The IB makes teaching better – more should try it

Robert Harrison argues that the IB offers schools and teachers a richer experience than the static and repeptitive national curriculum

Robert Harrison argues that the IB offers schools and teachers a richer experience than the static and repeptitive national curriculum

18 Aug 2023, 2:24

Once the sole domain of international schools, the International Baccalaureate (IB) has significantly extended its reach since its creation by European educationalists in the 1960s. Today, there are four IB programmes taught in over 5,600 schools: state-supported and fee-paying, big and small, primary and secondary, in multiple languages, countries and cultures.

The IB Diploma Programme (DP) was designed to be a distinctly different offer than traditional English university entrance qualifications—and apparently a better one. Here in the UK, DP students are more likely to enter a top 20 UK higher education institution, and they are performing better when at university compared to their A level counterparts too.

Commonly cited strengths of the IB include developing students’ critical thinking skills, fostering a sense of curiosity in learning, harnessing a global mindset, and considering the bigger picture. In my opinion, the exact same things can be said for teachers delivering IB programmes.

Through key stage 4, IB programmes remain flexible and adaptive to local educational demand and the needs of students. Teachers design curricula and create learning experiences that go beyond the mastery of content standards. While this is understandably more challenging and time-consuming – and IB educators don’t shy away from acknowledging that – it is far more professionally rewarding and, indeed, liberating.

I say this because many teachers are frustrated with spoon-feeding a static, uninspiring and overpacked curriculum that doesn’t challenge them or their students. Sound familiar? I strongly suspect this may be one reason why 44 per cent of England’s state-school teachers plan to quit by 2027. Educators are unsupported and spend their time on unrewarding administration rather than the creative and collaborative orchestration of learning.

Why do people want to become teachers in the first place? It is because they want to have a positive influence on a child’s life and ambitions, and to witness first-hand the thrill of watching their students’ skills and understanding grow. Teachers want to experience the joy of teaching something new, witness that ‘lightbulb moment’ and come home with a sense of pride in their professional achievement. This is not possible when formulaic recitation repeats itself in never-ending cycles of revision for long-awaited high-stakes exams.

The IB reinforces to educators that they have a purpose: making the world a better place

Academic rigour need not be defined solely by the amount of content and the strictness of exam conditions. Accountability can extend beyond exam results to touch professional practice that celebrates teachers’ freedom, autonomy, and ability to engage their students in authentic learning within and beyond the classroom.

Even in the more circumscribed DP, teachers and students in every subject group have curriculum options, internal assessments, individualised assignments and opportunities to connect what they’re learning with the real world. Students don’t just study geography; they become geographers –  conducting, analysing, synthesising and evaluating their own original fieldwork.

The IB also gives global context and an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded, motivated individuals at home and around the world. Too often, schools are less dynamic communities of practice than collections of independent contractors who share only a common parking lot.

Being joined up across the curriculum and across the hallway, working with a shared philosophy of education towards a greater good — these are highly motivating and fulfilling aspects of the teaching life that easily go missing. But they are programme requirements for the IB, where learning and teaching are meant to be in recognition of our shared humanity and guardianship of the planet.

By being a part of this international community, IB teachers are constantly learning new things, getting better at their craft, accessing new and exciting global resources and developing what it means to be an effective teacher. The IB does all this while opening a whole new world of career opportunities with a teacher passport that can be stamped in more than 159 countries.

A great personal and professional enhancer, the IB ultimately reinforces to educators that they have a purpose: they are making the world a better place. Not only are teachers more challenged and satisfied (and as a result, more likely to pass on their intrinsic love of learning), but students leave school as empowered individuals with the academic and emotional intelligence to empathise and engage with tomorrow’s big issues, ready for a future full of opportunity.

Rather than hold young people back with an overly specialised and content-focused curriculum, why not let them and their teachers fly?

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