Buenos Aires Times

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The International Baccalaureate: a programme for the internationally minded

Of the many secondary school diplomas that exist around the world, the International Baccalaureate (IB) is, without a doubt, the only one specifically designed for the internationally minded family. It is a progressive, diverse and challenging curriculum that promotes universal values, multiculturalism and 21st century skills.

Thursday 4 January, 2018
The International Baccalaureate is a programme conceived for the internationally minded, writes Eddie Levisman.
The International Baccalaureate is a programme conceived for the internationally minded, writes Eddie Levisman. Foto:IBO.ORG

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Here’s a nice fact that shows just how outward-facing education in our nation’s capital is: of the almost 5,000 schools that teach the International Baccalaureate programme around the world, Buenos Aires is the city with the highest number of IB Schools per capita. 

Across all of Argentina, there are 59 IB schools – of which 12 are public – and that makes the country a major consumer of the IB programme and its teachings. That’s enough to place Argentina and its institutions 13th on the global level. 

In Argentina, some schools teach the programme in Spanish while others use English as the language of instruction. Either way, all students must graduate from the programme as bilingual. And in some cases, graduating students are even trilingual.

So how did we get here? And what is the IB? The story begins back in the 1960s, when a group of European educators conceived of the IB as a solution to educate the children of highly mobile families – diplomats, multi-national executives, directors of NGOs and the like. 

From its inception the programme relied on a set of very strong and persuasive educational arguments: internationalism, diversity, experience outside the classroom and academic rigour, as well as a general core of education, complemented by the possibility to focus and specialise on a student’s own strengths and interests. It was, to say the least, quite unique for its time and it is therefore unsurprising how quickly the programme caught on around the globe, including in the United States, where a national programme – Advanced Placement (AP) – has the home court advantage.

Over time, the non-profit educational foundation behind the International Baccalaureate added curricula for younger children, beginning from pre-school and up (today, known as the Primary Years Programme and the Middle Years Programme), but the jewel in its crown remains the Diploma Program: a two-year school-leaving certificate that prepares students for the transition to university studies.

The programme has gained such notoriety over the years that practically all countries and educational systems in the world readily recognise it and most highly value its students. In many countries, including Argentina, universities have implemented incentive schemes to attract IB students to enrol in their institutions. These may include special admissions criteria, exemption from entrance examinations, scholarships and other facilities.

Today, research shows that IB Diploma Program graduates are much more likely to be enrolled at top higher education institutions than entrants holding other qualifications. In other words, the programme has become an asset to have at the time of university application.

Why choose the International Baccalaureate?

It is important to highlight a few of the well-known strengths of the IB programme. First and foremost, the curriculum is rigorous, demanding and regularly reviewed and updated by teams of specialists around the globe. It is designed to facilitate and promote critical thinking, to encourage research and an open mind. Students learn how to analyse and evaluate issues, generate ideas and consider new perspectives. The IB scheme encourages young people to challenge assumptions, to debate them and to constantly exchange points of view. It demands that students always consider both the local and global context and that they develop respect, tolerance and a spirit of collaboration, rather than competition.

The overall structure of the Diploma Program is such that it requires students to engage in a variety of courses across the academic spectrum, in order to develop a solid general education background. However, at the same time, the requirements demand that students reflect on their strengths and interests and focus on those in special ways and at more demanding academic levels. For example, a student interested in engineering will most likely be advised to take mathematics and physics at more rigorous levels than other courses, but he or she will still be required to study humanities and social science. This combination of breadth and depth is one of the hallmarks of the IB programme.

The programme was originally conceived with the notion that students should be independent learners and acquire skills such as time management, group work, problem-solving, critical thinking, research and in-depth inquiry. There is an enormous focus on writing ability, as well as the capacity to make oral presentations and speak in public.

In recent years, and following large amounts of research, the IB’s foundation has developed what they call “The IB Learners Profile.” It basically refers to what the programme aims for and what is considered to be the ideal student product in the 21st century. All IB schools must include these traits in their mission statements and goals they seek to for their students. The profile states that IB graduates are: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. This comprehensive and ambitious list is a perfect representation of the holistic and well-balanced view the programme holds, not only in terms of education but of people in general.

The most unique aspects, the great attractions of the IB Diploma Program, are three elements that stand out above and beyond traditional curricula.

First, the idea that subjects should not be taught in total isolation and that all things are connected led to the addition of a course called the “Theory of Knowledge,” which encourages students to make connections between subjects. Second is the requirement that all students produce a sort of thesis paper (Extended Essay) at the end of the programme – students choose the topic and are guided by a teacher. This is the culmination of their secondary education experience. Third, the fact that the IB involves experiences outside the classroom, with a strong community component. Students must engage in community service, they must engage in physical activities and they must demonstrate creativity. 

Universities around the world are eager to recruit IB Diploma Program students. Years of experience has demonstrated to those who run such institutions that these students are solid pupils who will succeed in their studies. More specifically, these graduates will have already developed strong self-motivation, a keen interest in civic engagement, notable academic performance, superb research and innovation skills, inherent critical thinking and a strong global, open-minded outlook. 

These are the qualities all educational institutions are competing for when looking for students.

For more on the International Baccalaureate, visit www.ibo.org.

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