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The International Baccalaureate (IB) was first established as a two-year advanced secondary school curriculum, the successful completion of which earned students the IB diploma. Then as now the curriculum requires that students complete a course of study in six core subject areas (language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts) write an essay of up to 4000 words, and sit standard, externally assessed exams.
Students are also required to complete two formal projects and a minimum of 50 hours of community service. All requirements exceed those of high school diplomas offered by the provincial boards across Canada—in all ways, the IB diploma is a high school graduation diploma and then some.
In the decades since it began, the IB program has been expanded to include the primary and middle school grades, as well as a career program for students in the senior grades. All are intended to provide a unique, international take on core studies, while also providing a foundation for secondary and post-secondary instruction. As such, the curriculum is managed and administered to provide a well-rounded, high quality, advanced course of study that delivers the core material while challenging students to apply their knowledge and skills through collaboration, discussion, and communication.
Accreditation is granted through the International Baccalaureate in Geneva, Switzerland. The term "International Baccalaureate" is used generically, and can refer to the organization, the degree, or the degree programs. Prior to 2007 the main accrediting body was known formally as the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), though since then is known as, simply, the International Baccalaureate.
Schools intending to offer an IB program undertake a 3-4 year authorization/accreditation process, with timelines depending on when a school begins its formal academic year. Every school accredited to offer any of the four core IB programs is known as an IB World School. Any school that is engaged in the process of accreditation is known as an IB Candidate School.
All accredited schools take part in an ongoing process of review and development. In some cases that process is supported and/or facilitated by sub-regional organizations, one example being the International Baccalaureate Schools of Ontario (IBSO). However, accreditation is only available through the central accrediting body.
The International Baccalaureate was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968, where it remains headquartered today, with additional offices in the UK and the Netherlands. The intention was to "provide an internationally acceptable university admissions qualification suitable for the growing mobile population of young people whose parents were part of the world of diplomacy, international and multinational organizations."
At the outset, the IB Diploma Program was created for students 16-19. It was first envisaged as a diploma that would be recognized at universities around the world, and would be recognized as academically rigorous. The curriculum was written with that goal in mind.
Since, the IB curriculum has been expanded with the creation the IB Primary Years Program (PYP) and the IB Middle Years Program (MYP). The PYP was created for students between the ages of 3 and 12, and the MYP for students 11 to 16. The Career-related Program (CP) was added in 2012, and uses the framework and values of the IB diploma program to address the needs of students ages 16-19 in a career-related course of study. To complete the CP students take a minimum of two IB Diploma Programme (DP) courses, a core program consisting of four components, including a career-related study, and sit standardized exams.
Schools that offer IB programs for all age groups, beginning with the primary years and culminating in the secondary diploma, refer to themselves as IB Continuum Schools. Schools typically develop the IB continuum over time, adding programs as the school grows, and in response to the needs of the student population.
At all levels, the curriculum is organized around six interdisciplinary themes, all developing students' understanding of who they are, their place and time, and how their life intersects with the lives of others, both locally and beyond. The core curriculum—language, math, science, physical education, arts, and social studies—is taught through the lens of those cross-curricular themes.
Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” in 1962 in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy. The term gained traction because of the growth in multinational corporations and organizations, and also because it reflected the spirit of the time, given the exponential growth in air traffic (and, later, the internet). There was a growing awareness that students would increasingly live in a multinational, multicultural world, with professional and personal lives that crossed borders and cultural boundaries. Likewise, it was surmised that communities of interest would develop independent of the local communities that students lived within—the community of physicists, for example, would be a global one, rather than associated with specific local communities.
It was out of that conception that International Baccalaureate was founded in the late 1960s. It would offer a diploma that was as mobile as the students who would earn it, and would be recognized readily by universities around the world. And, indeed, that's exactly what the IB has become.
While rigor was important—students with the IB could be counted on to have a strong basis in language, math, and science—so was the kind of learner that the IB could develop. In addition to the core curriculum, students would be required to gain a meaningful sense of global issues, economy, geography, and culture. They would be required to learn the fundamentals of communication, creative problem solving, ethical leadership, and international politics. As such, the IB was in a sense at the leading edge of the development of what we now think of under the umbrella of 21st century literacies.
Today there are more than 3000 schools in roughly 150 countries that offer the IB Diploma Program (DP). In Canada, schools typically offer the DP in addition to provincial diplomas, with students free to choose which they’d like to work toward. Schools are not required to offer all four aspects of the current IB program—primary, middle, diploma, career—and instead offer only those that are appropriate to the needs of their enrolment.
The reasons that families and students choose the IBDP are varied, and include:
Each of Canada's universities is free to set its own admissions standards and to assess each candidate based on their own internal criteria. There is no national university entrance exam or governing body overseeing university admissions. As a result, admission criteria can vary widely, even between universities within Canada. Students are required to contact colleges or universities directly to find a list of admission requirements and deadlines, and to submit transcripts in support of their application.
While the specific details of recognition can vary between universities—or, in some cases, even between faculty within a university—the IB diploma is nevertheless very widely accepted as an admission credential if the scores earned meet certain targets. In some instances, IB courses and exams are recognized for transfer credit within an institution, used in fulfillment of university degree requirements and/or fulfilling course prerequisite requirements. University admissions departments can provide details on their admission and course prerequisite requirements as they pertain to the IB diploma.