Choosing the International Baccalaureate – Certainty in Uncertain Times

November 26, 2020 | Blog, Education

Morag and Pete Makey were previously the Directors of IB Pathways, providing support to International Baccalaureate (IB) students, families and schools, including IB preparation, teaching, tutoring and mentoring to ensure IB success.  Their university service provided guidance for all aspects of university applications and transition and continuing academic and social-emotional support for university students throughout their degree.  

About the International International Baccalaureate (IB)


Why the IB now?


We are constantly being told we are living in unprecedented times and for this generation of students that is certainly true. They have been forced to flip suddenly to online learning, had their exams cancelled, seen their grades calculated in new and mysterious ways and arrived on their new university campuses to be told to go back home.  On top of all this, UK university fees have doubled because of Brexit plus dire warnings of a global recession and shrinking employment opportunities. Bad news indeed but I believe choosing the International Baccalaureate programme provides a successful pathway through these unprecedented times. Students in the IB are building the capabilities and resilience to succeed in an unknown future and, in fact, to make a significant positive contribution to that future. 

What are the skills of the future that students need?


Being well-prepared for an uncertain future is not a new concept; in fact, the only certainty about the future is that it is uncertain.  As British author and educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson succinctly states in his TED Talk on schools and creativity  “It’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp.”  There is a growing movement to promote the skills that young people will need in order to adapt to a rapidly changing world. If you google “21st-century skills” you will see a long list of attributes that future employers will be looking for.  The World Economic Forum (WEF) outlines the 10 skills needed to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – all of these are beyond the traditional curriculum taught in schools.


Choosing the International Baccalaureate

How does choosing the International Baccalaureate provide these 21st-century skills?


Beyond the academic breadth and depth of the IB, students are being prepared in a unique way to face future challenges.  When I lead workshops for IB teachers from all over the world, we always start by considering the USP of IB students: the 21st-century skills that the programme develops in its learners. The teachers are asked to select the most important lines from the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s Mission Statement. The responses always include reference to the importance of international-mindedness and intercultural understanding and respect; this openness to other perspectives is an essential part of 21st-century skills in an ever-changing economic and cultural environment.

What are the attributes of an IB graduate?


The IB Mission Statement is translated into action through the IB Learner Profile, 10 attributes that can be directly related to the 10 skills outlined by the World Economic Forum.  Students become skilled in three main categories:

  • Learning: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers
  • Interacting: communicators, principled, open-minded, caring 
  • Reflecting: risk-takers, balanced, reflective  

International Baccalaureate Student

How do these attributes promote success for the future?


The central tenet of the IB is lifelong learning, and the Learning attributes involve skilful analysis and evaluation to inspire and support inquiry-based learning and creative problem-solving.  The Interacting attributes that are fostered in the IB give students the skills to collaboratively navigate the social and ethical dilemmas of the wider world, skills that we need now more than ever.  Also, in this age of wellbeing, when questions of life satisfaction have, for many, overtaken career satisfaction (a contributing factor to the limited lifespan of jobs in the modern age), the Reflecting attributes ensure that students have the self-management skills to confidently juggle the ever-increasing demands society places on them, digital or otherwise. Self-management is one of the five Approaches to Learning (ATLs) focusing on the how of teaching and learning, instead of the what.  It is this cohesive, holistic approach to progressive education that makes choosing the International Baccalaureate ideal for students stepping into a new world.

Why is the IB for everyone?


Is the IB challenging?  Yes.  Is it only for gifted students?  No.  Choosing the International Baccalaureate is for students who are ready to develop attributes and skills across a wide spectrum, who want to tackle the challenges of current society and who want to be a positive force for change in the future they will inhabit.  The IB can be demanding and many parents ask about the workload and stress.  If subjects are chosen with careful guidance and adequate support is in place for organisation, time management and wellbeing, I believe every student can flourish.  My view is that IB students develop essential academic and life skills ahead of their peers (university retention rates are often higher for IB students and many of my returning students tell me what a breeze university is after the IB) but they do so with the safety net of a small school and, as I tell them, without having to do their own washing and cooking!  The IB is ideal preparation for university and when I work with students on their university applications, students can often clearly articulate the richness of their IB experience.  I ask them to encapsulate their growth in the IB using the Learner Profile attributes and I highlight these in the university recommendation letters I write because I believe these attributes set them apart from students in other programmes.  With a globally focused, broad curriculum, packaged in a philosophically-driven model, IB students have much to offer universities and employers; more than that, they have much to contribute to helping to create a more stable and sustainable world.

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