Article by Mara Westley, a former Jumeirah College and Cheltenham Ladies’ College student.
This selection process can be exhausting for students and parents alike. That an increasing number of recruitment directors and admission officers hold the examination systems in equal esteem does not make the decision any easier.
Outside of the United Kingdom there is a similar, if not identical dilemma, between the national curriculum, and the international curriculum of the IB.
With few grounds for any sort of differentiation, the most common advice offered to students, certainly for those facing the IB versus A level decision is to ask themselves whether they are a ‘specialist’ or an ‘all-rounder’.
As a year 12 student who selected the Diploma Programme (DP) less than a year ago, I fully appreciate how unsatisfying (and unhelpful) being given a list of the differences between A' levels and the International Baccalaureate can be.
In reality, the value of the IB is not based on these uninspiring differences but on the intrinsic worth of an internationally recognized education with excellent academic standards.
All IB students must study six subjects chosen from different categories, thus ensuring a breadth of experience in languages, sciences, mathematics and the arts. Needless to say, this breadth is invaluable to students who have not determined a clear career path and would benefit from the opportunity to study a wide variety of subjects.
Do not assume that this diversity is only beneficial for students who do not know what they want to do after school. Many of us are passionate about the professions we hope to pursue. The issue is that too many young students, particularly scientists, are dropping everything and leaving themselves with only biology, chemistry and physics. The IB is able to provide us with the analytical and creative skills we need whilst protecting us from the risk of over-specialisation.
One of the most enticing aspects of the DP curriculum is the way that it prepares students for university. There is no doubt that the critical thinking, inquisitiveness and interpretation skills required by the IB are essential at undergraduate level and beyond. As an aspiring lawyer, I have no doubt that the discipline and perseverance expected from me at present will be crucial to success at law school and in facing the notorious Bar.
Not only does the DP prepare us for higher education, but it also instils in us a love of learning and an understanding of the truly interdisciplinary nature of education. Whilst assessments are rigorous, the IB prides itself on encouraging an ‘inquiry-based’ teaching environment.
There is emphasis placed on allowing students to explore areas of particular interest and enabling them to make insightful connections between different areas of knowledge. Any student who has experienced the rigidity of the GCSE curriculum will be able to recognize the value of the intellectual liberty offered by IB.
Although the Programme has a reputably strong academic focus, it provides a holistic education that asks students to be open-minded, socially responsible and risk taking individuals.
The unique core requirements of the Diploma are Theory of Knowledge, CAS (Community, Action, Service) and the Extended Essay. These elements are at the heart of the IB programme and they enable students to enhance their personal and interpersonal development through creative and dynamic learning. The experiential learning involved in completing these activities is an important and healthy counterbalance to the academic pressures of the rest of the DP.
Students who shy away from the IB do so because they fear that they are not organised, disciplined or inquisitive ‘enough’. This should not be a concern for anyone. The two year programme is designed to shape students and support them in developing the skills and competencies required for lifelong learning.
Every kind student can benefit from the quality and flexibility of the education the programme provides.
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Mara Westley is a former Jumeirah College and Cheltenham Ladies’ College student. She is now working as a lawyer in a Golden Circle law firm in the United Kingdom. So clearly it all worked out in the end.