What is the International Baccalaureate?
The International Baccalaureate is an internationally recognised programme of study. Because it is internationally recognised, it is often adopted as the main curriculum in international schools.
International Baccalaureate programmes begin at age 3, with the Primary Years Programme. This goes up to age 12, when students can begin the Middle Years Programme, before moving onto the Diploma Programme for students aged 16 to 19. The Diploma is recognised at universities around the world.
In order to teach International Baccalaureate, schools must be authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in Switzerland, which was founded in 1968.
Benefits of the International Baccalaureate
When families move regularly from country to country, it can be beneficial for children to attend schools which follow the same programme, wherever in the world they are. Whilst some international schools will follow the curriculum of a particular country, they may not follow the same syllabus or structure, which can be disorienting and disrupting to a child’s education. The upheaval of moving between schools and countries can be mitigated by attending schools which all follow the same programme of education.
The International Baccalaureate is internationally recognised as a high standard of education, with many students on the Diploma Programme going on to top universities. It has also been shown that children on the Primary and Middle Years Programmes can often outperform their peers not only in other international school settings but across the board.
Children studying the International Baccalaureate programmes often become more culturally aware, and will study a second language. This is a more global education which appeals to many who see themselves as citizens of the world rather than of any one particular country.
How is International Baccalaurate different from other curricula?
Programmes like GCSEs have often been criticised as testing a student’s ability to memorise and regurgitate facts. A Headmaster of Eton once remarked that he felt GCSEs were like "Boy Scouts collecting badges.” The International Baccalaurate focuses more on teaching students how to learn, allowing and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own education. This helps to develop an inquiring mind and critical thinking which can often be seen as lacking in other curricula which are focused around the learning of key facts.
How does International Baccalaureate compare with other qualifications?
It can be difficult to compare the International Baccalaurate with other qualifications because of the way the different curricula are taught.
One key difference though is that the syllabus is universal across every school. This is a major point considering that there are many different examining boards for GCSEs and A Levels.
Many British international schools abroad begin their academic year in February, whereas here in the UK the school year begins in September. In many countries in the Southern Hemisphere the academic year aligns more closely with the calendar year. This means that children moving with parents from country to country may find that they are ahead or behind their peers in a new school, even if it teaches the same syllabus. International Baccalaureate schools are designed to allow seamless slotting in, whenever a student arrives.
This sort of detail is important when it comes to GCSEs and A Levels. For example, the GCSE syllabus begins at the beginning of Year 10, and many top schools will not admit a new student to their GCSE programme after the first half term in October of that year because they fear that too much learning will have been missed. The student’s only option at this point would be to repeat a year of education in order to take GCSEs - or to opt for the International Baccalaureate programme.
Other points to consider
The International Baccalaureate Programmes are not only used by students who travel internationally. Many schools across the UK and other countries have now adopted the International Baccalaureate Programmes, especially the Diploma Programme, and favour it over the traditional GCSE route.
The International Baccalaureate should not be seen as an easy option though; it is a very academic programme which is held in high regard by universities around the world.