The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a not-for-profit educational foundation established in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968. The founders of IB were looking for a programme of studies that, educational excellence apart, promoted peace in what was then a turbulent Cold War world. The programme was subsequently refined by Oxford University to promote critical thinking skills. Today IB aims at encouraging students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.
Fifty years down the line, IB has consultative status as a non-governmental organisation at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), with the IB Diploma (IBDP) recognised by universities around the world as an outstanding, leading university admissions qualification.
According to Howard Gardner, a professor of educational psychology at Harvard University, IBDP helps students “think critically, synthesise knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking”.
Studies by a number of universities have shown clearly that IBDP graduates are not only more likely to join university, indeed a top university, but importantly, are more likely to complete the course of their choice with success and a higher grade.
They are also more likely than peers following other university entrance curricula to be granted scholarships. This is probably largely due to the well-established fact that IBDP students join university better trained in academic research, writing skills and with a capacity to prioritise and organise their studies. A major component of the IBDP is the Extended Essay, a mandatory research paper of up to 4,000 words.
Interestingly, accordingly to a 2013 study, in China, which is heavily dependent on higher education for its economic development, 72 per cent of students taking IBPD attended one of the world’s top universities. Research commissioned by the UK’s Higher Statistics Agency (HESA) established that IBDP students have a 57 per cent greater likelihood of being accepted by one of the top 20 UK universities. IBDP is now held in such high regard that a good number of top universities have substantially lowered admission levels for IBDP students.
Education is not only about obtaining good grades, ultimately on a global level, it is there to create a better and more peaceful world, which takes us back to the founding fathers of IB. On an individual basis, education is about preparing for life. The HESA survey has shown that post-university, IBDP students on average earn more than their peers.
Mark Seldon, director of studies at Gresham School, UK, an advocate of IB, commented: “The IB encourages the soft skills that business value – things like teamwork, communication and empathy.” Increasingly, in today’s globalised world, employers want young people to think more globally.
IB teachers are an integral part of this success story. In order to teach IB, teachers must attend, on a regular basis, high-quality professional development workshops, more often than not at IB regional centres, as well as keeping up with advances via specifically designed online workshops. There is certainly no room for complacency for IB teachers, what they teach today, and how they teach it, is not what they will be doing tomorrow.
An essential element of IBDP is the structured Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) programme. This ensures that students involve themselves in creative thinking, a healthy lifestyle complementing academic work, and finally at the root of it all, unpaid, voluntary community work.
Fundamental to all this is that no points are awarded for CAS in the final IBDP grade, a true lesion in altruism. However, in the end, students get out of it far more than they put into it. In research studies, business leaders have commented on the project management skills of IBDP students, their work ethic, their open mindedness and level of self-confidence.
In this village we still call the world, there is a growing demand for an international curriculum-based education. St Edward’s College is one of the ever-increasing number of IB World Schools, currently 4,871 in 153 countries across all five continents. IB accreditation is not only a rigorous process, it is also an ongoing process subject to periodic review.
Year in, year out, since obtaining IB accreditation in 2009, St Edward’s IB pass rate has been above the world average. St Edward’s IBDP graduates continue to be admitted to the University of Malta as well as leading universities worldwide, including the London School of Economics, Imperial College, London, UCLA in the US, McGill in Canada, Bocconi in Milan, the Medical University of Gdansk, Poland, LUISS Business School in Rome, and Groningen in The Netherlands and Berlin.
Equally important is the feedback the college has received as a result of its CAS programme. For example, students learn and carry for their lifetime the satisfaction of mornings spent with the less fortunate at the Appoġġ summer school in Cospicua, a lesion from the big wide world that no amount of academic input can substitute.
St Edward’s College offers home from home boarding facilities. Give your teenage son or daughter the best insurance policy – a global mindset with an international curriculum and an appreciation of the ‘dignity of difference’ – an IBDP.
John Mark Portelli is chairman of the Board of Governors of St Edward’s College, Cottonera.
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