In an increasingly globalised world, where national boundaries are becoming less and less relevant, an international education appears an ever more enticing prospect. And for its devotees, there is no qualification more appropriate to the modern age than the International Baccalaureate.
“It is an international approach to a globalised world,” says Katy Ricks, head of Sevenoaks School in Kent. “I think that is absolutely vital for the future.” Sevenoaks has offered the IB diploma for more than 30 years, at first alongside A-levels before focusing just on the IB from 2006.
And the breadth of its outlook is a key part of its appeal. “Students learn to look at things not just from a British perspective. The IB has an international element built into the curriculum,” says Dr Ricks. “They are thinking about other languages and other countries’ histories. They’re thinking about literature in translation and studying economics and geography from other vantage points. It fosters a genuine global understanding.”
While A-level students typically take three or four subjects and are free to focus on either the humanities or the sciences, the IB diploma requires a mix of disciplines. Students must take at least one science, maths, a language, their native literature and a humanities subject, in addition to the IB’s core elements (see below). This aims to ensure students do not become too narrowly focused, says Dr Ricks.
“It is a balanced curriculum and all areas of the brain are engaged,” she says. The IB also involves a different style of teaching to A-levels, she adds, focusing on more open-ended inquiry to promote independent thinking.
Universities in the UK are much more familiar with the IB than was the case 20 years ago, says Peter Fidczuk, UK development manager for the International Baccalaureate Organisation. And there is also a recognition among admissions tutors that the IB is a good preparation for university, he adds.
As a result, some, such as King’s College London and Leeds, have lowered their entry requirements for IB students. This is not just true of UK universities. The IB is recognised in many European countries, while for students looking to go further afield it also stands them in good stead. Employers are looking for the skills the IB develops, he adds, such as time management, using initiative and independent working. IB students study maths and English to a high level, so are both numerate and literate, and their experience in giving presentations helps make them articulate, he says.
How it works
The IB diploma consists of a core and six subject groups, designed to give students a balanced education combining arts, sciences and extra-curricular activities. The core is made up of three elements. Theory of knowledge (TOK) looks at how we know what we know and aims to underpin study of the different subjects, as well as providing a unifying thread between them.
Students must also complete an extended essay, which is a 4,000 word paper on a subject of their choice, while the third core element is creativity, action, service (CAS), usually made up of artistic, sporting and voluntary projects. They then take six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level.
These must include literature, a foreign language, maths, a science and a humanities subject. For the sixth choice, they can either take an additional subject from one of these categories or one from a list of arts courses.
Each subject is graded 1-7, while a further three points are available for the CAS element, making a maximum of 45 points.
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