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The need to equip young people with competences that will enable them to function actively in any corner of the world and compete effectively on the global market has long been recognized, especially in relation to children who, following their parents, received education in different countries and at different levels. The development of high, transnational teaching standards has been undertaken by renowned schools, creating branches and international school networks, using proprietary teaching programs and methods. This guarantees a high quality education, confirmed by appropriate certificates recognized by the world's best universities. Such programs have been developed, for example, by British schools based on the Cambridge curriculum or American schools based on an advanced curriculum.
The preferred standard
Currently, one of the most desirable educational programmes is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme initiated in 1968 by the International School of Geneva to provide high quality education to children of diplomatic staff. The IB introduced not only the appropriate range of knowledge and skills that the student must demonstrate at the stage of matriculation examination, regardless of the place of study, but also education in a spirit of tolerance, respect, and understanding for other religions, cultures, and nationalities.
Over the past 50 years, the IB Programme has been developed and has become the preferred standard in most countries of the world, ahead of existing international programs. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the educational offer of, e.g., Cambridge schools is insufficient, but if your child dreams of an international career, not necessarily in the UK, then an IB school may be the better choice. This is also understood by schools from the Cambridge family, which, apart from the A-level programme, are increasingly offering young people the Diploma Programme as more demanding and more universal. For these reasons, the programme offered by IB schools has become synonymous with the international matura exam in Poland.
“There is no better program than IB, because it is constantly evolving, uses the achievements of research centres, which, among other things, deal with brain learning processes, and change and adapt programs that no school will do on its own. Most schools develop their own workshop and then replicate it. However, when you are in IB schools, you need to constantly improve your work,” explains Hanna Piskorska, director and founder of the Monnet International School (MIS) in Warsaw, which as one of the few schools in Poland offering IB Programmes at every level of education—Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), and Diploma Programme (DP).
At the same time, she emphasizes that each IB school creates development plans for three or five years, and after that time is subject to a thorough audit, after which conclusions are formulated, which isn’t about pointing out mistakes and punishing.
“IB auditors excellently orient teachers and correct undesirable actions. This audit should be carried out every year: it makes teachers more active,” emphasizes director Piskorska.
Currently, 43 schools in Poland (data from July 2019) offer an international high school diploma, of which over half are international private schools. The first appeared just after the educational transformation—in 1993. Among them is MIS. Its beginnings, however, were a high school, founded in 1992 as an expression of rebellion against the ossified teaching methods of a bygone era.
“The school was supposed to be modern, inspiring, unusual, and above all creative,” recalls Hanna Piskorska.
“The assumption was not to waste student time, teach at a high level, and at the same time develop good relationships between teachers and students, as well as among teachers. We began to employ academic teachers—most of which are now professors at universities. However, it soon turned out that the teachers were excellent and the students listened to them fascinated, but they did not become as brilliant as they were.
I came to the conclusion that it is a bit too little and I began to look for a solution. At the urging of a new physics teacher, whose son did an IB diploma, we became interested in this system and found that this is what we are looking for. Why? Because IB is a programme in which a student is active. The teacher prepares lessons so that they are in the shade during them and the students work and are involved. Learning is carried out using the project method—it is interdisciplinary. We try to keep the lessons up to date, to engage students,” she emphasizes.
MIS has been an IB school since 2003, and in the following years it also implemented PYP and MYP.
What is the IB Diploma Programme?
The IB Diploma Programme (IB DP) is a two-year educational program for young people aged 16 to 19, which perfectly balances the intellectual part of education with the development of creativity and social awareness, ensuring comprehensive development. The programme focuses on developing students' abilities to acquire and use knowledge. And in this context, it perfectly prepares young people to study and function independently in the modern world.
Most of the lessons are conducted using the project method, in which students have to put forward theses to later confirm or refute them. Young people work on them individually or in groups, which at the same time teaches them collaboration, respect for others, and strengthens their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Learning in accordance with the IB methodology brings the best results when it covers the entire educational cycle of children and adolescents—from kindergarten to the DP final exams. However, few IB schools in the world, including those in Poland, have also implemented PYP and MYP.
In Poland, more schools only offer the PYP or MYP, and one—in Wroclaw—both, but without the IB DP. According to data from 2019, four schools in Poland offer the entire IB programme cycle: two in Warsaw, one in Lublin, and one in Bydgoszcz. For this reason, in most high schools, the IBDP is preceded by an annual preparatory course during which young people learn a new approach to learning.
What does the IBDP course involve?
The IB Diploma Programme is part of several complementary and supportive programmes, which include subject teaching, Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Personal Development Program (Creativity, Action, Service - CAS) and Research Work (Extended Essay - EE), the completion of which is also a condition of joining the secondary school-leaving examination and passing it. We will discuss them briefly:
• IB subject education is different than in traditional schools. The subjects taught are divided into six thematic groups. From among them, students choose three to study at an advanced level (HL) and three to study at a basic level (standard level - SL). The HL subjects selected within individual groups will be those the student takes final exams in. At this point, it should be clarified that the choice of HL subjects is not final, and can be changed during learning, but this is not always possible, because it may turn out that the chosen option is not available in the given school. The IB Programme distinguishes the following thematic groups:
Group 1: Basic language (Language A): students have the choice of HL or SL mode for learning each national language (which they usually choose) or a foreign language. So it can be Polish, English, French, or Mandarin, but above all, every national language. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the language of instruction in IB schools in Poland is English.
Group 2: Additional language (Language B): within this group, the programme distinguishes two levels—continuing language learning through developing linguistic skills (SL) or additionally exploring language culture and literature (HL), as well as learning the basics of another language. This group also includes ancient languages.
Group 3: Human and society (Individuals and societies): this group of subjects includes management and entrepreneurship, economics, geography, history, information technology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and political science, that can be taught at the HL and SL level, and religious studies (SL only).
Group 4: Science (Sciences or experimental sciences): this includes subjects based on research methods, i.e., biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, but also the environment and society (only SL) health science, and sports (sports, exercise and health science - SL/HL). A new subject in this group is design technology.
Group 5: Mathematics: in the DP programme you can learn math at various levels: standard and basic (SL) and high or broadening mathematical knowledge (HL).
Group 6: Arts is a group that integrates visual arts and music. As part of it, young people learn about theatre, painting, film, music, and dance, but at the same time learn to play, paint, or dance, and are required to prepare some work in a given field. Students not interested in it can choose a subject from previous groups. The rule is, however, that every student must learn their native language and math, which is why the choice of a replacement subject usually comes down to an additional foreign language or some additional subject in group three or four.
• Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a program that teaches the ability to use the acquired theoretical knowledge in real-world situations. Its purpose is to make students aware of the interdisciplinary and interpretative nature of knowledge and its impact on culture. It’s also intended to provoke students to think critically, overcome their prejudices, and encourage them to acquire knowledge. The program is credited during an oral presentation of a 1,600-word essay written in English on a selected topic.
Personal development program (Creativity, Action, Service - CAS): the aim of this program is to support student creativity, and their willingness to act and help others. It develops the ability to work independently, and at the same time cooperate with others and engage in activities for the benefit of society, in particular the local community. The implementation of CAS involves conducting various experiments and at least one project during a two-year DP course, which lasts a total of 150 hours. This project is both challenging and enjoyable, providing a path to self-improvement. It can apply to any part of CAS, e.g., creativity as well as specific actions, or both. However, it must:
- be a purposeful action that will bring specific results, e.g., related to helping the needy.
- pose a personal challenge for the student, e.g., learning to play an unusual instrument or overcoming the fear of climbing,
- be properly documented (including a plan and documentation of progress),
- include personal reflection on results.
Each student chooses the project himself, but the project coordinator must accept it. Its completion is a necessary condition for obtaining the IB DP.
Research work (Extended Essay - EE) is another compulsory DP program that prepares students for independent intellectual work by conducting independent research. On any topic of their choice, the student prepares a written research essay of up to 4,000 words, usually in the language of the lecture, i.e., English. The subject of the thesis doesn’t have to be related to the subject which the student intends to take at the matriculation exam, but should address issues that are of particular interest to him. The essay must take the form of a BA thesis, with proper research and conclusions. The student writes it under the guidance of a teacher. The thesis is evaluated and the points obtained for it influence the number of points obtained for final exams.
The IB DP completion takes place during April or May, and is conducted in English. The student can obtain a maximum of 42 points from six taken subjects—from 1 to 7 points per subject. In addition, he may receive 3 points in total for his essay (TOK) and research work (EE). The DP diploma is awarded to students who obtain at least 24 points, subject to certain levels of completion and passing of compulsory elements of the program: TOK, EE, and COS. Upon admission to university, the higher points obtained in individual subjects are converted accordingly, with the grade from the HL subject being treated higher than from SL.
For example, the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW) treats 7 points obtained from the HL subject as 100% of its own points, and 7 points from the SL subject as 70%. This is just an example, because young people with and IBDP have an open path to many prestigious universities in the world, such as the University of Cambridge, Oxford University, Harvard University, La Sorbonne, and the University of Warsaw.
The IBDP is universal, taking into account the core curricula of most developed countries, as well as the content and skills required at the end of school education. This makes IBDP an ideal vehicle to continue learning in every corner of the world, and the diploma obtained after passing high school is honoured by the best universities in the world, including all national universities. This gives graduates full freedom to choose their scientific and professional career path, and leaves them with excellent language skills.
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