The International Baccalaureate Program was established in 1968 in Geneva Switzerland as university preparation program for internationally mobile students (diplomat’s families, for example). The program has developed today to include programs for ages 3 – 19. The four programs today are the Primary Years Programme (ages 3-12), the Middle Years Programme (ages 11-16), the Diploma Programme (ages 16-19) and the newest program, the Career Related Certificate (ages 16-19). There has been much debate in the United States about offering this program, coupled with a lot of debate and resistance to the IB program, most of it directed towards the IB Diploma Programme, as that appears to be the biggest program incorporated into U.S. schools.
The IB Diploma Programme is defined on the IBO’s website as “an academically challenging and balanced programme of education with final examinations that prepares students, aged 16 to 19, for success at university and life beyond. It has been designed to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of students. The programme, has gained recognition and respect from the world’s leading universities.” The program is attended by students in the 11th and 12th grade in the United States. The students choose one class in each of five subject areas: literature, language acquisition (foreign language), social studies/history, science and math. Students then choose another course, either in the arts or from one of the five core areas. Subjects are studied at either a “Higher Level” or “Standard Level.” The Higher Level courses are two years in length, while the Standard Level courses are one year long. Students must take at least three Higher Level courses. Upon completion, students take assessments that are sent to examiners around the world, keeping the standard required to pass uniform throughout.
Classwork is not all that is required to obtain the IB diploma. There are three other requirements: Theory of Knowledge, Extended Essay and CAS. Theory of Knowledge is a class that “develops a coherent approach to learning that unifies the academic disciplines. In this course on critical thinking, students inquire into the nature of knowing and deepen their understanding of knowledge as a human construction.” This class uses an interdisciplinary approach on what we know and how we know it. The Extended Essay is a 4,000-word “independent research through an in-depth study of a question relating to one of the DP subjects they are studying. The world studies extended essay option allows students to focus on a topic of global significance which they examine through the lens of at least two DP subjects.” The final requirement of the IB diploma is CAS: Creativity (art), Action (physical activity or sports) and Service (community service). Students must spend at least 50 hours in each of these categories to successfully complete the CAS requirement.
To actually obtain the IB diploma, a student must successfully complete all the required components. On the assessments, students receive grades ranging from one to seven, with a pass being considered a four. Students can earn up to three additional points for their work in theory of knowledge and extended essay. A total of 45 points can be earned. The diploma is awarded to those who score 24 or better and have successfully completed the CAS requirement. According the IBO website, about 80% of the diploma candidates receive the diploma.
With such a vigorous academic program and the requirements of the CAS project, is there an advantage to the program? According to the website college confidential, a William and Mary admissions officer is quoted as saying, “In schools such as Upper St. Clair where both AP and IB are offered, we do consider the IB diploma program to be the most demanding course of studies offered to students. The full IB program, including the Theory of Knowledge course and the extended essay, does strike us as being the best overall preparation for a challenging liberal arts and sciences college curriculum offered at the secondary school level. If a student is able to supplement the IB program with AP courses, the completion of AP Calculus is always recommended and looked upon quite favorably (and we do understand just how demanding such a program would be). We think the IB program is a great way for students to prepare themselves for the college environment. The extended essay, two-year courses and research mesh well with liberal arts curricula such as those at W&M that emphasize research, in-depth learning and learning in breadth across disciplines. Many IB programs do offer students the ability to pursue arts courses (there are IB theatre, music and arts courses that can be part of a student’s IB diploma). Definitely encourage your student to talk to his/her counselor to see what options the school provides for students to pursue IB and the arts.”
Another frequent complaint against the IB Diploma Programme is that there is no time for the students to pursue other activities. From experience, that is not true. Students learn time management skills that are not taught in the classroom so that they can meet the all the requirements of the coursework and CAS demands. Participation in sports teams at school can count towards the Activity part of the CAS project. Dance classes, Band/Symphony/Chorus class can count as the creativity component of the CAS project. Participation in marching band or pep band can also earn hours towards the CAS project. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church volunteer, teacher’s aides, camp counselor can earn service hours that also count towards CAS. Activities that you are already participating in can count towards the CAS requirements. It is not about giving something up to achieve this requirement, it’s about learning how to manage your time to fit everything in.
The IB program is not right for everyone. Students must be willing to work hard and push themselves to excel in challenging coursework. They must learn time management skills. They need to learn to think globally, act as a citizen of the world and consider how their actions affect the world, not just their small corner of the world. They may receive up to 30 credits in college/university for their IB coursework. College credit alone can be a big advantage of the program. Perhaps the biggest advantage to the IB program is the feeling of accomplishment and confidence students feel when they have completed the work.