International Baccalaureate of GCE "A" Levels - The Choice


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An inquiry carried out among 71 institutions of higher learning in Britain shows that universities rate the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma highly. A strong majority, 57%, felt that the Diploma Programme conferred an advantage compared to the national alternative (p 17 of report).

The vast majority of institutions questioned felt that a broad curriculum is desirable. They were particularly enthusiastic about this aspect of the Diploma Programme. The project was an attempt to move beyond anecdotal evidence that the IB diploma is well accepted and establish its quality and suitability to prepare students for higher education.

The IBO publishes, Thursday 9 October, the report "Perceptions of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme". The questionnaires and interviews that led to the report were carried out in cooperation with Universities UK and SCOP (Standing Conference of Principals) during the first six months of 2003.

The IBO is a non-profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, that offers three education programmes for students from 3-19 to some 1,400 schools around the world. It also offers teacher training and other services and is a pioneer in the field of international education research. Its flagship curriculum, the Diploma Programme, is offered to students by 48 schools in the UK.

The IB Diploma Programme has been offered in Britain since 1970. Some 1,643 students in Britain took the examinations in May 2003 and obtained their results in early July, over one month before A-level results were issued. The IB programme differs from the national curriculum in its requirements for a diploma: students must successfully complete examinations in six required subjects and receive passing marks in three core areas. These are: an extended essay of 4,000 words (primary research), a theory of knowledge course, and 150 hours of supervised CAS (creativity, action, service) time.

Key points from the report include:

1. Many of those who responded expressed the opinion that Diploma Programme courses and examinations had not suffered grade inflation. A table in the report (p 15) shows this clearly, with pass rates varying only slightly:
May 1998 82.3%
May 1999 83.8%
May 2000 82.4%
May 2001 81.8%
May 2002 82.4%
Examinations are also given in November, primarily to southern hemisphere candidates but also to students retaking examinations. These show a similar stability in pass rates. A common view, in the written replies to questionnaires, that Diploma Programme subjects cannot be as deep and rigorous as those offered by the national curriculum, was shown in interviews to be false. The universities' experience of IB students shows convincingly that the coursework prepares students well, despite the many demands on students because the programme is broader. Two areas in particular, mathematics and sciences, drew positive comments. London School of Economics and Political Science felt that there was a stark contrast between Diploma Programme and A-level students with the former at an advantage, and that the compulsory inclusion of mathematics was a distinct advantage. Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine noted that the mathematics examinations were seen to be more testing of a student's mathematical training than A-level examinations (p16).
2. The three core requirements-the extended essay, theory of knowledge course and CAS-are viewed positively by UK institutions of higher learning. Medical schools noted that the service element in CAS provides an appropriate way for applicants to gain experience in the caring professions (p 21).
3. The Diploma Programme's requirements (p 18) are broader than those for the national curriculum and universities support this strongly (97.3%), noting the following qualities they see in students as a result:
o students have a wider perspective
o it provides an appropriate preparation for working life
o students develop a wide range of skills that are particularly useful in university studies
o they have strengths when faced with making choices, have good skills in critical analysis and expression.
Royal Holloway, University of London, found "IB students to be markedly stronger than A-level students".
4. Holders of IB diplomas are well accepted by British institutions of higher learning: Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) recently compiled their courses database for 2004 and have included about 50,000 courses of study (openings for students), with their admission requirements, available in the United Kingdom. Of these, 47,000 list requirements not only for students doing the national examinations but also for those studying the Diploma Programme-an extremely high percentage that indicates wide recognition.


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