like you said, there could be this student from China who searched the global market and found the Australian local market to offer the cheapest version of the IB. I mean that is just so fascinating in terms of how people make choices and what it means in terms of the ability to move around the world to consume the education one desires.

Catherine Doherty 30:26
That is right. That is, you know I suppose, an extreme example of choice, and how choices are no longer contained within the locality. That people are mobile, that markets are stratified, and different levels create different horizons. So, I have used the Beck’s concept of the “border artiste”. I call it a concept because for me, it was really conceptual. I think it was probably a passing comment on his part, but I think the artistry of playing the borders and how some people get to more agency about crossing borders to seek optimal or advantageous circumstances, and other people do not. Now the IB and its branding was very explicit about, “If you take this, you can go to the best universities in the world.” So, the IB very quickly had this notion of … sold to students, or this imaginary … sold to students that once they had the IB, every university will take them. Now in fact, these days there is an awful lot of mutual recognition, so that quality is no longer the sole privilege of the International Baccalaureate. You can take a US School Certificate and it will be recognized elsewhere, so and so forth. But the interesting thing is that the IB did a lot of work and continues to do a lot of work behind the scenes, to ensure that high status universities know about the IB and validate it. And so, they proactively protect the recognition sort of link, and put the IB into the university selection process. The people in that space, they know about the IB. It is actively promoted. So, they are an extraordinary example of an early adopter of globalization products, strategies. So, going back to the notion of the border artiste, that that took me into sort of Beck’s space of individualization, and through some of my other work I’ve developed sort of empirical work from Margaret Archer’s idea of reflexivity, project, strategy to pursue one’s concerns, and that sort of thing. And then there was a third one, John Urry’s work around mobility, and how the mobility of some impacts on everybody’s life circumstances. So if you have a local school with a stratified curricular market within it, so you have some students being given the local curriculum and being told about what kind of world it opens up for you, but then you down the corridor, you’ve got another group of students being given very extended horizons and aspirations and whose imagination has been sparked by this idea that, “I can go to a university anywhere”, that’s creating very different ideas and aspirations in students. In fact, you know like, there has been some follow up studies to say, “Do students who do the IB actually go on and study overseas?” For Australia, no, they do not. Because it is too expensive. So actually, not many Australian students act on that promise, but that doesn’t mean that that promise hasn’t done some work in the imagination about who they’re going to be and what kind of world they are entitled to, or they have access to. So in this little article, I’ve really touched on a lot of the theoretical resources around border artistry, reflexivity, projects, choice, strategy, and how it’s not so much whether or not you move, it’s whether or not you’ve got the option to move, or the imaginary about mobility. And that is what the IB is changing in our local populations or its ilk or its type.

Will Brehm 35:04
Well, Catherine Doherty, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. The IB sounds like a very fascinating topic and I am sure there is a lot more work to be done to think about the transnational class that it is creating.

Catherine Doherty 35:17
Thanks, Will. It has been it has been a pleasure.

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