The International Baccalaureate program provides a course of study and tools for assessing students as well as programs for training teachers. The non-profit International Baccalaureate Foundation, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has consultative status with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Students in the IB program are assessed by their own teachers as well as by international educators from around the world. Nearly 30,000 students are assessed each year by the IB Organization, and usually 80 per cent of students graduate with a diploma recognized by such esteemed universities as the Sorbonne, Yale and Oxford.
The International Baccalaureate Program (IB), a blueprint for learning designed 30 years ago for the children of globetrotting diplomats, is now used in more than 800 schools from Singapore to Sweden, including 117 here in Canada.
Developed in Switzerland by blending elements from various national school systems, the new hybrid two-year pre-university program was intended as a sort of "curriculum without borders" that would translate into any language and equip students for university in a number of different countries.
The IB program has a tough liberal-arts curriculum. It also has intellectually challenging courses in areas that have since become popular - the theory of knowledge (or how people learn), community service, and learning through inquiry rather than rote tasks.
As a result of both high standards and a global focus, the International Baccalaureate has won fans far beyond the so-called international community. More than a dozen schools in Ontario, including Toronto's The York School, have adopted the IB as a sort of enriched honours program for all students - whether or not they ever leave town.
"We started the IB program five years ago because it incorporates so many good teaching practices that produce amazing outcomes," says principal Barbara Goodwin- Zeibots of The York School, a co-educational, non-denominational day school for grades 1 through 12 on Yonge Street, just south of St. Clair Avenue.
"We were drawn to the academic rigour of the International Baccalaureate, as well as the focus on responsible citizenship and the way it encourages critical, compassionate thinkers."
When an Ontario high school - whether public or private - adopts the pre-university IB diploma program, students must take these extra requirements above and beyond the province's curriculum in their last two years of high school.
A sort of enriched overlay, the IB curriculum makes sure each student studies at least one other language, at least one experimental science, a math course, an arts subject and a course in social science.
As well, IB students take a mandatory course on learning itself, which challenges them to think about how people learn, the nature of knowledge and how to mount a rational argument.
Beyond the classroom, the IB program required students to do community service long before Ontario launched its new community service requirement last year, in which provincial high school students must perform 40 hours of volunteer work over four years of high school. In contrast, in just two years, IB students must perform 50 hours of service to the school community, a further 50 hours of community service outside the school, plus 50 hours of leadership training.
"It's not academic elitism," says Goodwin-Zeibots, who is phasing in the IB program at York in the lower grades as well. "We already take the inquiry approach to learning in the primary grades, so the IB program would add another dimension. It excites us tremendously because it takes learning to different levels."
In Ontario, the International Baccalaureate has found a home in both public high schools such as Toronto's Vaughn Road Academy, Weston Collegiate and Victoria Park Secondary School, as well as such independent schools as Upper Canada College, The Toronto French School and The York School.
In an age of growing demands for standardization and rich course content, the International Baccalaureate appears to be an idea whose time has come.