The International Baccalaureate, also known as IB, is an academic program that has been gaining steam in the United States, as well as globally. What originally began as a curriculum to prepare high school juniors and seniors for postsecondary education has now evolved into a complete curriculum that spans pre-K – grade 12. The focus of the program, as the name suggests, is a global one, providing students with a broader view of their world that goes well beyond the immediate boundaries of their school, state – or even their country.
History of the International Baccalaureate Program
International Baccalaureate began as a non-profit educational foundation in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. According to the website for the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), the foundation was originally created to provide students with a truly international education, through a common set of pre-college curriculum and examinations. The first IB programs were primarily found in private schools overseas, but eventually grew to encompass public schools as well.
Since its introduction, the IB program has spread to more than 140 countries and 900,000 students worldwide. The first International Baccalaureate program came to the United States in 1974. Today, many U.S. schools offer IB curriculum to students, as educators are beginning to see IB as a way to raise the bar on education standards for students preparing for life after high school. Ralph Cline, IB North American Regional Director, told Education.com, “We double our size every five years.”
If there is one word that can sum up the IB program, it might be “global.” This curriculum strives to get students to think broadly and move into a global community. The IBO website says that the heart of the program is to “create a better world through education.” The IB program embraces 21st century life, by teaching students to understand and respect other cultures from around the globe. The mission statement for IBO states:
The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
To this end, the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programs of international education and rigorous assessment.
These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners, who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.
As the IB program continues to gain a foothold in high schools across the globe, more colleges and universities are beginning to look at IB as a high-quality means of preparing students for the rigors of higher education.
The IB Curriculum
According to College Data, the IB curriculum includes six primary areas of study:
- Language and Literature
- Language Acquisition
- Individuals and Societies
- Experimental Sciences
- Mathematics and Computer Science
- The Arts
These areas translate into the following courses: English, foreign language, history, science, mathematics and computer science, and an IB elective in the Arts. In order to meet graduation requirements, students must take courses in all six disciplines, mostly in honors courses by the time they reach the high school level.
In addition to the six core courses, IB students are also expected to complete the following three requirements during high school:
- The Extended Essay – Involves an in-depth study of one of the six subject areas. According to the website for Prince George’s County Public Schools, this essay must be 4,000 words and encompasses independent research that is externally assessed.
- Theory of Knowledge – Because IB delves into how students acquire knowledge, this component explores the concepts of knowledge within the six main areas of study. For example, students might apply science or the arts to a specific event in history that they are studying.
- Creativity, Action, Service – This component involves a minimum of 150 service hours over a period of two years within the local community. Service might involve a variety of activities that give students real-life experience outside the classroom environment.
Because the IB program has also moved into primary and middle school classrooms, the curriculum has also shifted to accommodate younger students preparing for the more rigorous high school requirements that lie ahead. Education.com explains that the focus of the curriculum at these grades is to teach children how to learn through inquiry-based lesson plans. Courses at this age also revolve around an international awareness that stems from searching for solutions to global problems and learning about other cultures.
Assessment of an IB Student
The assessment of an IB student is very different from the traditional grading scale most adults in the U.S. know. All of the IB subjects are graded on a scale of 1-7, with an addition three points possible for the extended essay and theory of knowledge components. Assessments are made through both internal and external sources, and they are typically conducted through examinations throughout the program and at the end. In some cases, exams are graded by teachers first and then sent to external IB examiners for moderation. In other cases, examinations are sent directly to external moderators for scoring.
Students who earn 24 points out the total 45 possible by the end of the program may be eligible for an IB diploma. In addition to the point rating, students must also demonstrate a consistent quality of work throughout the program, as well as successful completion of at least one class in every core subject. In addition, students must show satisfactory completion of the creativity, action, service component of the program. Those that participate in the program but do not earn the required 24 points may still be eligible for certification in the core subjects they successfully completed.
Students who complete three of the IB program areas at the “higher level” may be eligible for college credit. The determination of credit is made by individual colleges; each has its own policy regarding IB students. However, as the program is becoming more recognized worldwide, more colleges are developing policies that allow successful IB diploma recipients to skip over some of the basic college courses, saving them time and money when it comes time to pursue their degrees.
Benefits of International Baccalaureate
While the International Baccalaureate is an intense and rigorous program that often challenges students to their academic limits, the benefits of program participation can be great. The website for Santa Rosa City Schools cites some of the benefits of IB as:
- Rigorous academic preparation in core subjects for serious students who want to be challenged
- Higher acceptance rates by prestigious colleges and universities across the globe
- College credit and advanced placement into some college classes
- The knowledge to solve large problems with a global point of view
- The accumulation of lifetime learning skills that will take students into all aspects of life
In addition, students that graduate from the IB program may be eligible for scholarships and grants that they wouldn’t qualify for otherwise. Students who have graduated from the program also report that they thought the IB program better prepared them for college coursework, making the transition to higher education a bit easier to manage.
Profile of an IB Learner
According to the website for Hunters Lane Comprehensive High School, IB learners strive to be:
- Inquirers – IB learners cultivate their natural curiosity by developing skills that allow them to conduct research and delve into complex subjects.
- Knowledgeable – IB students explore concepts and issues that have global significance, in order to understand them through a broad range of disciplines.
- Thinkers – IB learners take the reins in exploring complex subjects and make reasoned, ethical decisions.
- Communicators – IB students learn how to take information and ideas and express them clearly and creatively through a variety of communication modes.
- Principled – IB participants act with integrity and honesty, and they possess a strong sense of justice.
- Open-Minded – IB learners understand their own culture and are comfortable exploring other points of view, cultures and traditions of others.
- Caring – IB students show empathy and compassion to others, and they personally commit to acts of service that make the world a better place for other people.
- Risk-Takers – IB learners are not afraid to approach unfamiliar situations or subjects, and they are prepared to confidently support their own opinions and beliefs.
- Balanced – IB participants understand the importance of balancing the physical, emotional and intellectual components of their lives.
- Reflective – IB learners know how to reflect on their own learning and experience, to support future learning and development.
These profile traits are carefully nurtured and cultivated throughout the IB program, but students who are open to these characteristics will be more likely to see success with the process. Focus is placed on each of these traits, and instructors work with students to help them develop them.
Is International Baccalaureate Right for Your Child?
While there are many advantages to participating in the IB program, it is not right for every student. According to a report in the New York Times, some parents and students see IB as a way to become more internationally minded through a rigorous curriculum that impresses college admissions offices. Others are not comfortable with the international focus, and they prefer to participate in more traditional accelerated programs like Advanced Placement. Many high schools offer both IB and AP courses so students can select the academic path that works the best for them.
“AP is great for content-based, traditional learning,” Chris Mosca, principal at Greeley High School in Cumberland, Maine, told the New York Times. “It’s great for kids who like to memorize. But for more creative kids, who want to make those connections, there’s nothing like the IB.”
The international focus is a concern for some parents, particularly in light of the fact that IB is associated with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
“When there is a program at school with a specific agenda, which in this case is the United Nations agenda, I have a problem with it,” Ann Marie Banfield, who unsuccessfully opposed an IB program in her hometown of Bedford, New Hampshire, told the New York Times.
Mosca understands the concerns, but explains that you have to consider the source of the program to see the context of the international focus.
“No question, the people who founded the IB were sitting in Geneva, post-World War II, thinking about how to ensure world peace, so the clear philosophical bent is that by integrating learning and understanding issues from multiple perspectives, we can promote global thinking,” Mosca explained. “But what sold me on the program was that it’s good pedagogy, that it really shows kids how things go together.”
Graduates of the program told the New York Times that they felt more prepared for college coursework after making it through the IB program. Michael Tahan, a graduate of the program at Kennebunk High School, told the New York Times, “IB taught us how to think through a position, and support it. And while I understand why some parents might worry that the program is internation-based, I think it’s good for America for students to learn how other nations think.”
Finding an IB School
If IB sounds like the perfect program for your child, the next step is to determine whether a school in your area is qualified to offer International Baccalaureate to students. In order to become authorized to offer IB, a school must apply to the International Baccalaureate Organization to become a member of the IB community. The application process is a rigorous and time-consuming one, and ongoing training and evaluations are required after the application is approved. Most schools that have been through that process proudly advertise their IB offerings, so it is relatively easy to determine whether a school is truly IB qualified.
The International Baccalaureate is bringing a whole new face to the world of education today. The coursework is rigorous and challenging, and not all students have the discipline or stamina to see the program all the way through. However, for those who earn their IB diploma, they find the program prepares them well for whatever might come after high school.
“It’s like a little club of scholars,” Maggie Bower, an IB student at Greeley High School told the New York Times. “It seems more real than how we used to learn, and it’s changed how we look at the world.”