To IB, or not to IB?

A look at the pop­u­lar aca­demic pro­gram in Toronto’s pri­vate schools

The Kids Post - - Learn­ing - By Reiko Mil­ley

In June, the Toronto District School Board pro­posed charg­ing an ex­tra fee of $1,500 to stu­dents wish­ing to en­roll in an In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate (IB) pro­gram in public schools. The pro­gram al­lows stu­dents to en­gage in a rig­or­ous pre-univer­sity cur­ricu­lum devel­oped in Geneva, Switzer­land, and earn the in­creas­ingly renowned IB Di­ploma. Though it was even­tu­ally struck down, the lively debate sur­round­ing the pro­posal brought IB sup­port­ers to the fore­front and begged the ques­tion: just what is this pro­gram­ming worth?

In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate pro­gram­ming was cre­ated in 1968, with the man­date of giv­ing stu­dents the tools needed to suc­ceed in an in­creas­ingly in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment. IB cur­ricu­lum is no­to­ri­ously chal­leng­ing and aims to fos­ter a breadth of knowl­edge and cul­tural aware­ness in over 140 coun­tries world­wide. Tu­ition be­gins at age three for the IB Pri­mary Years pro­gram, which fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ing in­quis­i­tive minds. At eleven, stu­dents en­ter the IB Mid­dle Years pro­gram, which en­cour­ages them to make con­nec­tions be­tween sub­ject mat­ter and the out­side world. And in the fi­nal two years of sec­ondary school, stu­dents can com­plete the chal­leng­ing IB Di­ploma pro­gram, which aims to pre­pare stu­dents for univer­sity suc­cess and even­tual par­tic­i­pa­tion in a global mar­ket­place. All three lev­els of study draw on in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als and fo­cus on sec­ond lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion, in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary study and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar and com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. And in terms of eval­u­a­tion, the In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate Or­ga­ni­za­tion (IBO) re­quires that all ma­jor as­sign­ments are marked or mod­er­ated ex­ter­nally and that fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tions are glob­ally stan­dard­ized. The or­ga­ni­za­tion as­serts that uni­ver­sal cur­ricu­lum and as­sess­ment en­sure stu­dents have the op­tion to con­tinue study any­where they like, armed with real trans­ferrable skills and cre­den­tials rec­og­nized around the world.

These pro­grams have been crop­ping up in public schools more and more in re­cent years as stu­dents seek ac­cel­er­ated learn­ing pro­grams to pre­pare for univer­sity and be­yond. But this em­brace of the IB is some­what old news to Toronto’s pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions where pro­grams are plen­ti­ful.

Top north Toronto schools, in­clud­ing Brank­some Hall, Up­per Canada Col­lege, the Sun­ny­brook School and the Toronto French School, have adopted IB pro­gram­ming for many years. And there is an over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus among them that the cur­ricu­lum is of the high­est qual­ity, of­fer­ing suc­cess­ful stu­dents the best op­por­tu­nity to study at the post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion of their choice (Cana­dian or in­ter­na­tional).

Hand­some tu­ition fees, then, prom­ise to not only give a stu­dent ac­cess to a wealth of ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, highly trained teach­ers and top-notch fa­cil­i­ties, but to an aca­demic pro­gram that has been lauded as the gold stan­dard for uni­ver­si­ties world­wide. This is one more way pri­vate schools are choos­ing to dis­tin­guish them­selves and, in turn, their best stu­dents.

Scott Cowie, head of the se­nior di­vi­sion at Up­per Canada Col­lege, ex­plains what IB pro­gram­ming has been of­fered to UCC stu­dents since 1995: “Stu­dents com­ment on the ‘rich­ness’ of their IB ex­pe­ri­ence. Not only do they learn con­tent and aca­demic skills like any other aca­demic pro­gram, but the IB pro­gram goes fur­ther in help­ing stu­dents bet­ter un­der­stand the learn­ing process: how to ap­proach chal­leng­ing ma­te­rial in var­i­ous forms and how to solve com­plex prob­lems through its em­pha­sis on deep an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing and crit­i­cal lit­er­acy.”

Though Cowie ac­knowl­edges that the di­ploma pro­gram is in many ways more rig­or­ous than other aca­demic pro­grams, he says, “It is also a pro­gram of wide breadth and depth.” Cowie ex­plains IB re­quires a truly com­pre­hen­sive study of a range of sub­jects: lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion, in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety, ex­per­i­men­tal sci­ences, math­e­mat­ics and com­puter science and the arts.

And in­deed, top uni­ver­si­ties do tend to meet IB can­di­dates with great en­thu­si­asm. Ken Withers, the di­rec­tor of the of­fice of stu­dent re­cruit­ment at the Univer­sity of Toronto, says that the univer­sity is “very keen” on ad­mit­ting suc­cess­ful IB stu­dents.

“We will pro­vide an early con­di­tional of­fer based on pre­dicted IB scores that meet or ex­ceed our en­try re­quire­ments,” he ex­plains.

He also notes that the Univer­sity will award up to three trans­fer cred­its — equiv­a­lent to three full-year un­der­grad­u­ate cour­ses — to high-scor­ing IB Di­ploma grad­u­ates. This is not an un­com­mon re­cep­tion. The ma­jor­ity of Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties ac­knowl­edge the IB Di­ploma and of­fer in­cen­tives to stu­dents ap­ply­ing for un­der­grad­u­ate study. In ad­di­tion, and in keep­ing with the in­tent of the cur­ricu­lum, a wealth of in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties rec­og­nize IB grad­u­ates. Brank­some Hall tal­lies over 2,200 top in­sti­tu­tions that value their stu­dents’ IB Di­plo­mas, as­sert­ing that “the best higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions seek out and re­ward IB grad­u­ates.”

And ad­mis­sion is just the be­gin­ning. IB grad­u­ates also fre­quently find them­selves bet­ter pre­pared for univer­sity-level study. Cowie ex­plains that IB pro­gram­ming re­quires stu­dents to com­plete reg­u­lar an­a­lyt­i­cal writ­ing and oral as­sign­ments, which are more com­mon in post-sec­ondary school­ing. A 4,000-word fi­nal re­search es­say must be sub­mit­ted in order to earn the IB Di­ploma, ready­ing stu­dents for un­der­grad­u­ate pa­pers and the­ses.

The TDSB de­bates dis­solved when par­ents, stu­dents and teach­ers who rec­og­nized the ben­e­fits of the IB ar­gued its value for all stu­dents. This is a con­cept that many Toronto pri­vate schools have em­braced over the past decade. Be­cause even though an IB ed­u­ca­tion is not es­sen­tial for Cana­dian univer­sity ad­mis­sion and suc­cess, it may be the best way to en­sure a stu­dent has all the op­por­tu­nity in the world.

Stu­dents en­rolled in IB pro­grams study at a rig­or­ous level sim­i­lar to univer­sity

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