Many believe the International Baccalaureate could bring English education back up to scratch.
Source: The Telegraph
Citizens of the world: IB Diploma candidates are encouraged to think of themselves as members of a global society Photo: KAREN REGEHR SMITH
The European Survey of Language Competences found last week that English pupils are among the worst in Europe at foreign languages.
“For England, an international trading nation, to lie at the bottom of a league of language competence is economically and socially dangerous,” said the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb.
Reports that Education Secretary Michael Gove is considering a return to an O-level-type exam in an attempt to raise standards, the establishment of single boards to avoid grade inflation in core subjects, and the setting up of a review of A-level syllabuses in English, science and maths by leading universities reinforce the sense of unease at the present state of English education.
Yesterday, students of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, offered by more than 200 schools in England as an alternative to A-level, got their results, along with thousands of other students across the northern hemisphere.
The pass mark, and the number of those reaching it, is likely to be the same, within one to two percentage points, as it has been since the exam began in 1970.
Run by an organisation based in Geneva, the exam is subject to no political pressure and exists for the convenience of the large numbers of people working abroad whose children need a qualification accepted by universities worldwide.
The Diploma Programme’s syllabus might have been invented with Mr Gove’s ideas in mind.
As with A-level, all candidates can choose three subjects in six compulsory domains to study at “higher” level; but they must also choose three more subjects from the other three domains to study at “standard” level.
Thus, a science-based candidate might choose to do, say, chemistry, biology and maths at higher level.
But he or she would also have to do English, a foreign language and a subject such as history at standard level.
For an arts-based candidate, the situation would be reversed — there would be no escaping standard-level maths or a science.
No candidate, in other words, can avoid doing a core subject up to the age of 18.
The IB regards languages as core subjects.
It believes study of your native language teaches you to speak and write precisely, clearly and sensitively; and that it’s important to continue it beyond 16 so that you can learn to express the more complex ways in which you see the world.
Continued study of a foreign language is essential for members of a global society, as IB Diploma candidates are encouraged to consider themselves.
To reinforce this, a compulsory element of the IB Diploma is Theory of Knowledge (TOK).
One of its objectives is to get rid of national bias; another to eliminate prejudice, to explore the validity of claims to knowledge and the tests to be applied before we can say something is true.
TOK encourages pupils to see all subjects in relation to each other, how some rely more on the exercise of reason and logic, for instance, and others more on emotion (one TOK exam question asks: “Are some ways of knowing more likely than others to lead to truth?”).
The extended essay, by contrast, invites candidates to research an area of special interest and write 4,000 words on it — a preparation for the kind of research to be done at university.
To underline the importance of all the subjects done in the IB Diploma, all six subjects, both at higher and standard level, are marked out of the same score, a maximum of seven points.
The Theory of Knowledge and extended essay together are worth a further three, giving a maximum of 45 points.
Thirty-eight points is about the equivalent of three As at A-level, so there are a further seven points with which to differentiate the good from the outstanding candidates who can demonstrate both innate ability and the ability to cope with the extra workload Diploma candidates face.
But, as the Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket used to say, “there’s more”.
The Diploma Programme also invades schools’ extra-curricular activities. Though it carries no marks, failure to complete Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) disqualifies candidates from the Diploma.
This programme requires extra-curricular time to be devoted to the arts, sport and especially community service.
Candidates who, for instance, help out at a local primary school (say, with a programme of sports and drama of their own devising) would be satisfying all three.
This combines with a strong moral element which emerges in its mission statement “to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect”.
Not all are convinced.
Critics identify the following problems.
The IB Diploma Programme’s prescribed breadth distracts pupils who are clear about their chosen field of study and want to read more deeply in it.
Early specialisation at 16 enables university undergraduate courses to achieve far more, at lower cost, than other university systems.
Dyslexia sufferers, though given extra exam time, find French a burden and often switch to beginners’ Spanish, which is easier to cope with.
Some universities do not know enough about the IB Diploma and make offers to candidates which are unrealistically high.
They don’t understand that it is an exam which encourages breadth and that the candidates have had to do a great deal more work for it.
Despite the IB encouraging them to invent their own school-based syllabuses, schools which adopt the programme have less room in the curriculum (or the co-curriculum) to do their own thing.
Independent schools, in particular, might ask, “What is independence for?”
The number of elements in the programme necessitates a broader range of teaching specialisms, more administration and hence higher costs.
The government will now fund only four level 3 courses and some state schools have had to drop the Diploma.
Almost all schools start the IB Diploma as an alternative to A-level, and for many it is hard to get it off the ground.
The A-level requires of pupils less work, less intellectual flexibility and less challenge.
As Ian Andain, former head of the Broadgreen International School (a state school in Liverpool) and the first to take his school exclusively down the Diploma route, says: “Constant professional development, exposing students to the concept of the Learner Profile, talking to them, building their aspirations and constructing a positive IB culture in the school is a long process, and far too many schools fail to understand this.”
But for many, the programme is worth all the trouble.
Tony Evans, a former chairman of the Headmasters’ Conference, now chairman of Sevenoaks School (itself an all-IB Diploma school) says:
“The IB Diploma encourages an international perspective, flexibility of mind and confidence in areas of learning which are essential for life beyond school and university.
It is by far the most balanced and enlightened education one can offer a young person.”
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a member of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty four (44) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.