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Has the IB Forgotten Its Roots?

Posted by Abigail Bryant on September 05, 2016

The Roots of the IB

The idea behind the IB is found in a 1948 text written for UNESCO by Marie-Therese Maurette of the International School of Geneva, titled: Is there a way of educating for peace? Still today, the IB official mission statement reads “The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

The Modern IB

As a result of this approach, IB subjects are taught in a global context, together with CAS and TOK. But today there is a different focus. If doing some reading up on ‘benefits of the IB’, there is little written about the acquisition of global citizenship, international mindedness or teaching for peace. Instead, there is focus on academic prestige and university admissions, where the IB takes the lead in several ways.

Also, it seems IB students show little concern for broadening their cultural horizons, and more concern for maximising their grades, by choosing clever combinations of subjects and inventing innovative approaches to learning. In short, the IB mission seems to be second priority. And when something is second priority in the IB, it’s likely to be forgotten almost entirely due to the heavy workload.

Has the IB drifted off from its roots and ‘merely’ ended up as the most academically rigorous secondary education? Or is there still an indirect, invisible focus on global citizenship that penetrates different aspects of the IB programme? And is such an indirect focus enough to honour the roots of the IB?

Does it matter?

If it’s not enough, and the IB has indeed become disconnected from its roots, why has this development occurred? Clearly, the IBO is not responsible, since it continues to emphasise global citizenship. It’s not IB teachers either, since many are already struggling to even make time for the curriculum. It’s probably down to students and parents, who have neglected an active focus on cosmopolitanism in favour of maximising hard results, in order to improve future academic and employment prospects.

Another question is whether such a development is problematic at all. In 1948 when the idea was coined, the world was still emerging from the rubble of the second world war, so it was understandably desirable to ensure improved cross-cultural understanding for the next generation. Likewise, the IB was officially founded in 1968 during the height of the cold war, maintaining such a focus. But following a few decades of international tranquility, it’s also understandable that focus has drifted from ‘teaching for peace’ to ‘teaching for university’.

However, some commentators have cited the contemporary world situation as one of growing insecurity, as manifested by the ongoing problems in the Ukraine, the war in Syria, Brexit and growing political tensions in the US election. Perhaps the times require the focus to shift back towards global citizenship. Then the question is, who is to initiate such a shift? Do IB teachers have a responsibility to fit this into the curriculum? Are they already doing so, by virtue of the very nature of the IB?

Author: Abigail Bryant

Abi is Head of Support at Kognity, where she works closely with teachers and students getting them set up and ensuring their experience with Kognity is a great one. Previously she worked as an English teacher working with International Schools in South East Asia.

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