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The International Baccalaureate in Latin America

The Asociación Andina de Colegios de BI (AACBI) – or Andina Association of IB Schools – is a network of International Bacca- laureate (IB) schools in the South American country of Colombia. As the IB looks to expand its footprint throughout the world, AACBI is a great example of both the great promise and under- lying challenges that schools in developing countries face as they look to implement elements of the IB programme. SchoolRubric’s Wallace Ting sat down with the Executive Director of AACBI, Luis Eduardo Rivas, to learn more about IB education in both Colombia and in Latin America.


Maripe Menendez, Luís Eduardo Rivas, Siva Kumari, and Priscila Alvarado pose for a group picture in front of the Victoria School.
Maripe Menendez, Luís Eduardo Rivas, Siva Kumari, and Priscila Alvarado pose for a group picture in front of the Victoria School.

Hi Luis. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. We’re curious if you can give us a bird’s eye view as to what AACBI is and what services you provide.

AACBI is the Association of Colombian IB schools. We have been in the country for the last 23 years. In this moment, we have 35 schools who are part of the association. The main role of AACBI has been to promote the IB in Colombia and to set up opportunities for networking. We organize activities for teachers, students and parents. An- other very important role of AACBI is to connect universities with the reality of the IB Diploma Programme students. Universities in Colombia have been very supportive with the Diploma Programme, so AACBI has really been doing a great job with our universities in terms of recognition and in terms of connecting schools in Colombia with an IB organization.


Great. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Thanks very much. My name is Luis Eduardo Rivas and I am currently the General Director of the Victoria School. The Victoria School is one of the 42 IB schools in Colombia, and one of 10 schools that offer the complete continuum. We offer the PYP (Primary Years Programme), MYP (Middle Years Programme), and IBDP (International Baccalaureate Programme). I’m also an educator from the bottom of my heart. I have been in education for the past twenty-eight years and currently serve as the Executive Director of AACBI and also belong to the IB Global Heads Council. I have been connected with the IB in many different roles since 2009. I’m a field representative, consultant, and work- shop leader for the PYP programme.


It seems like you have two full-time jobs. How are you able to manage and juggle the responsibilities of these two roles?

Mainly because I really love education. My full time job is the General Director of the Victoria School but for the last eight years I have been working very closely with AACBI. We have an executive committee and a president of the association, and we work together as a team. I’m the one who promotes the activities with the teachers and the students because AACBI is a provider for the IB in terms of professional development. But really, it’s a matter of wishing for and loving what you want. And I’m really in love with education.

The Victoria School is one of the few schools in Colombia that offer the complete continuum (PYP, MYP, IBDP).
The Victoria School is one of the few schools in Colombia that offer the complete continuum (PYP, MYP, IBDP).

How many schools are currently part of AACBI, and what sort of requirements are needed to be a part of the association?

In this moment, there are 42 IB schools in Colombia. Of these 42 of these 35 are members of AACBI. Mainly, the requirement for membership is that you must be an authorized school for one of the programmes offered by the IB organization. We offer schools opportunities to exchange experiences by virtue of meetings and networking opportunities with IB coordinators. We really want more schools to be involved because this is a way to have a voice in the unique needs of Colombian education. I’d also like to mention that AACBI has connected with other associations in Latin America in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile. We are all working together as a network of IB associations in Latin America.


We saw recently that you were able host Dr. Siva Kumari, the General Director of the International Baccalaureate, in Colombia for a few days. How were you able to convince her to come and can you tell us a bit about the highlights from her trip?

Dr. Kumari came to visit Colombia and South America for the first time in September 2018. A member of the Global Health Council, Dr. Kumari, and myself met in Singapore for the 50th anniversary of the IB and we were talking about the need for Latin America to have her presence here. So she decided to visit the countries of all of the members of the IB Heads Global Council. We talked about this import- ant possibility and it was worth it. She was here for three days in Colombia. She was able to meet with educators. She was able to meet with heads of schools. She also met with universities and met with students as well. She was able to visit six different schools and had a very busy agenda during her visit. What we wanted was for everyone to feel supported by her presence here. I am sure that Dr. Kumari got a really good impression about what IB education is doing here in our country.

One of Dr. Kumari’s final visits during her trip was to Colegio Marymount School with Liliana Manzanera (IBDP coordinator, Colegio Marymount) and IBDP students.
One of Dr. Kumari’s final visits during her trip was to Colegio Marymount School with Liliana Manzanera (IBDP coordinator, Colegio Marymount) and IBDP students.

The main competitor of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is the AP (Advanced Placement) program. The AP Capstone Diploma is quite similar to the IB Diploma. What would you say to either parents looking to choose a school for their child or perhaps schools themselves considering between IBDP and AP?

Without a doubt, the IB provides a strong and important framework for a school curriculum delivery. I feel that parties looking at education should be able to see the continuum of programs offered by the IB organization and how it will help their child be strong, open-minded, and an inquirer. But the best thing about the IB is that no matter where you are, you will be able to follow the same framework. If you are in China you will be able to follow the IB framework. Imagine that you need to travel to Latin America. You want to be able to follow the same framework. So that aspect of internationalism is something we want to promote with IB education.


So with regard to IB versus AP what I’m understanding is that you feel there is a bigger selling point of the IB programme being international.

IB has been offering this framework of education for the last 51 years, so the IB organization is strong and has experience with working with young people from all over the world. The IB is present in thousands of schools all over the world in over 135 countries which is important in terms of the movement of families and in one of the biggest ideas and aspects which is internationalism. I wouldn’t say that between IB and AP one is better than the other. Each one of them has their strong and weak points. But what I would say is that what the IB organization is doing with education all around the world is spectacular. I mean, we can tell what is happening with IB alumni at their universities and the difference they are making in the world.

Dr. Siva Kumari at the IB 50th Anniversary Celebration in Singapore, March 2018.
Dr. Siva Kumari at the IB 50th Anniversary Celebration in Singapore, March 2018.

Let’s talk a little bit about the MYP. The perception out there is that there has historically been a rather weak link between the PYP and IBDP. How can this programme or perception be strengthened?

That’s part of this 50th anniversary of the IB. I can tell you that things have changed a lot and the programmes have grown, especially the MYP. There are now several strong points such as the assessment practices and the approaches to learning, so MYP has really become a strong programme. Now, I feel that the Diploma Programme is learning a lot from MYP. It’s also important to mention that the review of the programme has been a main goal for the IB organization. So now with the enhanced PYP and a stronger connection to the Diploma Programme, I think you’ll see an improved MYP. MYP has grown a lot basically just because of these improvements, and the number of schools wanting to apply for MYP has grown as a result. I say improvements in terms of the quality of teaching and learning that are very present in the four frameworks offered by the IB organization.

It’s important to mention that in 2012, when I first joined as the President of the association, there were only 15 schools offering one of the IB programmes. In this moment, there are 42 schools and I predict that by December 2019 there will be 50 schools offering one of the programmes. Obviously one of the programmes that is the most popular is the Diploma Programme. But what I would also like to see that the association has been working really hard on is to try to take the IB framework to public education.

There is a difference in Colombia between private and public education. All those 42 schools belonging to the IB organization are private schools. I am hopeful that by September or October of 2019 we will have the first public school in Colombia offering the PYP program, Colegio Departmental de Cali. They have been working really hard and the public authorities in the city have helped us a lot. We are supporting another project in Medellin, another city, where they are also trying to take the IB to public education. So what I see in 10 years is the growth in the number of schools offering the IB programmes, but one of the most important challenges we want to see achieved is to have IB in public education.


Wow, that’s amazing. So what is the role AACBI plays in getting the IB into these public schools?

We have a member of the executive committee who is working really hard with the school in Cali. I myself also went to Medellin to offer training and support for the IB schools there. The association has tried to support the professional development from the public school in Cali by offering free sessions for the public school teachers. Last November, Natalia Tieso, the Regional Development Manager for Latin America, was here and met with the school in Cali and talked to the school in Medellin. So AACBI helped facilitate that connection and provided that kind of support among schools.

AACBI Member Schools
AACBI Member Schools

How do you measure and judge success as an organization? Is it with professional development attendance, membership levels, or IBDP passing rates?

There are many ways to measure success in terms of the AACBI association. The first one would be the number of schools wanting to be part of the IB because they have found that the framework offered by the IB helps support the curriculum development in each institution. We are also trying to help schools in Colombia to see the connection between the IB Diploma Programme and the standardized test in our country which is Prueba Saber.

Schools are able to have their own results but they can also see what is good practice. If one school is doing something that allows them to get better results than others, we try to create opportunities to share these metrics and data with other schools. I would also say that for the past three to four years we have been workshop providers for the IB, so an important metric for us is the response we get from teachers attending the workshops. We have a whole calendar of activities – not only the workshops, but meetings among IB coordinators, working tables, discussion among subjects, and courses on differentiation. So the level of support AACBI provides to teachers and schools is an important way to measure success in reference to your question.


So what I’m hearing is basically that support for schools and teachers is one of your biggest and most important roles at AACBI.

Yes. That is one of the main goals of our association – helping not only mature schools but also new schools that have come into the framework by sharing experiences. I would say that AACBI’s role is that – to connect schools and to make that networking happen. It really doesn’t matter the number of schools we have but that they like working together to promote that collaboration among schools and that it is a good tool for them to continue growing.


We know in Colombia there is a terminal exam called the Prueba Saber which is the only criteria universities use for admissions in Colombia. What advice do you give schools who have difficulty negotiating the differences between these two terminal examinations?

What AACBI has done is try to help universities understand the importance of having students from IB schools. We have been able to sign 18 deals with universities for recognition. If you notice the data, 70% of the students who participated in the IB programme decide to stay in Colombia which means that we need to do more for the schools to have good results in the Prueba Saber. But at the same time, while we want students to get good results in the Prueba Saber we also want them to achieve good results in the Diploma Programme.


Thanks a lot for your time, Luis. I really appreciate it.

Thanks Wallace. Happy to share.

This article is available and can be accessed in Spanish here.

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Luis Eduardo Rivas Garzón
In recent years I have understood even more how education can transform the world. I have been accepted to take a training as an online workshop leader and in the five weeks that I have been in this activity I have found wonderful experiences. At the head of the AACBI I have met Colombian schools that do wonderful things but I am also proud to know that I have contributed to spreading the value of the framework promoted by IB.

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