By Theodora Lonsdale
Established in 1968, the International Baccalaureate diploma is one of the
most diverse sixth form qualifications on offer, not just in the UK, but worldwide.
The IB, as it’s commonly known, requires students to take six subjects; one from each of its main fields of study: mathematics, English (or one’s own mother tongue), science, humanities, foreign languages and the arts, resulting in a well-rounded curriculum.
In addition to the range of subjects, the diploma includes the EE: an extended essay of 4,000 words on a topic of personal choice; Theory of Knowledge or TOK: a critical thinking class which encourages students to question not only what they learn, but the methods by which they do so, and (if that wasn’t enough acronyms) the substantial extra-curricular Creativity,
Action and Service programme, or CAS. What better place to undertake such a qualification than somewhere as equally international and diverse as the diploma itself, not to mention a co-founder and pilot school of the original IB programme, UWC Atlantic College?
Housed in a 12th century castle on the ruggedly beautiful south coast of Wales, the United World College of the Atlantic was founded shortly before the International Baccalaureate in 1962 by Kurt Hahn, the man behind Gordonstoun in Scotland and the Outward Bound experiential learning programme. In the aftermath of the Second World War and the midst of the Cold War, Atlantic College was an experiment in peace and cooperation through deliberate diversity; an objective which is upheld in the UWC mission to ‘make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future’. The first of the United World Colleges, this unconventional boarding school in the Welsh countryside, conceived as an innovative solution to global conflict, was the seed from which would grow a vast network of schools united under the same ethos.
Today, 18 different UWCs span 4 continents enabling students from all backgrounds and 90 different countries to come together for an educational experience as diverse as themselves. Atlantic College is now ‘alma mater’ to
some notable individuals, among them the Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz (the young women shot by the Taliban), alongside Malala Yousafzai and, most recently, Princess Elisabeth of Belgium who graduated this May. Along with its sister-schools, the College goes beyond the standard IB requirements with students completing substantially more hours of Creativity, Action and Service projects than the mandatory amount. Be it running a local lifeboat
service, teaching English to refugees or working in ‘The Valley’, which can
only be described as the College’s giant allotment. The CAS element of the diploma is a significant aspect of an AC student’s life. In addition to student councils for peace and sustainability (‘PeaCo’ and ‘SusCo’, as they are fondly known), and their annual conferences, these IB and UWC values are integral to daily life. Students live modestly; four to an intentionally culturally-mixed room, with communal dining, working and bathroom facilities.
As a recent graduate of Atlantic College, I’ve experienced first-hand the formative effect of a UWC education. Be it the stunning beauty of the natural surroundings, the grandeur of the medieval castle, which quickly fades into comfortable familiarity, or the invigorating nature of the College’s
intense daily life, any AC graduate will tell you that there is something extraordinary about the two years spent in rural, rainy Wales, which stays with you long after having left. Coupled with the open-minded eclectic programme of the International Baccalaureate, the UWC experience forms tolerant and resourceful young people who carry with them the principles upon which Kurt Hahn built the foundations of the United World Colleges education. It just goes to show that perhaps something as simple as sleeping, eating, studying and showering together is enough to help people overcome differences, no matter how great, in culture, class, race, nationality and belief, in the hope for
peace and a sustainable future.