Lessons to learn from the International Baccalaureate

Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017, 09:56 PM | Source: Pursuit

Merryn Dawborn-Gundlach

It boasts an internationally recognised accreditation and develops a broad skillset, critical thinking and cultural awareness – so it’s no surprise an increasing number of students are choosing the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme as an alternative to state curricula in Australia, such as the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE).

Established in Geneva in 1968, the IB is now offered in more than 4600 schools globally, with 174 schools in Australia. Of the Australian schools, only 67 offer the Diploma Programme, which is aimed at senior students aged 16-19 years.

Having taught in the VCE and IB Diploma Programme, I recognise the merits in both. However, the holistic approach to subject choice in the IB Diploma Programme is beneficial in terms of keeping student options open as long as possible.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma is a good option for students interested in working internationally. Picture: Pixabay

In the IB Diploma, students are required to choose a subject from six different areas of the curriculum including studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition (second language), Individuals and Societies (humanities), Science, Mathematics, and either the Arts or an additional language, humanities or science subject. They then commit to these subjects for two years, gaining a rich and well-rounded education.

With the addition of three essential core requirements, the IB Diploma also requires students to be self-driven and reflective; preparing them for the rigours of tertiary study.

In the Extended Essay for example, students are required to independently research an area of interest in their chosen subject and produce a 4000-word written piece. This is very good grounding for essay writing at university.

In an increasingly globalised world, the IB Diploma also appeals to those who are interested in international education and job markets.

IB students are citizens of the world and graduates can feel confident that their qualifications will be recognised internationally.

In addition, all IB examinations are vetted for cultural and gender inclusivity. This inclusivity is certainly worth considering as we move toward a more culturally diverse population.


While the IB Diploma offers little flexibility when compared to state programs that promote specialisation and discontinuation of certain subjects, the ability to keep students’ academic options open until the end of Year 12 is a positive step forward.

Some students don’t have the maturity or relevant career information to make early decisions about their future subject choices.

Making these subjects compulsory ensures Year 12 graduates have the academic breadth to keep their tertiary education options open. This is increasingly important with our rapidly changing job market.


With the number of senior school students enrolling in science and mathematics subjects in decline across the country, I think the format adopted by the IB could play a major part in addressing this issue.

The international Baccalaureate Diploma could encourage more students to consider STEM subjects. Picture: Per Henning/NTNU via Flickr

While research shows that student attitudes and experiences in primary and early secondary school are crucial for establishing commitment and achievement in these subjects, giving students the option to discontinue at Year 10 level presents opportunities for students to disengage from these subjects before they have the experience and maturity to make an informed decision.

If the option to discontinue was removed, we would see students persevering in subjects such as mathematics and science and a flow on effect in tertiary enrolments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

But what if you’re just not good at those subjects? For students who believe they can’t do mathematics or science, the alternative subject levels in the IB Diploma (Higher or Standard Level) provide some flexibility of choice. Students can choose the level that is most appropriate to their ability and interest and although the IB Diploma is academically challenging, the expectations of each subject are clear from the outset.

IB Diploma subjects are criterion referenced, meaning they are assessed against fixed criteria. Teachers ensure students are made aware of the performance criteria for each of their six subjects and work towards these over the course of their two-year IB Programme.

More schools needed

Currently the majority of schools in Australia offering the four IB Programmes (Primary, Middle Years, Diploma and Career-related) are private, limiting the number of students who have access to them.

This differs greatly from Europe and the US, where the IB is offered more frequently by state and public schools.

To become an IB school is a stringent procedure, but something I hope more state schools will take up. We need the IB to become a more accessible alternative for secondary students in the future.

Banner Image: Pixabay