GENEVA Sabine Hutcheson explores the requirements for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, which is growing in popularity among international and Anglophone schools in Switzerland.
The appeal of the IB Diploma is primarily its international approach. No particular culture is favoured and students are educated to become world citizens, preparing them for careers wherever they choose. It’s also a popular choice for expat families given that it can be picked up anywhere in the world. Most major cities now have schools offering the IB. So this is a good choice for those not sure where they will end up next.
The IB, however, may not be the best choice for everyone. To obtain the Diploma, students need to do well across six distinct subject groups: main language; second language; experimental sciences; maths and computer sciences; the arts; and the individual and societies. This is similar to the Swiss Maturité, where students must study an even wider range of subjects. It suits students who are all-rounders, but is also helpful for those who do not know what they want to specialize in.
Other options are British A-Levels and, to a certain extent, the French Baccalauréate (colloquially known as le bac). In both the British and French systems, students choose the subjects they prefer. Whereas the French system obliges students to specialize in scientific, literary or social studies paths, A-Levels offer complete freedom in the combination of subjects. The IB offers a certain amount of choice, but with its holistic philosophy, the programme promotes similar skills and expectations throughout the different stages of education in order to facilitate learning. This common practice of international perspective, problem solving and research techniques is reinforced by three compulsory elements: the Creativity, action, service project; the Extended Essay;and the Theory of Knowledge class. Each of these can add a point to the overall total of the final IB grade. This can make all the difference when applying to university.
The French Baccalauréate and, to a degree, the Swiss Maturité (La Matu) share the final grade system. (The IB is the total sum of all grades, while le bac and La Matu give the average). The A-Level differs by providing three separate grades, not unlike the five American Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Some may see the latter as an advantage, because weaker grades will not penalize success in a particular subject.
The IB Diploma, as the other three qualifications mentioned here, enables students to access universities across the world, although US colleges also require students to take SAT exams. These are not stand alone academic qualifications, but just a requirement for admission. SAT exams are more about technique than content and so require adequate preparation.
While the overall education system is critical for choosing a path for one’s children, the school itself should bear equal importance. Certain teaching styles may suit some students better than others, but a child who has been encouraged to be curious and to enjoy learning from an early age, who is used to having books in his daily life, and who is brought up to talk meaningfully within his family, will be successful in any school environment.
Sabine Hutcheson is an education consultant and the academic director of TutorsPlus in Geneva.