Cathy Hitchin

Cathy Hitchin
Pamoja Principal

An experienced teacher, education influencer, resourceful manager and visionary leader.

Cathy has been working in international education for 24 years. She embarked on a career path in a renowned international school in Chile, setting the stage for a career progression that would take her on a journey of teaching and learning across five continents.

Students and the Classroom Are the Heart of It All

I have always been involved in international education. My first job was in Santiago, Chile where I was fortunate to be introduced to the IB DP and MYP. That experience soon convinced me that those were the only programmes and curricula that I wanted to teach, and that’s what I’ve done! Since then, I’ve worked in countries such as Peru, India, the UK, Togo, Oman, and China, of course.

I had two different jobs in China: one in Beijing and the other in Guangzhou. I was given the opportunity to work really closely with lots of Chinese students, which was fantastic and rewarding. Although there are commonalities in students the world over, I found that Chinese students are very hard-working, but also relatively shy, which is a common trait among students from Asian countries. As an IB teacher, you will need to help students overcome their natural hesitancy, when it comes to speaking English in front of their peers, for example. You will also need to develop an instinct for how far you can push students without making them feel uncomfortable.

As I progressed in my career from teacher to coordinator and department or school Head, and even now as the Principal of Pamoja, I always wanted to teach at least one course because it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of the classroom and the students’ reality. Schools only exist to serve students, so you have to know how satisfied they are with what the school proposes and the challenges they are experiencing at any given time.

Pamoja: The Only IB-approved DP School – And the Largest

I took on the role of Pamoja Principal in August 2021, but I first got involved in 2019 when I became a Pamoja teacher. I really enjoyed distance teaching and I was very surprised to develop a connection with my class that was as strong as in face-to-face classes.

Pamoja is the only provider of DP online courses that is approved and accredited by the IB. In China, we’ve been working with reputable international schools like the Western Academy of Beijing, the Beijing World Youth Academy, Dulwich College Suzhou, Nanjing International School, the American International School of Guangzhou, the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen, Nord Anglia International School of Shanghai, Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School among others.

Initially, Pamoja started as an extension of the IB, as a way for schools to be able to offer more IB DP subjects to small numbers of students. Currently, we have about 3,500 students enrolled, which makes us the largest IB DP school anywhere, I suppose. We continuously work with the IB to develop ideas for new courses. To give you an example, one of our current projects is self-taught languages, which will be something of immediate interest to international schools whose students need help to develop their language skills in their mother tongue, their Language A.

Expanding the Range of Courses Schools Can Offer

Pamoja works with over 700 schools ranging from long-established international schools to schools that are newly authorised by the IB, and small independent schools that prepare national students for university studies abroad. One constant is that we strive to become part of what each school does on an everyday basis, and be a true partner. The reasons schools choose Pamoja are varied.

Chief among them is making more subjects available via online learning. Pamoja is a viable alternative to schools investing in new courses themselves. A frequent scenario is that of a student who wishes to study psychology or philosophy at university, but their school does not offer these subjects at DP level. Then it may be harder for that student to get accepted into university. In such cases, enrolling in a Pamoja Online Course ensures students can study the subjects they need for their future. Another frequent situation is students who transfer from another IB school, but their new school does not offer all the subjects they were studying previously. Then Pamoja can take over, making it possible for students to continue with their courses.

Another important motivation for schools to partner with Pamoja is the IB five-year evaluation process. As part of their reauthorisation, the IB will evaluate how a school is developing, including in terms of the subjects they offer. We provide a convenient way for schools to add a whole range of new subjects where it may otherwise be prohibitive for them to do so.

In addition, Pamoja can source teachers for schools who might be having difficulties recruiting. This became a burning issue during the COVID pandemic, for instance. Beyond emergency measures, schools know that they can rely on us. There are schools who outsource entire subject groups to us, for example Group 3 courses, the humanities subjects. We also often take on whole school groups for Theory of Knowledge classes and the Extended Essay process. When that happens, we become really embedded in a school’s curriculum, contributing both breadth and teaching expertise.

In recent years, Pamoja has started to build deeper connections with schools that enroll a lot of students in a given subject. We provide them with a dedicated teacher who will work with them year on year, so that teacher has a very close relationship with the school, just as if they were a member of their faculty.

Ensuring the Highest Standard in Online Learning

There are obvious differences between a Pamoja Online Course and the traditional class. For example, our students can study at their own pace with online materials. Secondly, Pamoja teachers are facilitators, so they don’t teach the material in the way they would in a face-to-face classroom.

But in the sense of delivering an IB Diploma course, it’s really similar to the traditional class. There is a dedicated teacher who answers students’ questions and marks their work during the whole two years. We take attendance through our engagement ratings, and we use advanced communication tools to help teachers and students feel like they’re in a classroom environment.

We do everything in our power to ensure a high standard for online teaching and learning. Firstly, Pamoja courses have to be approved by the IB before we can teach them. Pamoja teachers do not write the course materials themselves; they are facilitators whose focus is the students’ experience and learning. Secondly, the success that generations of Pamoja students have had in terms of achieving high grades is a story that inspires confidence. Year on year, Pamoja students achieve grades that are higher than the IB World average. Given that Pamoja is a non-selective school and that our students do not sit entrance exams, we are immensely proud of their accomplishments. Likewise, our grade predictions fall within 0.04 points of the final grades issued by the IB, which is indicative of how closely we know and monitor our students. Finally, we follow a rigorous process for teacher recruitment, training and annual reviews. Pamoja teachers form an impressive team: each one is fully committed to the IB; many also teach in an IB school, are examiners, workshop leaders or do consultancy for the IB.

Even though we are an online course provider, we do not lose sight of students as people. Schools that run Pamoja courses must appoint a site-based coordinator who collaborates closely with us, oversees the students’ whole journey, provides pastoral care for them, and can alert us to any personal circumstance that might affect a student’s ability to keep on with their Pamoja Online Course(s). Site-based coordinators don’t have to be a subject teacher; their core responsibility is to look out for the students in the school. We keep in constant two-way communication with them.

Our Courses Equip Students with Future-Ready Skills

There are a lot of transferable skills that students can pick up from doing an IB course in general. When they do it online, those skills are developed often in a lot more depth than they would be in a face-to-face classroom.

To give an example, our students work in global classrooms with classmates from four or five other countries. They have to learn how to collaborate in an online environment with students from different cultures and backgrounds.

Also, taking Pamoja Online Courses helps students to get better at time management. We prepare a week’s learning materials that they can study at their own pace and any time they want during that week. Having this flexibility teaches them how to manage time wisely. This is a very useful and important skill for university life where there is no routine to follow and you must be self-directed. So what we do is lay the groundwork for their future.

Students also need to master digital skills as our courses are delivered entirely online. ManageBac is the most essential tool for both teachers and students.

ManageBac with Pamoja: The All-in-One Teaching and Learning Platform

ManageBac and Pamoja are both part of Faria Education Group and we are closely integrated.
ManageBac is also the facility schools use to register their students for Pamoja online Courses. All our online courses are stored in, and can be accessed from, ManageBac, including all aspects of course and curriculum management by teachers. The feedback cycle that happens between student and teacher takes place inside ManageBac as well. Teachers find the annotation tools which enable them to comment on students’ posted assignments especially useful.

Zoom being integrated within ManageBac for online lessons, that’s the facility we use for online group sessions, one-to-one sessions, language orals, and so on. We create a calendar event on ManageBac for teachers and students to meet. Since we do everything online, efficient communication is very important to us. In ManageBac, for example, a teacher can set up a discussion, and students get to participate, give their opinions, comment on other students’ ideas, etc. One-to-one communication is also possible through KeyChat in ManageBac.

ManageBac is also simple and practical for students to use. They can go through the lesson contents for the week, watch recordings of previous sessions or a class discussion, and upload their assignments.

Registering for Pamoja Courses is Easy as Pie

Within a school’s ManageBac account, students can see which subjects are offered as Pamoja Online Courses. Often schools will organise an option choice day at the end of grade 10 or 11. At that time students will be told what subjects are taught by the school and what additional subjects can be taken as Pamoja Online Courses. If they opt for one or more of those, the site-based coordinator can sign them up directly from the school’s ManageBac account.

If a school has not used ManageBac yet, they will be given a ManageBac account so that their students are able to access the Pamoja courses.