I Believe – A much needed criticism about the IB Diploma

The future looks bleak; jobs are ever decreasing and like with any other ailment, people are wishing to vaccinate themselves against this eerie misfortune. As such, this fear has brought about the existence of snake oil peddlers. “Try this school programme…” they say “…if you try it, it will open the door to any university you wish to enter.” Of course this is utter rubbish, but at the time those sweet honeyed words will charm you into continuing to hear their sales pitch.  They’ll then go on to say that this programme is unlike any other, because supposedly those that are in it are not only intellectually challenged, but rationality and free inquiry is actively encouraged. This seems too good to be true, so naturally you go in – even naively thinking that the bloated price tag will be worth it in the end.  I am one of the many thousands of students around the globe who underwent this disagreeable system for two years, and I’d like to issue all who read this a warning -if you have any other viable option, please do not take the International Baccalaureate (IB).

The IB is usually hailed as some sort of saviour of the educational system, there’s little to no legitimate criticism of it on the web. I searched for such arguments in vain, in some sort of ill conceived attempt to make myself feel better, when I was desperately trying to muck through it, but the only things that I found that criticised the IB in any serious manner are pages such as these, which brand it as unpatriotic, antireligious and similar farfetched ideas. The IB is far from being any of these; practically no such criticism is warranted.  There’s plenty which the IB does right, and some things that should even be adopted by schools everywhere. Even so, there are a substantial amount of things that are wrong with the programme, it’s far from being the saviour of education some say it is, and at most it’s a flash in the pan.

In one way or another, all areas of the IB need to be revamped. The overarching criticism I have about the diploma as a whole is the subjective grading system which is inherent in most subjects. Supposedly, the methodology used as a whole is designed to mitigate biases of any sort by implementing a clear grading methodology. In theory, this mark scheme provides all tutors a clear criterion which they must follow to have standardized testing. The reality is quite different; the criteria are so vague that they turn out to be useless.  For example, to get the most points out of an essay, or examination response, the mark scheme might say something along the lines of “the candidate uses the argument in an effective or convincing manner,” to a certain point one might concede that someone has an effective argument even if they don’t concur. However, past that point, very few people will agree that the argument is “effective,” if they don’t agree with it themselves. So in the end, your grade might represent to what extent the examiner was in agreement with you, not the actual coherency of your arguments.

50% is luck, heck it almost sounds that you'd have better odds at gambling

An IB graduate discussing on a well known student forum what he needed to get the best possible grade in the system (Click it to expand)

Besides that, your actual knowledge of the subject might play a secondary role to achieving high grades. The programme is filled with senseless bureaucracy to such an extent that even official IB examiners will say that knowledge may be secondary when trying to achieve high grades:

“Test taking methodology can increase a student’s scores by up to 25%. It’s not a question of knowing the content but ensuring that you approach the exam correctly” – Dr James Mulli a former IB examiner (at the  25:26 minutes mark)

As one can infer from this, the International Baccalaureate is not as open to discussion as one is initially led to believe. Not only that, but the sales pitch admissions officers make about universities accepting you with open arms once you’ve taken the IB, is practically pure deceit.  Yes, it’s true that universities in the world sometimes value the programme over the home-grown ones; but they also never mention that most universities favour or ask for certain courses when you apply. In other words, the diploma you take might not even help you get into a good university, as they might not be interested in the courses you were forced to take, simply because the school didn’t have any others on offer – a fact which they happen to not mention when you’re signing up to the programme.

This brings about the issue about changing schools. Initially, this curriculum was designed to help diplomats and the sort give their children a full education even though they were prone to move around the world. Consequently, you should be able to receive the same level of education regardless of whether you’re in Singapore, China, France, The USA, or wherever. The truth of the matter is much more chaotic, even transferring schools in the same city is quite a hassle. I had the misfortune of meeting a teacher who threatened me by saying that regardless of however well I actually did in the examinations, she would see to it that I would fail wherever she had a say in the matter. Not wanting to verify whether her threats were genuine, I decided that putting as much distance between her and myself was the best course of action. So I ended up transferring to a different campus of the same school. Even so, by sheer luck , I had picked the same courses they offered over there; had I picked any other subjects on offer in my original campus, I wouldn’t have been able to change without severe repercussions in regards to grades, because I would’ve lost an entire year of study and I’d have to restart in a completely new subject. In any case, I didn’t leave unscathed as I still had to redo most of my schoolwork despite the fact that I had been taking the exact same subjects in both campuses; even though it was the same school and the same subject, they had different reading materials and projects so my work didn’t carry over. Mobility is thus, by any stretch of the word, not an argument for the IB.

Another point worth mentioning, which is usually included in the sales pitch of those that want to enthral you, is the inclusion of two subjects – Theory of Knowledge and CAS (Creativity, Action and Service). Supposedly, the addition of these subjects will make you a better person; the former allegedly has the goal of teaching you to think logically, the latter wants to promote activities which will promote personal growth. On paper both of these subjects look amazing, because they seem to allow you to really value the whole developmental process of learning. Nonetheless, they both fall into the pitfalls which we have been alluding to. Theory of Knowledge becomes nothing more than a platform were teachers can voice their own point of view, the curriculum doesn’t seem to be based on anything concrete, and class discussions that arise are heavily monitored under some sort of guise of political correctness. Not only that, but it actively seems to devalue scientific ideas, and the whole scientific process, by promoting backhanded dismissive comments like “You may have verifiable evidence, and you may be able to reproduce it under controlled environments. However you can only arrive at a theory, you can’t possibly know anything about the universe.” Consequently, because that sort of idea forms one of the central tenets of the subject, reason and feelings are put on equal footing, which is by no means a sensible stance both in the theoretical and the real world. As for CAS, you are forced to do an activity in a creative, sporty and social work field for 100 hours over a two year period. Firstly, not all activities of that ilk are applicable; and the criteria of which activities are accepted seems to be completely arbitrary and depends on the teacher in charge of overseeing the projects. Secondly, being forced to do any activity and write reports on them drains any legitimate interest you might otherwise have had for them. I strongly believe that the use of force is the worst motivator one can use to change a person’s values. CAS thus turns out to be a source of constant annoyance for most involved, as they are bullied to do things which they may absolutely detest, or otherwise they might not get the diploma at all.

At the end of it all, most people have no use for the programme. By itself, it offers few benefits compared to the toll it brings emotionally, financially, and in the time spent on pointless things. The programme itself is not difficult, if you’re willing to prostitute yourself to the mark scheme and merely parrot whatever the teacher is saying in most subjects. Because of this, I recommend not even attempting the system as it’s mostly a waste of resources for a stupid piece of paper, which usually has little practical value.

Nonetheless, I wish to stress that the system has potential. If it ever manages to arrange itself in a sensible manner, it might even become the saviour of education some people have very pre-emptively called it. As it is though, it’s a slow and agonizing process which makes you wish you were somewhere else for most of the time. I’m glad that this phase of my life is over, come what may I will never have to do the IB ever again.

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3 Responses to I Believe – A much needed criticism about the IB Diploma

  1. IB is a business says:

    They target the parents not their students, they work on clever marketing aimed at parents with delusional grandeur. Everything that is supposedly different from their ‘competitors’ is just a facade for the parents and schools, in reality IB students don’t give a fuck about any of it and most of it is completely useless garbage that doesn’t even benefit them, their claim of a ‘university-like experience’ is laughable, considering that universities look down at the IB diploma. The only possible benefit of an IB diploma is that it’s alien in the majority of the world’s universities, you might be able to bullshit your way in, but then again, that’s what IB is all about, selling bullshit.

    • IB is a waste says:

      I completely agree with your comment. They start recruiting kids in the 9th grade at my school. They fed me and my parents the same bullshit lie of claiming to get into any university of my choice. My parents believed it, but I was not on the wagon at all. I begged my parents to let me take AP courses instead of enrolling into the IB program, and they didn’t listen. Now here I am four years later and my parents are now realizing that the bullshit lie that they were fed years ago is not true.
      I am currently a senior (year two) in the IB Diploma program and I am completely miserable and fed up with it. At least half of my teachers are incompetent and I wonder how they are allowed to teach at such a high level, nevertheless teach at all. Many teachers simply rush through the material and expect for you to automatically know the outline of the lesson without them having to review. One of my teachers simply projects the textbook on the board and reads straight off from that. I don’t know what type of “college class” this is, but I have learned not to even question it. I remember this one time I ask my teacher to elaborate on a test question and he yelled that “I was in IB and that I should already have a detailed analysis of the material.
      Other than supplying me with shitty teachers, the IB program has completely deprived me of social interaction and sleep. I have been stuck in these IB classes with the same 30 people since freshman year. I don’t date, go to parties or really even communicate with people outside of the program. This has seriously deprived me of an enjoyable high school experience. I have also been deprived of sleep. On a good night, I may get to go to bed at 1, but most of the time I stay up until 3am or later. Overall, I have had a terrible experience with the program and I so desperately wish that I could turn back the hands of time and save myself from making this terrible decision.

  2. Sophie says:

    I totally agree. I have the option to take some IB courses along with honor classes, or go full out with the IB diploma and the unnecessary courses. The theory of knowledge teacher is a complete nut at my school. This post definitely helped me in choosing what to do! Thanks!

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