The International Baccalaureate® (IB) paves the way to excellence
Admission standards to elite universities are rigorous and demanding, and often put an emphasis not only on academic achievement but also on extracurricular activities and life experience.
While there are a slew of valid paths to choose from on the journey through academia, in this globalized world, one programme stands out that prepares students to thrive in the very multi-cultural world that is Switzerland, and beyond: the International Baccalaureate® (IB).
The IB traces back to the first half of the 20th century when an international curriculum was mooted in response to a growing need for nations to collaborate. Following the founding of the League of Nations in 1920, and the subsequent United Nations in 1945, education professionals began pondering a diploma that would not only give students a quality education recognised by the best universities, but would also equip them with the interactive skills necessary for bridging and uniting cultures at a time when authorities were looking for ways to propagate peace. The programme was launched in the 1960s by the International School of Geneva with offerings of pre-university courses culminating in external examinations for students worldwide, and was aimed at private international schools cropping up to provide education to the children of parents moving around the world in the UN and its agencies, embassies and multinational companies.
Originally founded as the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in 1968 in Geneva, IB is a non-profit educational foundation headquartered in the world’s smallest metropolis. Former IB Deputy Director General, Dr Ian Hill, says that the IB exists to create a better world through education. “I think it is the most effective way to cultivate a civilized world,” says Hill. “Education is a way to foster a harmonious co-existence.”
Tangibly, this translates into the IB’s close collaboration with governments and organisations to produce challenging, internationally minded courses and exams that underpin a sustainable education that is at the same time compassionate and active. The IB wants their graduates to understand that people are unique and have differing opinions; and that those opinions can be right. This is especially important as globalization makes the world a smaller, more accessible place; and as cultures overlap with greater frequency.
“What students need today is not just knowledge,” says Hill. “People need to know how to assimilate knowledge rather than just accumulate facts. We need to be prepared to take risks and question ourselves. Students need to be able to see connections between subjects and to understand the interdependence of nations in solving global issues and making the world a better place.”
The full IB Programme encompasses four distinct age groups: the Primary Years (3-12), Middle Years 11-16), Diploma (16-19) and Career-related Certificate branches.
Within the Diploma Programme is what IB calls its core programme. This includes an Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and the CAS Programme (Creativity, Action, Service).
With a 4,000 word Extended Essay, students engage in the independent research of a question that relates to one of the DP subjects they are currently studying. They receive mentoring, and many of their papers go on to be published or patented. “Writing so many essays during the IB really prepared me for my first year of university. I was surprised to find how easy it was when I got there,” said one student with IB preparation.
Through Theory of Knowledge, students learn how to think critically, to explore their understanding of knowledge and to challenge their own assumptions about the world and the people in it. In this subject, disagreement is seen as a means of raising greater awareness.
Finally, CAS offers students a bespoke programme through which to grow as reflective thinkers and team players, to embrace a balanced lifestyle, to role-play and to participate in collaborative projects with others who may not be as privileged as they are. Students are encouraged to consider how other people live, and the challenges they face.
One IB school in Africa applied the method by inviting their students to play football in the dark against a team of blind students. Where seeing students were at an advantage during the day, they found themselves disadvantaged at night. “This type of experience is encouraged,” says Hill, “because understanding another person’s perspective is a valuable asset. It creates empathy and makes the person feel valued and equal to others who do not have a disability.”
The bilingual IB Diploma Programme culminates in six exams that are taken in the student’s best language. They encompass the main language, one additional language, the social sciences, experimental sciences and mathematics (subject groups 1-5). A sixth optional subject is selected from either the arts (group 6) or an additional subject from group 1-5.
Final assessment is criterion-related, and evaluates students based on pre-specified criteria rather than on norm-referenced assessment, which pits students against one another with regard to performance. The programme is strong – growing internationally from 1,244 programmes in 2005 to include 2,247 in 2014 – and is currently offered to over one million students in 146 countries. The IB standard has remained constant since its inception although the programmes are updated regularly; universities can depend on the stability of student scores over time and across locations since its examination process is highly centralised.
IB carries a prestigious reputation with universities, which value the academic and extracurricular excellence for which the Diploma Programme is known, and is recognized at both Ivy League and Golden Triangle post-secondary education institutions.
The IB prepares students for higher education, professional employment, and life-long learning. As a comprehensive diploma that shapes individuals to be conscientious leaders, decision-makers and people who want to make a difference in this world, the programme is excellence guaranteed.
Article by Karee Magee