By Mariona Coderch López
“We need more scientists” is a sentence my students are used to hearing often from me, despite being from a humanities background. As I am more and more anxious about the future of our planet, I encourage my students to pursue careers in STEM, hoping that they will appear on the news a few years from now with discoveries that will have a positive impact on our currently endangered and fragile world.
Today, I find myself in an extremely privileged position at GEMS International School – Al Khail (GIS). Not because my students enjoy hearing stories about my past in the luxury fashion industry – yes, I have in many ways been able to bring life to my diverse interests – but because I have been able to take the school through the accreditation process of the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (CP) and beyond. Why? What does this mean?
Introducing an alternative pathway approach
When I arrived at GIS as an IB Diploma Programme (DP) Grade Leader, I soon realised that we needed more options for our students. While I am a big advocate for the DP, it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all programme. Introducing the CP has allowed our students who are already sure of what they would like to pursue to begin their journey before graduating. We started our first year of the CP offering specialisation in business and creative media. We have just finished our debut year of the CP with 23 students for the class of 2023 and 20 students for the class of 2024.
Amongst the first cohort, we have students who would aspire to open their own business in fashion or in health-related fields. We also have students who would like to become film directors or who would like to work in audio-visual marketing. Giving them the chance to take on the CP has given them that extra motivation as they walk through the doors of our school every morning knowing that they are able to learn about what they most enjoy. It is this very sense of empowerment within the students that I strive for.
Not only has the CP been an enjoyable journey for our students’ schooling so far, but it has also opened doors for them. For example, one of our soon-to-be seniors has been able to access a summer programme in film and audio-visual editing at the Savannah College of Art and Design, thanks to his commitment to the CP Creative Media pathway. Other students have been able to take on internships in local and multinational companies, where they have been able to start applying their knowledge and skills beyond school, building a professional portfolio from a very young age.
CP students take on a career-related study (CRS), in this case business or creative media, which comprises around 40% of their scheduled timetable. Along with the CRS, students take three DP subjects that enhance their CRS. These three DP subjects combined account for roughly another 40% of their class hours. For example, a business student may take on DP economics, DP math applications and interpretations and DP language and literature. A creative media student may take on DP visual art, DP computer science and DP French. These combinations are entirely up to the student and their family with the guidance of our university guidance counsellor, and are meant to enhance our students’ learning and profile when accessing universities and the professional world.
The remaining 20% of a CP student’s timetable is encompassed by the core, which includes personal and professional skills (PPS), service learning, reflective project and language development. These components are a truly unique and invaluable part of the CP as they provide our students with the necessary skills to start their professional career on a strong foot. For example, in PPS, students learn how to design a CV or prepare for a job interview – skills that many adults would have loved to master before starting their career.
While the introduction of the CP was a big success at our school, we could not settle there. We still had work to do. What about encouraging our students to pursue science pathways? What about students who would like to pursue STEM-related fields? What about students passionate about astronomy and flying? I could not help but see that our local context in Dubai is very much centred around the aviation industry and that the country’s leaders are thankfully focused on improving sustainable practices through innovation.
Within weeks of our first year into the CP, I proposed introducing pathways specialised in aviation and aeronautics and STEM. By March of our first year of the CP, we signed our agreement with the oldest and one of the most prestigious aeronautical universities in the world, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), to introduce CRS pathways in aviation, aeronautics, engineering, STEM and business combined with any of the previous or business on its own. Students pursuing this pathway enrol into a dual-enrolment programme and are therefore both GIS and ERAU students during their last two years of high school, meaning that they graduate with their IBCP certificate along with a certificate from ERAU. Students who complete the programme finish with the equivalent of one year’s worth of US university credits. This enables students to not only pursue their passion while finishing their last two years of school but to get a head start on their university studies and eventually save time and costs when it comes to their higher education journey.
At GIS, we have a history of running an aviation elective for our grade 9 and 10 students in our Aviation Centre of Excellence. We are blessed to count on Cessna flight simulators, drones, robotics equipment and, most importantly, knowledgeable and passionate staff. In my eyes, it was only logical to allow these students to continue their studies in this field in grades 11 and 12. With our ERAU partnership we will now be able to propel the dreams of many of our students and, hopefully, fuel their motivation further to pursue careers that will bring us more scientists and hope for a better, brighter, bolder future.
Mariona Coderch López is IB Career-related Programme Coordinator at GEMS International School – Al Khail, Dubai. Connect directly with Mariona on LinkedIn