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What Is the International Baccalaureate Program?

What Is the International Baccalaureate Program?

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Updated on Sep 11, 2011

Thomas Friedman’s 2005 bestseller, The World is Flat, argued that technology has leveled the global playing field by giving even small countries a chance to participate in the world economy. He stressed the importance of teaching our children a global outlook on the world, not only to make them competitive in an international workplace, but to give them perspective on the shifting powers and issues of our time. Still, most of our high schools continue to teach the same curriculum they’ve been teaching for fifty years. Recently, however, several U.S. schools have adopted an exciting program that offers students the chance to graduate with an internationally recognized diploma and a solid understanding of globalization.

The International Baccalaureate Program is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to help students “develop the intellectual, personal, emotional, and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.” It was founded in 1968, and runs in over 3000 schools in 141 countries. Its Diploma Program is designed for high school juniors and seniors, and offers classes in the same areas as traditional schools: math, science, English, foreign language, social studies, and the arts. Additionally, students have three extra requirements: a class about the theory of knowledge, a community service obligation, and an extended essay on a research topic of their choice. Along the way, students complete assessments that help them prepare for the final written exams, which are graded by external examiners. Upon graduation, students earn a diploma that is respected worldwide.

Bonnie Hansen is the Principal at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA. Sequoia is one of the first high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area to adopt the IB curriculum, and Ms. Hansen is very excited about its impact. “The International Baccalaureate program promotes a world view,” she explains. “Its writing-based curriculum follows international standards and the reading lists are not US-specific. The program encourages students look at problems from multiple and diverse viewpoints.”

Freshmen who enter Sequoia can take ICAP classes that prepare them for the IB classes they’ll take later. These classes familiarize students with IB terminology and writing preparation for IB assessments. Beginning their junior year, students can take IB classes, and if they choose, may pursue the IB diploma.

In addition to its international focus, the IB program appeals to principals like Ms. Hansen for many reasons. For instance, each IB school has an IB coordinator who checks in with the teachers to make sure that no two classes have major projects or assessments due on the same day. Hansen has found that teachers appreciate the curriculum because it allows them to study a few topics in-depth rather than skimming over multiple subjects. Even math classes require written explanations, which challenges students to ask “why” and explores the business side of math beyond just completing equations. This focus on exploring and understanding concepts through written explanations prepares students for the writing-heavy world of college—not to mention, gives them a leg up on the college application essays.

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