There is a model, beyond traditional teaching, that prioritizes in the student the development of critical thinking, an inquiring spirit, intercultural knowledge and an open mind and aware of the social and environmental challenges we face. A flexible and updated itinerary that allows the subjects to be studied to be personalized and adapted to the interests of each one, enhancing the interest in learning and improving academic results that open the doors to the best universities in the world. It is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, an option present in public and private centers that is experiencing unprecedented growth (the Princess of Asturias will do it in Wales next year) and that has seen how, in May In 2021, 3,827 students graduated from the IB in Spain, compared to 2,611 in 2016 (and 37,161 since 1990).
“One of the keys to the IB is that our programs are not geared toward exams, but about students learning to think critically and solve complex problems. The best results are achieved by allowing students to connect the curriculum with their innate talent, teaching them to think for themselves and lead their learning process ”, says Maripé Menéndez, senior manager of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) for Latin America. Its educational programs are also constantly reviewed and updated by professors, examiners and academic experts, “in accordance with the demands of Information Technology, global interconnectivity, higher education and employment.”
Although the IB Diploma is the most widespread of its programs, it is not the only one, since the IB education system can start from primary school (PYP), to continue with the Middle Years Program (equivalent to ESO) and finish in the Diploma or the Professional Orientation program (from 16 to 19 years old). In total, they are present in more than 5,400 centers in 158 countries, both public (the majority) and private, although in Spain the proportion is the reverse: of 167 centers, only 45 are public, and 49 more are in the authorization process . In the UK, IB qualifications are valued more than IB qualifications. A-levels (the usual itinerary), and in the United States, the admission of IB students to one of the prestigious universities Ivy league it is 18% higher than that of other degrees.
How does the International Baccalaureate work?
Although the final curriculum depends a lot on each center, all students have to take six core subjects: their mother tongue, a foreign language, Mathematics, one of Humanities, one of experimental sciences and another to choose between Art, a second foreign language or an additional science or humanities subject. Of these, three must be completed at a higher level (with 240 teaching hours in two years) and three at an intermediate level (with 150 hours). And, in addition, they must take Theory of Knowledge (a course dedicated to critical thinking and inquiry about the process of knowing), complete 150 hours of community services (Creativity, Action and Service, CAS) and prepare a monograph, which is a research paper on a topic of interest to you. All with a practical approach that makes students “develop higher-order skills, search for information, contrast sources, make decisions and evaluate their effects both on vulnerable populations and on the sustainability of the planet,” adds Menéndez.
“Although at the beginning it is difficult to adapt, I think the best part of the IB is doing practical work and applying the knowledge to real-life situations on exams, and not just learning from the book’s syllabus”, acknowledges Pablo Luengo (17 years old) , IB student at the European Lyceum of Madrid. An experimental approach and open to the students’ own interests, who can personalize between 20 and 30% of the content of their subjects through mathematical explorations, laboratory investigations or historical questions to which they must answer. Luis Amo (18 years old), also a student at the European Lyceum, also highlights the importance of collaboration between students and teachers: “The group spirit is evident in the classes, where closeness with the teachers is essential to understand complicated topics, and the students share and contrast our ideas ”.
Julio Fernández, IB program coordinator at IES Lancia, in León, emphasizes two aspects that he considers fundamental: academic rigor and a methodology “totally focused on making inquiry, reflection, audacity, judgment, and integrity flourish in students, along with the necessary instructional load. (…) And a special interest in promoting good communication, an open mind and solidarity ”. A model that, he maintains, compensates for the enormous dedication it requires, and generates “appreciable satisfaction in the entire educational community,” while appreciating the support and involvement of the parents’ association. The IES Lancia is the only center in the Leonese province that offers this diploma: being a public center, students have to take both types of Baccalaureate (although many subjects are coincident), and to access it, students have to certify a Average grade in the second cycle of ESO of notable or outstanding.
At the end of the program, and to obtain the diploma, the students have to pass rigorous tests that are carried out the same day of the year all over the world and that are externally evaluated, “being divided in such a way that no examiner corrects an entire exam, but just a question. The corrections then go back to the IB, which issues an external rating, ”explains Menéndez. In each examination session, more than 100 people participate in a process that lasts 1.6 years, and the students who obtain the diploma have at least validated the general phase of the university entrance exams (or EBAU) in communities such as Catalonia, Galicia or Andalusia, while in others, such as Madrid, the validation is total.
IB, entrepreneurship and technology
By autonomous communities, Madrid is precisely the one with the highest number of centers with IB programs, followed by Catalonia (35) and Andalusia (24). The capital of Spain will also be, from the academic year 2022-2023, the headquarters of The Global College, an international school that will offer, in alliance with IE University, an IB program taught in English with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, innovation, the humanities, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines. “We opted for this model because our role is to challenge and motivate students to get the best of themselves; give them autonomy and ambition (…) so that they can dedicate themselves to the areas that interest them the most and finish the program motivated by passion, ambition and the desire to learn ”, says Barry Cooper, its director.
To graduate, students must carry out, under the guidance of mentors, entrepreneurship projects with an impact in the real world that contribute to sustainability, for which they will visit companies and NGOs and meet founders of startups. The new center, which will include a residence for international students, aims to create a diverse community with students from more than 60 countries, and during the first five years it will have a scholarship program that will cover up to 90% of the cost for half of the students, a personalized curriculum, spaces dedicated to coworking, digital resources and hybrid and innovative methodologies such as flipped classroom (or flipped classroom): “That means reading and preparing in advance for a class that will not be based on completing exercises, but will revolve around reflection, debate and overcoming challenges,” argues Cooper.
An education within everyone’s reach
One of the characteristics that Menéndez insists on highlighting is that IB programs fit all types of profiles, precisely “because what the IB generates is the desire to learn”, and adds: “We need to engage students so that they want to learn , to children and young people with an open mind and critical and creative thinking ”, although if studying in a public center, it is usually essential to accredit a high average grade in the academic record.
“I would also like to highlight that the IB works with a special needs department to serve all students. This year, in Spain, exceptional results have been achieved with several young people with ADHD and even a significant reduced visual capacity ”, Menéndez illustrates. Students such as Nina Souto, from the San José de Estepona school, in Malaga, who recently graduated with a final score of 44 out of 45 despite suffering a 75% loss of vision as a result of a hydrocephalus diagnosed in 2016. “Since the At first, the support and dedication received from the IB were constant, always being concerned and willing to guarantee me access to all the necessary adaptations, ”says Souto, who is now studying Biochemistry at the University of Malaga. “The best thing is the breadth to which the subjects of study are dealt with in the IB, rather than being limited to the theoretical realm or evolution in a strictly academic sense.”
Some centers, such as The Global College, also establish other admission criteria such as extracurricular merits or social commitment, characteristics that can be observed in how young people spend their free time, “in whether they practice or excel in team sports, if they are learning to play an instrument or if they work for their community or are committed to entrepreneurship or social enterprises. These are great examples of leadership, teamwork and discipline, and they also bring a diversity of interests to the school, ”Cooper argues.
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