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The International Baccalaureate (IB)

What is the IB programme?

Launched in 1968 in Switzerland, the International Baccalaureate is now taught all over the world, in over 4.000 schools and 145 countries. The standardized global curriculum is committed to cross-cultural, holistic and creative education, which will produce socially-focused young people, who are culturally understanding and connected to society in a spirit of empathy, technological awareness and embrace a global perspective. The IB covers four stages, offering primary, middle, diploma and career-related programmes.

The IB learner profile

This provides a foundation for learning and describes the characteristics the IB aims to develop in its students, who  will be:

  • Caring
  • Balanced
  • Open-minded
  • Knowledgeable
  • Communicative
  • Ready to take risks
  • Principled
  • Reflective
  • Thinkers
  • Enquirers.

In order to promote these traits, six global contexts are applied to every subject, so students do not learn in a bubble or rely on memorizing facts, but connect what they learn with the realities of the outside world. The contexts are:

  • Identities and relationships
  • Personal and cultural identity
  • Orientation in time and space (the interaction between people and civilizations)
  • Scientific innovation (the world and society)
  • Fairness and development
  • Globalization and sustainability.

Independent research, interdisciplinary learning, organisation, reflection, time-management and community service are all essential to the programme.

The Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes:

The Primary Years Programme runs from the age of 3-12 and was first introduced in 1996.It prepares pupils for the Middle Years Programme, although it is not required for entry to the latter. All pupils will learn a second language, and take social studies, maths, science, technology, arts and personal, social and physical education.

Pupils will address six themes:

  • Who we are
  • Where we are in place and time
  • How we communicate
  • How the world functions
  • How we organise ourselves
  • How we share the planet

The programme looks at real-world problems and how to tackle them, and while subjects are the focal point of the learning, students are also encouraged to develop their curiosity and explore a range of concepts appropriate to their age group.

The Middle Years Programme, adopted in 1994, is essentially a continuation of the primary stage, and takes in children aged 11-16. In the last year of the programme, it is possible to opt for MYP e Assessment, and achieve IB-validated grades based on examinations and course work,  in order to gain the IB MYP Certificate.

There are eight subject groups, each of which takes up to 50 teaching hours to complete, and in the final two years there is a high degree of flexibility in terms of subject choices. The core subjects consist of:

  • Language acquisition
  • Language and literature
  • Individuals and society
  • Sciences
  • Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Design
  • Physical and health education.

Independent learning is encouraged, and the IB focus on ensuring learning is connected to the external world, and not merely the classroom, is further developed. The programme encourages students to become critical, creative and inventive thinkers and acts as preparation for the third stage of the IB education journey – the IB Diploma, which is accepted by universities all around the globe and demands high levels of engagement, work and stamina!

The IB Diploma

This is a very broad programme, where students choose three subjects at standard level, and another three at higher level, with experimental sciences, mathematics, language, literature and social sciences forming the core, and students being able to choose a sixth subject.

The assessments come thick and fast, with students having to write individual assessments for each subject, take part in graded presentations, write mini essays, do quizzes and, of course, sit examinations. The emphasis is squarely on independent projects and research, along with any experiments these may involve, and planning and carrying out work based on critical thinking and creativity.

All IB Diploma students also take part in a group scientific project, which examines a specific scientific phenomenon.

In addition, students must produce an Extended Essay of 4,000 words, with citations, in which they draft a research question and then go on to answer it. 

They must also write a 1200-1600 essay based on the Theory of Knowledge. This mandatory course resembles philosophy and investigates the “truths” which have been passed on through history from today’s perspective. Students are thus taught to question accepted knowledge and to work out how to evaluate and process knowledge itself.

Finally, students on the IB Diploma programme have to spend a total of 150 hours on three projects: Community, Action, Service, commonly referred to as CAS. CAS is intended to develop social responsibility, empathy, understanding and physical activity. Students can choose how they want to meet these criteria, and must produce a reflective journal on their interactions with others, the community and what they learned and concluded from the experiences. CAS meets the general mission statement of the IB programme, by expanding participants’knowledge of the world and enabling them to become involved with real-world issues and challenges.

Assessments on the IB Diploma programme are both internal and external.

When it comes to grades and scores, it is possible to score 7 points in each subject  (totalling 42 points) and another 3 are set aside for the Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay, which means that the highest possible score in the IB Diploma course is 45. Students who score below 24 are not awarded the Diploma.

What IB scores are demanded by universities?

In general, the US is most open to IB candidates, whereas in the UK and Europe, there is a tendency to simply translate IB scores into national equivalents. Some American universities will offer students credits for their achievements at higher level, but in general the US does not accept standard level coursework as credit towards undergraduate degrees.

The following scores are commonly required by leading global universities:

The IB Career-Related Programme

This innovative, hybrid programme combines practical and academic work, and prepares students to go on to university or to start their career path. The three-part framework is both flexible and personalised. Students take 2-4 IB Diploma subjects at standard and higher level, sit for vocational qualifications and undertake a community service project which is linked to the vocation they have chosen. Applied knowledge is the focus of the programme, which also includes a core curriculum with four components, and requires students to produce a career-focussed study. The core acts as a bridge between the professional and the strictly academic, and is made up of the following subjects:

  • Personal and professional skills.
  • Service learning: a research based approach, based on service initiatives linked to topics studied in  students’ academic work, which harnesses skills, knowledge and values developed in these studies.
  • Reflective project:  a long-term assignment, in which students evaluate and reflect on an ethical issue which they have encountered or highlighted during their practical, career studies.
  • Language development: upgrading a second language to facilitate communication in more than just the student’s native tongue.

Is the IB Diploma worth doing?

Yes, but be prepared to work extremely hard, juggling revision and assignments, preparing presentations, meeting your CAS requirements and researching those all-important essays and projects. Past students all agree that the IB Diploma thoroughly prepares students for university and the transition from school to undergraduate status is very easy, once you have spent two years following the IB Diploma curriculum. They also mention the amazing networking opportunities offered by sitting the IB Diploma, and the international flavour of the classes.

The IB path is pressurised, and your workload will be heavy, however this will enable you to learn valuable life skills, to become an independent, analytical, caring and knowledgeable individual, ready to take your place in our ever-changing world.

If you would like additional information about the IB, schools which teach the PYP, MYP and Diploma, and general guidance, then do not hesitate to call or email us, here at Elab. Our consultants are ready to help you – and to share their personal experiences of the IB programme.

Get in touch…