What Is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School?

Discover the benefits of this globally recognized curriculum

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International Baccalaureate world schools (IB schools) are committed to active, creative, cross-cultural education and allow their diploma recipients to study at universities worldwide. The goal of an IB education is to create responsible, socially conscious adults who use their cross-cultural education to promote world peace. IB schools have become increasingly popular in recent years—there are more IB programs in public and private schools than ever before.

The History of IB Schools

The IB diploma was developed by teachers at the International School of Geneva. These teachers created an educational program for students who moved internationally and who wanted to attend a university. The early project was concentrated on developing an educational program to prepare students for college or university and creating a set of exams that these students would need to pass to attend universities. Most of the early IB schools were private, but now half of the world’s IB schools are public. Arising from these early programs, the International Baccalaureate Organization—founded in 1968 and based in Geneva, Switzerland—oversees over 900,000 students in 140 countries. The United States has over 1,800 IB World Schools.

The mission statement of the IB reads as follows: “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

The IB Programs

  1. The Primary Years Program, for children ages three to 12, helps students develop methods of inquiry so that they are able to ask questions and think critically.
  2. The Middle Years Program, for teens ages 12 to 16, helps students make connections between themselves and the greater world.
  3. The Diploma Program (read more below), for young adults ages 16 to 19, prepares students for university studies and for a meaningful life beyond the university.
  4. The Career-related Program applies the principles of IB to students who wish to pursue career-related study. 

IB schools are notable for how much of the work in the classroom comes from the interests and questions of the students. Unlike in a traditional classroom in which teachers design lessons, children in an IB classroom help steer their own learning by asking questions that may redirect the lesson. While the students don’t have total control over the classroom, they help contribute to a dialogue with their teachers, from which the lessons develop. In addition, IB classrooms are usually trans-disciplinary in nature, meaning that subjects are taught in many different areas. Students may learn about dinosaurs in science and draw them in art class, for example. In addition, the cross-cultural component of IB schools means that students study other cultures and a second or even third language, often working to the point of fluency in the second language. Many subjects are taught in the second language, as teaching in a foreign language requires students to not only learn that language but also shift the way they think about the subject.

The Diploma Program

The requirements to earn an IB diploma are stringent. Students must compose an extended essay of approximately 4,000 words that requires a good deal of research, using the critical-thinking and inquiry-based skills that the program stresses from the primary years. The program also emphasizes creativity, action, and service, and students must complete requirements in all these areas, including community service.

Many schools are full IB, meaning all students participate in the rigorous academic program. Other schools offer students the option of enrolling as full IB diploma candidates, or they can simply take a selection of IB courses and not the full IB curriculum. This partial participation in the program gives students a taste of the IB program but does not make them eligible for the IB diploma.

In recent years, IB programs have grown in the United States. As cross-cultural understanding and second language skills are increasingly more valuable, students and parents are attracted to the international nature of these programs and their solid preparation for students to exist in a global world. In addition, experts have cited the high quality of IB programs, and the programs are lauded for their quality control and for the commitment of their students and teachers within IB schools.

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski