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Dr. Siva Kumari of International Baccalaureate: “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became Director General”

Images courtesy of the International Baccalaureate

“I believe strongly that every day and every moment that a teacher spends with a child has a major effect on both the student and the teacher’s well-being. I also believe strongly that teachers go into teaching to kindle curiosity and develop our next generation of humanity as much as to deliver education.”

I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Siva Kumari, Director General of International Baccalaureate. Dr. Kumari was appointed seventh Director General of the International Baccalaureate in January 2014, becoming the first woman to hold the post. In 2018, the International Baccalaureate (IB) celebrates 50 years as a multinational, not-for-profit foundation, focused on delivering the highest caliber of education for learners aged 3–19. Dr. Kumari cherishes the IB’s rich history and its laudable mission, built on the belief that education can create a better world. Dr. Kumari joined the IB in April 2009 as Asia Pacific Regional Director. In May the following year she was appointed first Chief Operating Officer, with global responsibility for research, university recognition, school improvement and professional development. She also managed the relationship with schools, governments and foundations across the three IB regions: Americas, Asia Pacific, and Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Prior to joining the IB, Dr. Kumari served a 15-year tenure as the first associate provost for K-12 Initiatives at Rice University, USA. Reporting directly to the president and the provost, she oversaw more than 80 outreach efforts for the university. She has won competitive external National Science Foundation funding, local and national corporate foundation funding, and national and regional awards for her research work in teaching and learning.

Thank you show much for joining us! Can you share your personal story with us?

I was raised in a coastal shipping town in Southern India and joined my husband in the United States. Unable to stay still, I acquired a Masters degree, and raised two children in an unanticipated nuclear family environment, given my extended family was in India.

It was while raising my firstborn, a daughter, that I read all there was to read about parenting, brain development in children, and eventually about public education in the US since both my husband and I attended private schools. The learning curve was daunting but has stayed with me. Parenting is a big responsibility and I am thankful that I was scared enough to want to understand everything I could about it. Educating all our children is equally a major societal and parental value and I was fascinated to learn about the rhetoric and reality of the mass education vision in America.

I believe strongly that every day and every moment that a teacher spends with a child has a major effect on both the student and the teacher’s well-being. I also believe strongly that teachers go into teaching to kindle curiosity and develop our next generation of humanity as much as to deliver education.

This is why I love working for the International Baccalaureate (IB) — because the heart of our mission is to inspire teachers to give their fullest, to enjoy teaching and aim for the highest international educational standards while connecting learning to real world issues.

Images courtesy of the International Baccalaureate

What are your ‘5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became DG of International Baccalaureate’?

1) The cliché is true. It’s a lonely job even when you have supportive colleagues. But it makes you think hard about the values you want to uphold as you lead.

2) Anything that happens in the organization under your tenure will be associated with you as an individual. So you need a robust sense of perspective to see where you, as an individual, make a personal difference and focus on making positive change

3) Be courageous. Trust yourself and your advisors and do the right thing even if it does not make you popular.

4) Take time to recognize and enjoy the big and small moments with the community that come as part of such a cherished global organization.

5) Pay attention to each word in this sentence: You are accountable for running a multi-national), not-for-profit educational services organization (with offices in 5 countries and schools in over 150) with a passionate multi-cultural worldwide community of educators and staff, each one of whom is proud to be part of the IB.

What do you think makes your organization stand out? Can you share a story?

The IB is the only educational organization built with a vision that education is about developing a well-rounded human being who values people and peace. The IB was born with a vision of unparalleled standards and a “core” that prepares the student for deep thinking, and an ability to demonstrate connections to real world issues. We are an end-to-end organization which provides everything a school will require to offer an unparalleled education to students. We develop our educational philosophy based on the value of the learner and the teacher, develop global educational standards by surveying the best we find in the world and award a Diploma in schools from over 150 countries which is accepted in universities throughout the world. Universities welcome IB alumni because they know that IB alumni will contribute fully at the university level and embrace their future as part of the next wave of humanity prepared to take on the world’s problems locally and globally.

Our problem is that there are too many stories to pick just one. One recent story inspired me: Darlene Diaz, a seventeen year old IB student from Chicago. Her parents were Mexican immigrants who didn’t finish high school themselves. She has received offers from ten colleges and has been offered over a million dollars’ worth of scholarships. And another headline sticks out for me as an exemplar of our modesty. The Johns Hopkins Institute for Educational Policy commented that the IB is “an Education Success Story That Didn’t Travel,” saying the IB phenomenon should be more well known. We make a difference in schools around the world agnostic of the parental income. It’s an amazingly rich and textured set of stories to see the IB work in all sorts of settings all around this world from the United States to Japan, Argentina to Norway, Armenia to South Africa, Jordan to China and India to Switzerland. We feature a lot of these stories on our community blog, but we’d need a book to do our story justice as we deal with ‘Generation IB.’

Images courtesy of the International Baccalaureate

This is clearly not an easy job. What drives you?

I agree — it is not an easy job. However, there is no other educational organization like the IB with our philosophy and proven results earned, every day, for the last 50 years. It’s more of a movement than an educational services organization. I am therefore driven by the awesome responsibility that I feel to all the schools who choose the IB over so many easier choices. It’s a demanding standard and schools work hard to become a part of this passionate community. They add much needed energy to the mix. That the IB is now adopted in some of the world’s most resource-rich schools and some of the most resource-poor schools is energizing. The IB doesn’t simply spout meaningless educational rhetoric — it’s a standard that was created for teachers by teachers, and therefore there is a certain genuineness and hard-core reality to what we develop that has a soft landing in schools. That universities around the world accept our Diploma and our Diploma students is a testament to the value and rigour of our innovative assessments.

All this heady mix drives me. I know it’s going to be hard work to ensure that the IB will continue to serve as an exemplar of education that inspires students and teachers for the next 50 years–it fills my waking and sleeping thoughts each and every day — but I also know that I am sharing this belief with many wonderful colleagues both in the IB and educators in our schools — all of whom are equally passionate about the IB.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspiring.



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Yitzi Weiner

Yitzi Weiner

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator