GD Goenka Global (GDGG) is an International Baccalaureate (IB) Candidate School that was founded in 2018 and is based in Gurugram, Northern India. It is the sister school to GD Goenka World School and is currently going through the candidacy process to become an accredited IB World School for the implementation of the IB’s Primary Years Programme (PYP) for children from Pre-Nursery up until, and including, Grade 5.
GDGG’s mission is to create a learning environment that allows children to unlock their potential in a safe, respectful and enjoyable setting which is conducive to learning. Directly reflecting the key attributes of the IB’s learner profile, the values that GDGG hopes to instill in its students, include: curiosity, reflection, independence, self-discipline, industry and mental flexibility.
Changing attitudes in the local community
Miss Chadha, Principal at GDGG, comments: “When we first decided to embark on the IB candidacy journey, we were initially met with some apprehension from our community. Some parents, many of whom had gone through more traditional Indian education systems themselves, were largely un-accustomed with the PYP and were at first resistant to implementing the curriculum in the school. However, there were also plenty of parents already familiar with the IB, its ethos and its programmes, so we were working to bring everyone to a shared perspective, rather than starting from scratch.
“We were able to connect with our community and offer those parents who were unsure the assurance they were seeking by sharing information about the IB’s presence in India, and inviting them to learn more about the IB’s recognition by local and international schools and universities. We were also able to draw on stories from local alumni who advocated for the IB’s programmes which were really helpful in engaging our parent community.
“Now that we have been going through the candidacy journey for a few years, we no longer need to rely on the advocacy of IB alumni from other schools, the change parents see within their own children has had a significant impact on the general perception of the programme. Our students are noticeably more confident in their communication, display more creativity and clarity in their thinking, and are engaged, happy learners who enjoy their school experience. The positive engagement by the students in the programme means they then go home and relay their exciting days to their parents which makes the difference very visible. In particular, for parents who went through the traditional rote learning system themselves, they see their children’s enthusiasm and agency in their learning and are convinced of the efficacy of the programme.
“But we are still growing and learning, at every opportunity we have taken on-board the feedback of our parents through our orientation process, our parent/teacher meetings, and our conferences. We have picked up any threads of concern and have tried to implement whatever suggestions they have raised.”
The IB curriculum framework is designed to be flexible to a school’s local context, enabling students to connect more deeply with their local communities. Miss Mandeep, PYP Coordinator at GDGG, adds: “One of the misconceptions we came up against frequently, when we first started introducing the programme, was that some of our parents believed that the IB curriculum is for children who plan to study abroad after graduating, and it is not as relevant for the local people.
“So, we put a lot of effort into addressing this as part of the orientation for our parents, first informing them of the IB philosophy, the learner profile and the approaches to learning (ATLs) skills, then demonstrating how it maps to the existing national curriculum. By showing that, through the flexible framework, the PYP takes into account everything that is being done in the Indian system, but goes beyond it with the innovative teaching methodology, parents were reassured that their children weren’t missing out, but instead gaining from the innovative philosophy and practice of the IB. PYP students are recognisably different compared to their peers.”
The flexibility of the PYP framework means that not only can it be mapped to fulfil the requirements of the state curriculum, but PYP learning can also be adapted to the interests of the students and to reflect current affairs around the globe. Miss Mandeep comments: “Parents seeing the progress of their children is important as they are equal partners with us in their learning journey. Our parents are given complete transparency; we distribute a lot of newsletters, photographic evidence of their children’s work, and we invite our parents to engage in various activities in a classroom that explore and celebrate the importance of international-mindedness and collaboration.”
Process of training teachers
As part of the candidacy journey, teachers are trained and brought up to speed with the demands of the IB programme. Miss Chadha explains the process at GDGG: “We have been very fortunate to have a versatile and experienced staff of PYP coordinators and several teachers already familiar with the PYP. For teachers who had no experience of the IB, they quickly grasped the pedagogy and learnt quickly, coming to understand that the role of the teacher within the PYP is to act as facilitator and a guide for learning, not just transferring information.
“When we first introduced the programme, we were just following the recommended guidelines but now, as suggested by the enhanced PYP, we have started to find out more about the whole jigsaw puzzle which enables each school to adapt the programme to its own context, so long as inquiry is continuing to take place. Teachers have had to adjust to the programme but now they view the flexibility and freedom of the enhanced PYP as an exciting learning opportunity for the entire school community.
“In the school, we have a collaboration session every Friday with all of the teachers. It’s held by the coordinator who broaches different topics of interest and specific areas in which learning can be improved. This session is hosted by our IB consultant too, and, along with the coordinator, they share their expertise, and staff members also have the opportunity to offer positive future strategies and suggestions.”
How the PYP supports inquiry-based learning and student agency
Miss Chadha notes: “The PYP promotes an inquiry-based process of learning which enables students to take ownership of their learning and encourages them to become more independent learners and act upon their natural curiosity. As such, not only are children discovering their own interests and passions during their learning, they are also enjoying the overall experience of their education.”
Miss Mandeep adds: “I can recall several instances where conversations in the classroom sparked student-led debates, which resulted in practical changes being made within the school community. We had a very interesting unit on the management of resources – natural and manmade – so once this was taking place in the classroom, our little ones – in Grade 1 or Grade 2 – decided how we should handle waste management.
“The inquiry was not initially intended to go in that direction but because of the questioning from the students, the conversation was able to develop. Students became more aware of the importance of waste segregation and then they decided to take action within the school. They suggested introducing different bins to enable children to start segregating waste themselves – from plastic to recycling, to lunch and snacks that were getting thrown away.
“There was another memorable inquiry process by the Grade 4 students who were studying a unit on energy. They were talking about different types of energy and how they work and one child, while he was sitting in his music class, questioned the teacher by saying that: “If energy creates power and strength, how do musical instruments work?” This inquiry was then taken towards musical instruments, how the role of energy is used to play different instruments, and how it is converted, and the children ended up designing their own musical instruments while keeping the concept of energy in mind.
“I also remember a particular discussion on different types of leadership which had a profound impact on how that specific year group dealt with inter-peer relationships, both inside and outside of the classroom. The teacher told the class about different types of leadership, such as: democratic and liberal, and one child stood up and said that since they were all Grade 5 students, should they not adapt to a kind of leadership style in school and execute that? As a result, they elected different leaders in the classroom to represent them as a whole, and the elected representatives became community leaders who were solving problems that the other students were having, it was very interesting! The class learnt to resolve conflicts and work together to find a solution to help each other’s problems.”
Inquiry-based learning and problem solving is just one way in which students are able to develop and exhibit agency in the PYP. The notion of student agency, nurtured from an early age, is at the forefront of the IB’s mission. Miss Chadha explains: “The most important thing that I’ve seen through the journey is the student agency and what opportunities the students are given to voice their opinions and to decide for themselves – that is a major difference from the Indian system. Students are able to grow more confident, improve their decision making and develop critical thinking skills, which I think will be required in their future lives.”
“Action for me is what I get excited about because it gives you an idea of how well the children have understood the concepts and it gives you great satisfaction if you’ve invented or created something that, in some way, gives back to society. Action can involve a visit to an NGO for units on family or giving donations to help orphans, or, if it’s a unit related to the environment, for example, students creating something to make our community greener. This process of innovating and creating certainly gives everyone a great sense of satisfaction. Action also highlights understanding and learning, it reflects on your practical application of what you’ve learnt in terms of knowledge.”