How the IB programme prepares students for real-world challenges

Collaboration, communication and problem-solving are some of the key proficiencies that are  sought after in the modern workplace. In recent years, several reports and research papers, such as the World Economic Forum’s 2016 report New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology, have identified these skills – as well as foundational literacy, critical thinking and character development – as important 21st-century competencies.

Experts have advised that these can be taught through social and emotional learning (SEL), together with a personalised and inquiry-based academic instruction. This holistic approach is central to the internationally-recognised International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, a curriculum used by more than 5,500 highly respected kindergarten, primary and secondary schools worldwide.

What is the IB programme?

The IB aims to foster the intellectual, emotional and social development of each unique individual with transdisciplinary themes and subjects that encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and curiosity.

Students from three to 19 years old are taught to think conceptually and make practical connections with real world scenarios instead of rote memorisation. This agile and introspective mindset is nurtured through a continuum of four aged-based educational programmes.

In the Primary Years Programme (ages three to 12), students learn ownership, confidence and self-motivation via inquiry, reflection and active engagement in a supportive environment that allows them to explore the world beyond the classroom.

This prepares them for the Middle Years Programme (ages 11 to 16), where students take up at least one collaborative interdisciplinary unit that integrates at least two subject groups. To build the foundation for independent learning and provide opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts, the curriculum uses the Approaches to Learning (ATL) teaching strategy, designed to grow critical thinking, communication, social, self-management and research skills.

The Diploma Programme (ages 16 to 19) combines six subject groups with DP core. Ranging from theory of knowledge, creativity, activity, service and extended essay, these core elements challenge students with the practical application of their knowledge and skills. Students can also opt to take some subjects at a higher level, where they have to demonstrate a deeper knowledge, understanding and skills related to their chosen specialisations.

Additionally, DP students who want to engage in career-related learning have the opportunity to do so through the Career-related Programme, an educational framework that prepares students for higher education, internship or a position in their chosen pathway.

Getting students ready for the future

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs report revealed that critical thinking and problem-solving are still among the top skills that employers look out for today –  findings that are reflected in the group’s 2016 paper. New additions to this list include resilience, agility and active learning.

Such skills can be found in the IB learner profile, according to research conducted by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in 2014. IB students have also shown an interest and experience in research, which is an essential part of building these in-demand proficiencies.

From kindergarten to their final DP year, IB students are taught how to become independent thinkers by engaging in the research and exploration of a topic. This rigorous process helps them to grow their analytical and critical thinking skills by evaluating and challenging their knowledge of the world around them, as well as for older students to better self-manage their workload.

This culminates in the theory of knowledge assessment, where final-year DP students present their analysis and research methodologies on a real-life situation, together with the submission of their extended essay – an independent, self-directed piece of research.

Highly regarded by major universities around the world

While the IB programme places a significant emphasis on academics, it also encourages the acquisition of knowledge through experiential learning. Students deepen their perspective of the world by putting in at least 150 hours of community service and extracurricular activities during their DP year.

 This further empowers them with the ability to thrive in an ever-changing and global environment. The IB programme emboldens students with the confidence to take risks, and become lifelong learners and effective communicators who are also compassionate and principled.

 As a result, top universities across the globe value IB schools as one that produces applicants who are well-rounded – they excel not only academically, but are also active contributors to their community.

This level of recognition has been observed since 2011, when a survey of more than 4,000 students by the International Insight Research Group and IBO found that the admission of IB students into Ivy League universities was between three and 13% higher than the total population acceptance rate. For top US universities that are not in the Ivy League, the average acceptance rate was 22% higher.

Over in the UK, the British Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has given IB scores more weightage. A score of 36 IB points is equivalent to three A’s at A-levels, grades that qualify for admission to a number of recognised universities in the UK.

For instance, one with a score of 36 IB points, along with three higher-level subjects, could be accepted into the University of Manchester, which is ranked 6th in the UK and 27th in the world, according to the QS World University Rankings in 2021.

IB Diploma or A-levels – what is the difference?

IB Diploma students study a broader range of subjects across different disciplinary areas, while A-level students focus on three or four specialised subject areas that they are likely to pursue in university.

A-level students are mostly graded entirely on their final exams, which has a heavy emphasis on textbook content. On the other hand, IB Diploma students are taught with an inquiry-based approach, and are assessed according to their research processes and inquiry and problem-solving skills.

The final IB Diploma exams make up about 70 to 80 percent of the total grade for each subject, with the remaining percentage including grades of assignments evaluated by teachers and external examiners.

Both IB Diploma and A-levels are recognised and credible qualifications – choosing the ideal pathway is highly dependent on the strength of the student. For example, one who is adept at time management, independent learning and research may consider the IB route.

Learn more about the IB programme

Here’s a pro-tip: For the best results, choose an IB World School that offers all three IB Primary, Middle Years and Diploma programmes. This allows students to seamlessly transition from grade to grade, allowing them to benefit from the full IB experience.

The Canadian International School (CIS) in Singapore is an example of a world class IB institution that provides such a continuum. One of the best IB schools in the country, CIS has 30 years of experience facilitating a well-rounded educational programme that produces consistent results.