High school education is topic of concern for many parents. Choosing a program that is the right fit for your child can mean the difference between getting into university or college and struggling to finish high school. This is important because in this day and age a high school education is no longer considered an achievement, but rather regarded as a necessary stepping stone to a successful or even moderately comfortable life. As a parent, it can be a dizzying process to sort through all the different programs and find the pros and cons of each. The goal of this article is to inform you about the IB program and what it can offer your child.
What is the IB Diploma Programme?
IB stands for International Baccalaureate. This is a secondary education program, more often referred to as just IB or the IB program, with several distinctive features, the first of which is that it is an internationally recognized program. This is because the program’s curriculum is standardized and updated often. In other words, students in Canada who are enrolled in the IB program are learning the exact same material as those in Germany or anywhere else in the world. The frequent updates also mean that the information being taught includes newer scientific discoveries as well as keeping up with current events in the world. All tests are standardized by time zone area. Tests administered within the same time zone area are all the same (same questions in the same order) and given out at exactly the same time (i.e. if a student in Florida is receiving a test at 2:00PM on May 2nd, another student in British Columbia is receiving it at 11:00AM on May 2nd). Assignments such as the TOK essay and EE also have a standardized due date so that all students must submit their essays by the same date.
IB can be found all over the United States and Canada, but only at select high schools. The program is completed over the span of 2 years instead of 4 years; however, this does not mean that your child will complete a high school education in only 2 years. The most common procedure for students is to complete their first 2 years of school (i.e. Grades 9 and 10, or freshman and sophomore year) in the school’s regular stream. Some schools have also developed a preparatory stream specifically for IB that caters to the style, content, and format of the program so that students can develop a strong foundation before starting their final years of study. Students enter the IB program in their third year of study (i.e. Grade 11 or junior year) and finish after their fourth year (i.e. Grade 12 or senior year) for since the program is for students 16-19 years of age. At the end of the program, students receive an IB Diploma (International Baccalaureate Diploma) and may also receive the standard diploma for high school education in that state or province, provided that they have completed all the educational requirements for that diploma (e.g. students in Ontario would also receive the Ontario Secondary School Diploma).
In regards to the financial aspect of the program, the price will vary. Schools will charge for the program based on how much funding the school receives in general. Wealthier schools may offer the program for little or no extra money while more poorly funded schools may charge more. For more specific information about price, it is recommended that you consult the school that you wish your child to attend.
How is the Program Structured?
According to the official website, “the DP curriculum is made up six subject groups and the DP core, comprising theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay.” Students take a total of six courses, one from each subject group, at either higher level (HL) or standard level (SL). The six subjects groups are: Studies in language and literature, Language acquisition, Individuals and societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts. One course must be taken from each subject group; however, students may choose to take an additional sciences, individuals and societies, or languages course, instead of a course in the arts. At least 3 subjects and a maximum of 4 subjects should be taken at the higher level .with the remaining courses taken at the standard level.
Each subject group contains many different courses. Studies in language and literature offers courses that help students develop appreciation for literature in a language they are academically competent in as well as the ability to analyze texts. The subject group of language acquisition is designed to teach students a new language and culture, offering courses for many different languages at either a beginner or more advanced level. Individuals and societies include subjects such as history, psychology, economics, geography, and philosophy, to name a few. This subject area focuses on the human experience and the histories and varieties of environments or institutions people are a part of. The sciences is a fairly straightforward area that offers biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as computer science, design technology, and a standard level course in sports, exercise and health science. Mathematics is also a fairly straightforward subject area, with the only difference in courses offered being the level of the course (e.g. SL and HL). The last subject area is the Arts, which is often replaced by an additional course in another group. There are 5 subjects, which are dance, music, film, theater, and visual arts.
Choice of courses and the levels of the course (HL or SL) depend on the particular school your child may attend. Each school has a different group of educators, meaning only certain courses can be offered at certain levels. Again, it is recommended to consult the school you wish for your child to attend to find out which courses are available. Schools with larger IB programs will have a wider course selection.
In addition to the 6 subject areas, students study the DP core, which is comprised of TOK, the EE, and CAS. TOK stands for Theory of Knowledge and is a course about epistemology, otherwise known as the study of knowledge. In this course, students learn and contemplate about the nature of knowledge and are required to make an oral presentation as well as write a 1600 word essay. One benefit to this course is that it fosters critical thinking and a healthy amount of skepticism required to be a successful academic.
The extended essay, sometimes colloquially referred to as the EE, is an individual research project in an IB subject of the student’s choice. Students find a mentor, usually a teacher, in that subject area and conduct research with the mentor’s guidance. Mentors may also guide the student by providing intermediate deadlines and helping to proofread drafts of the paper. It is recommended that the mentor is an instructor that teaches that particular IB subject so that they can guide the essay to the having proper IB format and content. Research for the extended essay can take many forms, such as an actual experiment for the sciences, the analysis of literature for studies in languages and literature, or tackling a made up or existing problem for mathematics. Once the research is performed, students write a 4000 word maximum essay to be sent to the international IB evaluators.
CAS stands for creativity, action, and service, and refers to the areas in which students must complete projects. This aspect of IB helps students become well rounded individuals. Creativity projects are usually related to the fine arts, such as music or visual arts, and may include learning a piece of music or creating a collage. Action projects, while are often sports related, do not need to be competitive or sports-related. Service projects involve community service and volunteering. Students are also required to write a reflection about each project, which increases the personal significance of each project to the student as well as self-awareness.
Other than Academics, what can my Child Hope to Learn? Will my Child be Adequately Prepared for Post-Secondary Education?
As a graduate of the IB program, I found that I learned many soft skills and life skills in addition to scholarly knowledge through the program. The rigorous demands of the program can teach many skills such as organization, time management, stress management, effective communication, and punctuality to name a few.
The pace of learning in the IB program is often faster and denser than the regular stream of high school. In relation to this, there can be a lot of homework and many assignments, which in turn may also be lengthier and more in depth. The volume of work helps to teach organization and time management. Students must learn to prioritize assignments and manage time to ensure that all work is completed punctually as well as leaving adequate studying time. The increased pace may also induce stress on students. The successful candidate can develop coping skills for stress to be used for the future as well as building confidence in their own ability to excel in stressful situations.
Moreover, the IB program has a very strict structure and format, including deadlines. Assignments, especially the large ones such as the extended essay and TOK essay, have a strict late policy, such that late essays are not accepted, which may result in the inability to complete your diploma. This helps to teach punctuality. The marking schemes also help to teach effective communication. Marks are awarded for language that is clear and concise, and well organized and formatted essays and reports. Both these characteristics lend to effective communication, which is an important skill for your career, as well as overall quality of life.
In terms of being prepared for post-education, IB has several benefits and is most suited for university/college. The largest benefit is that higher level courses that have been completed with adequate marks are accepted by some universities as credits. This means that your child could potentially enter university having already completed some university level material even if they choose not to take the credit. For example, I declined to accept my 2 credits worth of chemistry and opted to take a credit in History and English each instead. However, even in my 2nd year of university, I was still encountering material that I had already learned in IB chemistry. This is a great benefit since this means your child will have a very solid foundation to succeed in university, even if they choose not to take the credits.
Another benefit is that nature of the IB Diploma Programme mimics university quite well. The learning pace and density is closer to that of university than the average high school. This means that IB students do not experience as big of a gap between high school and university as some of their peers in these areas. The projects and assignments completed in IB, especially the extended essay, are also close to those assigned in university in terms of length and depth, and provide another parallel.
Moreover, IB teaches many transferable skills, such as those listed above, which all lead to a successful university student. Balancing life as a university student can be challenging; however, if your child has already developed skills such as organization, time management, stress management, effective communication, and punctuality, life will become much easier and also more successful.
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is a relatively unknown but advantageous program for all the reasons stated above. It is not, however, a suitable match for all students due to its increased learning pace and learning density, as well as financial restrictions depending on the school. If your child thoroughly enjoys learning and has a history of academic excellence, this may be the perfect program to increase your child’s learning and provide a springboard to university. If you feel your child is not challenged enough, but has the potential to excel, this may also be the perfect program to foster a love of learning and nurture a well-rounded student.
If you are interested in learning more about the IB diploma programme, please visit the official website at: https://www.ibo.org/en/programmes/diploma-programme/
For your convenience, here are the main points discussed in the blog above in point form as a quick point of reference:
- IB Diploma Programme = International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme;
- Internationally recognized, with globally standardized curriculum and tests, for students 16-19 years of age;
- 2 year program towards the end of your child’s high school career. Successful candidates receive an International Baccalaureate Diploma and may also receive their local secondary school diploma;
- Price varies according to school. Consult the school you wish for your child to attend to get a better estimate;
- 6 subject areas, as well as core which includes TOK, EE, and CAS. Subject areas are: Studies in language and literature, Language acquisition, Individuals and societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts;
- TOK = Theory of Knowledge, a course that questions the nature of knowledge;
- EE = Extended Essay, an independent research project (guided by a mentor) that is an essay with a maximum of 4000 words;
- CAS= Creativity, Action, Service, 3 areas in which students must complete a project and reflections to accompany each project;
- Teaches many life skills such as organization, time management, stress management, effective communication, and punctuality;
- Higher level courses completed with good grades may be converted to university credits. IB also prepares your child for university in terms of learning pace and density, and similar workload;
- IB is not for all children due to its increased learning pace and learning density, as well as financial restrictions.
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