There are few men as loved in UWCMC as Cyrus Vakil. Generations of students have learned from his infinite wisdom, and had his name put on all variations of t-shirts imaginable. He even has a Facebook fan-group dedicated to his name, and this is with due right.
Since 1998 Cyrus Vakil has been an integral part of the academic side of the school, as Head of Academics and Director of Studies.
A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Cyrus and talk to him about impact, our theme of the month. As with many conversations I have had with him, I ended up mostly listening for the largest part to his interesting history and ideas, which I will recount here.
UWCMC is a restless place. There is a shimmer of excitement in the air that always drives us towards the future and the better – especially in the sphere of academics. Throughout Cyrus’ time here, he has worked with an ever-changing group of people wishing to move education towards a more problem-solving ideal. This has been a long journey, starting in the very beginning of the millennia with the World Studies programme.
Those of you acquainted with the Extended Essay in the IB may know what `World Studies´ means today, but it actually started out as a different subject altogether. “TOK was too abstract, ” Cyrus says. It did not have roots in the real world. As a proposal to the IB, Cyrus created the World Studies course as an extra part of the IB curriculum; a part which would challenge students to understand and engage with actual real world problems, and to learn how to solve them. With a sigh in his voice, Cyrus tells me the IB was not very open to interdisciplinary programs then and did not accept World Studies as a course. Humbly, I am told that the idea was later introduced as the World Studies option in the Extended Essay in collaboration with Harvard University. Cyrus’ endeavor to change the curriculum had been fruitful.
This success, however, did not quench the thirst for innovative education that I can still see in Cyrus’ eyes. After some years of successfully teaching the Global Perspectives course; a Cambridge course looking at understanding problems through different perspectives such as media amongst others, Cyrus, along with a group of dedicated educators, started thinking about the Project Based Diploma (PBD). “We are looking to solve problems in a way that connects both global and local contexts.” A change maker is essentially a problem solver, according to Cyrus. If you cannot solve the problems you see, then what do you change? I nod in agreement, trying not to be too intimidated by the truth of this statement. With his characteristic and engaging arm movements, Cyrus explains how global and local understanding is integral to problem-solving, which is why students taking the PBD must learn about the global world, while attempting to carry out a full project addressing a need in the local context. Although now is only the very beginning of this adventure, Cyrus has great hopes that one day, the PBD will live in its own right in UWCMC as a full-fledged alternative to the IB. Another flower is now added to the bouquet of the school’s strive towards innovative service-learning with a lasting impact in the world, local and global.
Indeed, restlessness in UWCMC is not the idle biting on the end of a pencil or the impatient tapping of a foot under a table. Restlessness is our driving force and academic identity. With Cyrus Vakil as one of the innovative heads in the ever-moving development towards a better education, I personally cannot wait to see which direction we will go in next.
– Laerke Hass (Class of ’16)