IB Co-ordinator and Assistant Principal, Julian Jefferys, talks about his experience and his new role at La Chât, in this exclusive interview.
Mr Jefferys tell us a bit about yourself, and your past experience.
My family and I are all Australian and my two children were also born there. My daughter’s 7 years old and my boy is 5, and they’re both in Primary at La Chât. My wife is a graphic designer and artist, she has had a number of exhibitions in the past, and is now looking into settling herself here as an independent graphic designer. This is my family’s first time living in Europe, although I lived in England for a while, right after high school.
Concerning my career, I started out teaching at independent schools in Australia but then took up opportunities overseas, teaching at international schools mainly in South East Asia, Japan and Singapore. In Singapore, I worked for the IB in the quality control section, which is a bit like an IB school inspector. In this role, I was inspecting IB schools around South Asia to see if they were up to standards. I enjoyed the job a lot because it was out of the school environment but still closely linked to education.
Singapore was fun, but it was time for me to come back into a school. I had my eye on half a dozen very good schools in Australia and a very small number of International Schools around the world. Ecolint was one of them, so when this job came up, I decided to give it a try and see what happened. So this is how I ended up at La Chât.
What is the biggest difference between living in Singapore and here?
The biggest difference is the amount of clothes you have to put on our kids! We only realized now how lucky we were in Singapore to just wear a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and shoes and to be ready for all sorts of activities outdoor. Here it is a matter of layers, and my children are really struggling with gloves, jackets and thick socks.
However, the positive difference with Switzerland is the amount of time that you can spend outside. In Singapore the heat is quite extreme so time outside is limited. Here we can spend all day out in the fresh air, or in the snow as long as one is dressed up accordingly, and this corresponds more to the Australian outdoor lifestyle.
What did you find most challenging here in Switzerland?
We find the administration is quite challenging. The amount of paperwork required by the Commune is a little daunting. It feels like a more heavy bureaucracy compared to Singapore. That said, here we feel very well looked after and it seems that there are very good services, and overall that the country functions well. Obviously the difference in language makes it harder to go through the paperwork with regard to certain requirements.
What do you like most here?
Switzerland is a beautiful green country located in a beautiful part of the world. Singapore is predominantly grey so it is lovely to be here and to appreciate the different colours and benefit from the surrounding nature. Location is also a big plus. There is so much to see within a couple of hours’ drive in all directions. We also appreciate the lake proximity. Obviously as Australians, we have a big beach culture where life revolves around the water. So it feels quite nice to be in such proximity although it is a lake and not an ocean. Last but not least, we enjoy Swiss food too. So we’re overall really happy to be here.
Also my wife and I feel our children are in a great school with a lovely team and the students seem to take good care of the school, it is well looked after and it has an incredibly warm feeling about it.
Can your explain your role and responsibilities at La Chât?
I am the IB coordinator but also Assistant Principal for years 10 to 13. So I have a broad oversight over the students and the staffing of years 10 to 13, and I run the IB program, which is a good combination of roles.
The job is designed to try to create a smaller community within the big school community, so my job is to give a bigger focus to years 10 to 13 and understand the students, what is like for them to be going through these 4 years of program and also how to pass from one year to another or from one program to another. And obviously we must understand and know what the main issues are during those years. My partner in this job is Richard Robinson, Assistant Principal for years 7 to 9. His job is similar to mine for the lower grades. There are a lot of other people in other posts with whom we work very closely, for example the Heads of the Year.
The specific IB part mainly means that I must guarantee that the whole program runs well and to do this, I closely work with the teachers and Heads of department. I must meet with the community, explain the program, outline where and what kind of support the school can provide.
What is your point of view on the IB diploma. How does it differ from the other diplomas? Why is it considered much more difficult?
The most important thing is to understand that it is very hard to compare it to other diplomas, especially so, because no one never does more than one program. Everyone speaks form his or her own perspective. But it is important to know that all students doing whichever program with exit credentials – IB, International A-levels or Advanced Placement – will always be under pressure. It is always hard. There are no students finishing high school with aspirations of going to a good university, who are not working hard and not putting pressure on themselves. The most important point I want to raise is that there is nothing about the IB that makes it harder than any other program. Obviously it is not easy, elements of it are very tricky and it is demanding. In our jobs, we deal with the very small number of students who are really struggling. But this is really a very small percentage, which means that the vast majority just gets through.
What distinguishes the IB from other programs? What’s the biggest difference?
One of the most difficult aspects of it is that it forces students to take a broad range of subjects, 6 subjects in all, which must include maths, a science, two languages, and a ‘humanity’. Most country’s curriculums tend to be refined – by the last 2 years students get to choose a smaller package. In Australia, with the exception of maths and English, it can be the case that you don’t need to choose another subject – they could have double maths and triple English for example. So students can focus more on the detail. With A-levels too, students have 3 subjects to study in great depth, and if you’re not a scientist, you can choose to do, for example, languages only. The IB, on the other hand, forces you to do everything, and maybe some students find this harder than if they were just allowed 2-3 subjects.
Also, the IB encourages critical and creative thinking and not so much learning things off by heart.
Finally, I wish to add that the IB assessment is not ranked nor referenced, so it is not mathematically stretched or manipulated officially to get ranking. Which means that theoretically, all students could get 45/45. So IB students are not competing against each other because they understand that if they get into small study groups, and if a good student spends time helping a weaker one, this in turn helps them both learn better as there is no sense of giving up some of their ranking. Everyone in the class can perform well.
What is the level of recognition of the IB?
It is widely accepted. But, nowadays most universities understand a lot of the programs. We also notice that universities now are looking for international students coming from different programs. The IB benefits from very positive and favorable opinions by certain universities, and some very good ones in America, or in Canada are actively looking for IB students.
To sum up, can you give us a few characteristics that best describe the IB?
-Organizational skills: planning ahead and manage time
-Thinking and applying well
-Possibility of accessing top marks in each of the subjects
To conclude, I’d like to mention that according to most of the foundational documents, such as studies from UNESCO, the 21st Century most required skills for students are problem-solving capacity and critical thinking. This is why we believe so strongly in this program.
Interviewed by Alex Ginsburg