Saturday, January 04, 2014

International Baccalaureate

In the UK young people aged 16 to 18 usually have three options - to stay at school and study for A (Advanced) level exams, to go to college to take a more vocational course, or to go into an apprenticeship where they work for an employer while also taking a part time college course. Until this year it was legal to leave the school and college system completely at age 16, but it is now compulsory to stay in some form of education for at least one more year. For those wanting to go on to study at university A levels or some higher-level college courses are the normal route, with universities selecting students according to their A level grades. Students typically take four subjects in the first year of Sixth Form (AS level), dropping down to three at a more advanced level (A2) for the second year - this means that students the UK system study less subjects in more depth than I understand is typical in the US, a pattern that is continued at university where most degrees are focused on just one or two subjects.

The international baccalaureate (IB) is an alternative to A levels which can be taken anywhere in the world and is widely recognised as a good preparation for university. In the UK about 200 schools offer the IB, half of them private (fee paying) schools and the rest state (public) schools. The school Marie hopes to go to is the only state school within a manageable distance to offer the IB as an option. As it is relatively uncommon we knew pretty much nothing about it before we visited the school, but came away feeling it was a very good fit for Marie. She hopes to go to university to study languages (she is thinking French and Russian) and the more international scope of the IB goes well with this. She also loves art, but was concerned that by continuing with art as an A level she would have to drop another more academic subject which might reduce her chances of getting into one of the better universities. The IB offers more breadth as students have to study six subjects rather than the typical four for A level, one from each of six specific groups.

The IB syllabus requirements are:

(1) One subject from each of six groups, three to be taken at higher level and three at standard level
- native language
- second language
- humanities
- mathematics
- science
- arts, or a second subject from one of the other five groups
Marie is planning to take English (mostly English literature, but including some foreign language works in translation), French and visual arts as higher level subjects, and maths, history and biology at standard level.

(2) An extended essay on a topic of the student's choice

(3) Theory of Knowledge - a critical thinking course intended to help students make connections between different areas of knowledge

(4) CAS - creativity, action and service projects, spending about 50 hours on each

Overall this is much broader, and I suspect much harder work, than the A level option would be. It also sounds more interesting and challenging. Only a small proportion of the students at the school choose the IB, with about 20 to 30 taking it in any one year. This means that it is a self-selecting academically interested group with quite small class sizes, which I think will be good for Marie. Now she just has to do well enough in her GCSEs to get a place!


ellie said...

Bookworm, thank you so much for offering this explanation! Fascinating, all of it :-) Being the scholarly sort, I am always so interested in learning more about how differing cultures view and organize education.

The IB option sounds fantastic: i would have been thrilled to do that when I was a teen. I hope Marie gets accepted!

Sarah@Like sunshine in the home said...

I wonder what options Chatterbox will have when she gets to that stage? I hope that Marie gets a place on the course. :)

Steve Finnell said...
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