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Published: July 4, 2011

International Baccalaureate (IB)

A specialized secondary school diploma valid internationally as evidence of satisfactory completion of secondary school education. A product of the growth of the international diplomatic and business communities after World War II, the IB was developed over five years, beginning in 1965, by a group of 20 international secondary schools that sought to develop a curriculum and university entrance examination that could be taken in any country and be accepted by universities worldwide. At the time, widely varying standards of education in many countries forced parents living abroad to separate themselves from their children, who were forced to stay home and study in the school systems of their own countries to qualify for admission to their own universities.
The rigorous and comprehensive two-year curriculum that resulted in 1970 was a deliberate compromise between the specialization required in some national systems and the breadth required in others. The goals of the IB curriculum are “to provide students with a balanced education; to facilitate geographic and cultural mobility; and to promote international understanding through a shared academic experience.” The curriculum consists of six subject groups, from which students must select at least one course each. Three or four must be studied for two years and the others for one year. The six groups and the courses in each are:
  • Language A (the student’s primary language), including study of selections from world literature
  • Language B
  • Individuals and Societies (history, geography, economics, philosophy, psychology, social anthropology, business and organization)
  • Experimental Sciences (biology, general chemistry, applied chemistry, physics, environmental systems, design technology, physical and chemical systems)
  • Mathematics (basic mathematics, mathematical methods, mathematical studies, advanced mathematics)
  • Electives (art/design, music, Latin, classical Greek, computing studies, history and culture of the Islamic world, advanced mathematics, a second subject from the humanities or sciences, a third modern language or a course from the local school that is approved by IB)
In addition to final examinations, most subjects require a 2,500-word term paper followed by a 20-minute oral defense of the paper. In addition to the basic curriculum, students must take a course entitled Theory of Knowledge to explore the relationships among the various disciplines. They must then write an independent research paper or “Extended Essay” of 4,000 words. Final examinations for seniors last 25 hours over a two-week span.
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, IB has more than 600 member secondary schools in 73 countries, with nearly 200 in the United States and Canada. Almost 85% of participating U.S. schools are public schools with standard curricula that would not provide students with adequate academic qualifications to enroll in the most academically selective foreign universities.