The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a standardized international school curriculum. It has existed for almost 50 years and continues to gain recognition by colleges and governments throughout the globe. The IB has risen as a rigorous secondary school program, which attracted over 114,000 graduate candidates two years ago. (Hill and Saxton, 2014) The modern world offers a perfect globalized setting for the expansion of the IB. This paper will provide a brief overview of the history of this curriculum system as well as its weaknesses and strengths. Finally, it will conclude with the assessment of the IB’s effects on the U.S. educational landscape and its larger international impact.
The overview of the IB’s history
The idea of an internationalization of secondary education had come up several times before the IB came into existence in the second half of the 20th century. It is noteworthy, however, that the first successful realization of an international school appeared in Genevalater the birthplace of the IBas a result of establishing first intergovernmental institutions. In 1924, the International School of Geneva opened its doors to children of the employees of the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations. The school survived the interwar period and consolidated the development of international secondary education after 1945. (Peterson, 2003)
Ultimately, the International School of Geneva became the most effective campaigner for the IB in the 1960s. The first mentioning of the words “International Baccalaureate” in a formal academic setting occurred at a conference in 1962. Following the drafting of working curriculum papers in Geneva and a grant from UNESCO, the idea of IB became conceptualized under the direction of Bob Leach, a history teacher at the International School of Geneva. The IB became fully institutionalized in 1968 with the creation of the International Baccalaureate Organization and the gradual opening of IB schools. (Peterson, 2003) The first graduation took place in 1971 when 13 students received IB diplomas in Geneva. (Hill and Saxton, 2014) By 1978, there have been already 47 functioning IB schools around the world. Children from mobile international families remained their target audience at the time. (Resnik, 2012)
The IB quickly expanded to the United States, as the regional office opened in New York City in 1975. Dr. Harlan Hanson, a Harvard graduate, led the American faction of the IB. The program transformed in the United States and received a new target audience. Instead of being focused on mobile students, the program became perceived as an offering of a rigorous international curriculum to all motivated students. (Hill and Saxton, 2014) The IB quickly gained popularity in Canadian and U.S. public schools.
During the last decade, the IB program has grown at a 15 percent pace every year. In 2010, there were 854,000 students at 3,035 IB schools in nearly 140 countries. (Resnik, 2012) Another interesting trend concerns the fact that most of contemporary IB schools are public (56% of schools worldwide and 90% of U.S. IB schools). (Hill and Saxton, 2014)
The impact of the modern model of IB transcends just the standardized diploma program in IB schools. The IB curriculum influences public education policies throughout the world, which some commentators prefer to label as “denationalization” of secondary education. (Resnik, 2012)
Strengths and weaknesses of the IB
The IB puts forward a very ambitious objective of deepening the intercultural understanding and respect by educating knowledgeable and caring students. The IB allows students to pick subjects from specific study areas. At the same time, the curriculum is designed to teach how to learn. Moreover, students master their advanced writing skills and have an opportunity of taking the electives to an advanced level of studies.
Finally, there is a special block with no tests or exams that concentrates on creativity, sport and community service. In this context, the IB program is a program that offers many opportunities for a balanced development of a young person. (Peterson, 2003)
Moreover, the quality of IB curricula is widely recognized both by policy-makers and private philanthropists. The U.S. Department of Education offers financial support to IB programs to ensure access of socially underprivileged skillful children to a high standard of secondary education. There are multiple incentive programs based on state level support that prioritizes the expansion of the IB across the country. IB examinations are trusted by higher educational institutions and valued by employers. Thus, it is difficult to deny many noteworthy benefits of the completion of the IB program for a young person. (Byrd, 2007)
At the same time, it is only reasonable to question the flawless standard of IB education. Are there any drawbacks or weaknesses? Is there a viable alternative? The typical argument against the IB is that the curriculum is very wide but not sufficiently deep. Critics say that IB graduates may very well become knowledgeable persons, but they lack profound knowledge and skills in one or several areas of human knowledge. (Byrd, 2007)
Another noteworthy criticism relates to the elitism of the IB. While a major share of IB schools are in fact public and receive support from donors and governments, there is a considerable difference in the mode of education between private and public schools. IB tests, facilities, and teachers are all incredibly expensive. In the developing world, IB schools do not get the same level of financing, as they would present a significant burden on the public education system. Even privileged parents can struggle with the financial burden of the IB education. The IB organization is trying to be flexible to maintain its true globalized positions and it does not always succeed. (Resnik, 2012)
The influence of the IB on the education in the US
To summarize, we would like to synthesize the impact that the IB has on the U.S. educational landscape. In our view, the labels of “denationalization”, “elitism”, and “Eurocentrism” are largely exaggerated, as the program aims to be flexible and adjust to national social and educational contexts. (Paris, 2003) In a nutshell, the program boosts the standard of secondary education across the United States and introduces an internationalized approach to education, which is valuable and competitive in the globalized setting.
- Byrd, S. (2007). Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate: Do They Deserve Gold Star Status?. Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
- Hill, I., & Saxton, S. (2014). The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme: An international gateway to higher education and beyond. Higher Learning Research Communications, 4(3), 42.
- Paris, P. G. (2003). The International Baccalaureate: A case study on why students choose to do the IB. International Education Journal, 4(3), 232-243.
- Peterson, A. D. C. (2003). Schools across frontiers: The story of the International Baccalaureate and the United World Colleges. Open Court Publishing.
- Resnik, J. (2012). The denationalization of education and the expansion of the International Baccalaureate. Comparative Education Review, 56(2), 248-269.