By Steve McNutt, Head of the Senior School
I often meet visitors who ask about what makes our school so outstanding. While there are many exceptional programs and activities that we offer students, I would contend that the IB program is foundational in understanding what propels our students to the highest levels of excellence.
Clearly, the IB program offers students an outstanding academic program. With its emphasis on independent student inquiry, it encourages them to become critical thinkers who challenge themselves intellectually. They receive offers from top universities around the world in large measure because the IB Diploma program is regarded as the gold standard in international education. The early offers for the Class of 2020 reflect this fact. Our students have gained admissions to such prestigious institutions as the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, the London School of Economics, and the University of Hong Kong—just to name a few. Furthermore, the IB prepares students well to deal with the challenges of university classes once they are accepted. This is reflected by the fact that the vast majority of Branksome Hall Asia students go on to successfully complete their university degrees.
The IB curriculum, however, is much more than a rigorous academic program that gives students the opportunity to enter prestigious universities around the world. The IB philosophy is designed to promote well-rounded individuals who can apply their knowledge meaningfully to real world issues. While theoretical knowledge clearly has its value in a student’s educational experience, the value of that knowledge increases considerably when it is applied in a practical manner to find solutions to contemporary societal problems. Our students engage in designing artificial human limbs using 3-D printers and building wind tunnels. They also seek ways to grapple with environmental issues by establishing campaigns to limit the amount of plastic use in the school cafeterias. Branksome Hall Asia students recently won an award for creating a book that memorializes the tragic experience of Korean Comfort Women during World War Two. They have initiated campaigns to support a girls’ school in China with needed items such as computers and sanitary products. On a weekly basis, Branksome Hall Asia students go to orphanages in Jeju to help teach children English and other school subjects. I could go on and on with such examples; however, suffice it to say that that the IB program has been fundamental in promoting the notion that learning takes place both inside and outside of the classroom.
I would also contend that the IB philosophy promotes our students to be risk takers who are not afraid of challenges or of putting themselves on the public stage. Earlier this year, for example, our Grade 10 students won most of the top prizes at a speech competition here in Korea focusing on the Jeju Massacre. As I listened to their speeches, I was impressed by their articulate manner and passionate tones. Similarly, the caliber of our musicians here at the school is truly exceptional. The accolades that they receive after each public performance are truly well deserved. There are, of course, other less obvious measures of this risk taking spirit as well. For instance, our Branksome Hall Asia girls engage in subjects such as science, computer, and design in far greater proportions than they might at a school elsewhere.
Another key element of the IB Advantage at Branksome Hall Asia is the school’s collective emphasis on Caring and Sharing. This past Christmas season, our school had the opportunity to collect gifts, clothing, and food for underprivileged children here on Jeju Island. During the final school assembly of 2019, I was so overwhelmed to see the huge number of items that our students had collected. For me, it symbolized something so wonderful about what makes our students exceptional. It exemplified how a spirit of kind service is essential to instill in all students-perhaps even more important in the long run than academic scores and individual awards. I should add that that particular event was by no means exceptional for our students; indeed, Branksome Hall Asia students are consistently involved in service activities and trips where they give to others in a meaningful and genuine manner.
In sum, the IB Advantage here at Branksome Hall Asia is multi-faceted. It provides students with a rigorous academic experience that provides pathways of opportunity for the future. It motivates them to be proactive agents of change in solving real life issues. Students are encouraged to believe that there are few boundaries to what they can achieve. At the same time, they clearly understand that they are part of a broader community where they expected to share and support others with their talents and gifts.