Report from the director of community relations: Why do we do the IB?
Last month I re-introduced myself to parents and other readers and described my role. I promised that, in the months ahead, I’d try to respond to some of the questions we hear most frequently about life at the school.
I’m going to start this month with an attempt to describe the rationale behind the College’s adoption of the IB Programme, arguably the world’s most highly regarded primary and secondary curriculum. The question asked is a version of, “Why do it? Why do it AND the Ontario Curriculum; it’s so hard?”
Here goes …
At UCC, as at almost all other IB schools worldwide, the IB curriculum, whose general framework is set internationally, is taught in concert with the local curriculum, in our case the Ontario curriculum. Local authorities have a fair degree of latitude in choosing specific content for study, while assessment, pedagogical approaches and skill development are controlled internationally. Here the two curricula are completely co-mingled, and from day-to-day, the students experience one integrated academic program.
Is the IB hard? Yes – but good hard. It’s hard because it asks for much more than memorization or understanding of facts. It focuses on concepts, or as they say in the Primary years – the big ideas – first. Pure content (aka the facts) is table stakes in the IB world. This is true from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
The IB asks students, across the curriculum and up through the years, to analyze what they read or hear or see against critical criteria, to develop hypotheses and positions, to find supporting evidence for their opinions. It teaches them to synthesize diverse information generated across time and cultures, to detect bias, to conduct research based on primary sources, to write for a variety of purposes, to apply knowledge in creative ways and, most importantly, to ask how their learning may be used to make life on earth better. One student once said, “We’re not just learning science, we’re learning how to be scientists [and historians, geographers, writers….].”
This kind of work is demanding and time consuming, but never boring. In fact, teachers will often remark that they must tell their very bright and curious pupils, ones for whom this kind of thinking is energizing, to stop – that they have done enough, that their task is complete and has more than met the standard.
In the Diploma Program (Grade 11), students write a final 4,000-word research paper, a mini-thesis, independently, on a topic entirely of their choosing. It’s constructed formally under supervision. This extended essay demonstrates all the skills they’ve built over time as inquirers, handlers of information and communicators.
So, when universities see that students have completed an IB Diploma and have succeeded in meeting its standard, they know that these students have not only earned the Ontario Diploma, but have also acquired and honed the very skills essential to success at university.
So powerful is the IB’s reputation and proven success, that in many if not all universities, Canadian or not, advanced credit of up to as much as a full year can be given to the IB Diploma holder – not to mention entry scholarships and tuition breaks. The drop-out rate of IB students at university is next to zero and a vast majority of IB graduates go on to take advanced and professional degrees. Time and time again, alumni return to their schools to say, “It’s unbelievable. My roommate doesn’t know how to construct an argument for his essay, or create a lab. Wow, I know how to do all these things already.”
The IB is much more about the how and the why of human knowledge than it is about the what. It’s about application and impact. The IB’s approach stimulates, deepens and bolsters our children’s thinking at a critical time in their developmental journey.
Next time: questions about assessment of student work.