Wednesday 22 Sep 2021

Celebrating 50 Years of the International Baccalaureate

As twelve courageous and competent students collected their diplomas on an unseasonably hot autumn day (24 September 1971), they were at the forefront of a revolutionary, and epoch-defining educational experiment that would change their lives - and those of countless others - for good. Fifty years later, discover how the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme has served as a bedrock of the lives and careers of three of the original IB students.

Shanta DevarajanShanta Devarajan
Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service
Former Acting Chief Economist of the World Bank

Shanta Devarajan was the “new kid” in Year 12 at La Grande Boissière in 1970, after having completed the first year of the IB programme at the United Nations International School in New York. Shanta remembers the small group as being tight knit, which helped him feel even more integrated within the Ecolint community as a latecomer.

While he maintains that the IB provided an overall excellent education, he particularly relished the passionate and vigorous debates. During a 2013 interview in IB World Magazine, Shanta shared his memories: “We had an English class that was full of debate. We’d come in and just go at each other about a book. We were encouraged to think critically and script our arguments. It was a great experience for later life”. 

Shanta DevarajanOn the day before the historic graduation ceremony in 1971, Shanta gave a speech to the student assembly on the International Baccalaureate, during which he questioned whether the IB was truly international. “African history,” he argued “taught by an American using British textbooks, is not African history.” Africa is precisely where he would go on to make a difference at the World Bank for 28 years, from 1991 to 2019. He occupied the prestigious positions of Senior Director for Development Economics, Chief Economist of the Africa and the Middle East and North Africa regions. The transition from international classrooms to
international organisations was seamless for Shanta.

During his impressive tenure, he dedicated his professional life to poverty reduction, although it had not always been Shanta’s main focus in the field of economics. After receiving degrees from Princeton and UC Berkeley and enjoying many rewarding jobs, Shanta wanted to give back. For him, ending poverty in a sustainable way meant going beyond the question of giving money, to figuring out ways to create employment. 

After retiring from the World Bank, Shanta returned to academia (he had previously taught at Harvard Kennedy School). He is currently a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Peggy RayPeggy Ray
Senior Partner and co-founder at Goodman Ray Solicitors

“Well done, my dear,” said Lord Mountbatten to Peggy Ray as he shook her hand during the now iconic photo of the 1971 graduation ceremony.

These words of encouragement are all the more applicable today when one learns about Peggy’s 30-year career as a London-based solicitor specialised in family law. Peggy has won a number of awards for her pioneering work, including UNICEF Child Rights Lawyer of the Year in 2001 and Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year in 2005. Peggy traced her lateral approach to solving problems to her years studying the IB at Ecolint, thanks to the curriculum’s breadth: “I think now it was enlightened of the educators who put together the IB curriculum to understand how the subjects taken together over the same period, whether at higher or lower levels, leads to a cross-fertilisation of thinking and avoids learning in subject silos. It also encouraged self-directed research and balanced critical thinking, as well as giving me the confidence to take risks which has led to an exciting and fulfilling career”.

Despite all of its academic gifts, Peggy admits the diploma was not exactly a golden ticket. As a member of the first set of IB graduates in the world, “it was not at all straightforward to persuade universities in the UK to accept it as an adequate reflection of any academic standard”, recalls Peggy. Luckily, she was accepted to her first choice, Sussex University. Originally a History of Art student, Peggy later returned to Sussex University to earn her postgraduate degree in law. 

Peggy Ray receives one of the first IB diplomas from the hands of Lord Mountbatten
24 September 1971 - Peggy Ray receives one of the first IB diplomas from the hands of Lord Mountbatten

Just thirteen years after receiving her IB diploma in the Greek Theatre, Peggy set up her own law firm in 1985 with another woman in London (Goodman Ray Solicitors – the first all-female firm in London and the second in the country). Their offices were based in a disadvantaged area of the city, since Peggy and her partner were committed to “providing the best legal advice to whoever needed it, whatever their income, and that philosophy continues to this day”, explains Peggy. Today, both Peggy and the entire firm specialise in family law because “it is an area of law which I have always believed provides opportunities for creative thinking and where good quality and skilled legal advice can make a real difference”.

Her passion for supporting families extends into the realm of education. Peggy is a governor of a small and innovative school that provides a family-based approach to learning for troubled children based on a systemic family therapeutic model, in which the parents or carers attend the school with their children. According to Peggy, “it is an exciting and novel approach; it is non-judgmental and is proving very successful in returning children to mainstream education”. A beautiful way of carrying the Ecolint torch and blazing trails in inclusive, child-centred learning.

Dr. Gene Feder OBEDr. Gene Feder OBE
Professor of Primary Health Care at University of Bristol

Gene is a Vienna-born American who came to Ecolint for his secondary education, after attending schools in Tel Aviv and Tehran. Gene accepted his nomination to be one of the IB “guinea pigs,” as they were affectionately called, because the curriculum mixed humanities and sciences at higher and lower levels. He was also keen to take small classes taught by the most interesting teachers in his eyes, such as Bob Leach and Burt Melnick. Even as a student, his nose in his books, he felt aware that he was taking part in a historic moment, mainly because “the school never let us forget it”, recalls Gene.

Thanks to the strength of the IB programme, Gene was able to pursue a dual degree in Biology and Philosophy at the University of Sussex. He then studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, before training as a family doctor. Alongside his clinical work, Gene is an academic, currently Professor of Primary Care at Bristol Medical School. His research started with the health and healthcare of Traveller Gypsies, followed by studies on the development and implementation of clinical guidelines, primary care management of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, and domestic violence. His research leadership and advocacy work has led to a UK-wide programme responding to domestic violence in primary care and sexual health services.

Dr. Gene Feder OBEHis interest in interdisciplinarity was sparked by the IB and it is still integral to his academic work, collaborating and learning from epidemiologists, economists, statisticians, anthropologists, historians and philosophers. The international diversity of Ecolint, its values of striving towards truth and justice, as well as the global perspective of the IB, are at the root of his current research. He leads a global health group focusing on violence against women, in collaboration with researchers in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the occupied Palestinian Territory. 

In 2017, Gene was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to healthcare and victims of domestic abuse, shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth 46 years after shaking hands with her second cousin once removed (Lord Mountbatten) when receiving his IB diploma.

This article was originally published in the summer 2021 issue of Echo magazine.

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