An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #33

Chapter 5: A Look At Other Systems (Cont’d)

International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a Geneva-based non-profit organization established in1968 to cater initially for the needs of children of internationally mobile families. In the short space of time it has already acquired a deservedly high reputation among universities worldwide for its rigorous matriculating examination. Schools in over 112 countries subscribe to the IB program, including many American magnet schools. In Malaysia apart from the few international schools, only MARA College, Banting, offers IB diploma. The college has done exceptionally well, including producing the best results worldwide for the last two consecutive years.

The IB school years resemble the Malaysian pattern, with six years of primary, five of secondary, and two years of matriculation (pre-university or Sixth Form). The curriculum is both broad and deep, integrated, and emphasizes critical thinking. There is also a strong component of community service. The matriculation program revolves around six core areas: primary language, second language, social sciences and history, mathematics, natural sciences, and an elective. Students choose three or four subjects at the higher level (HL) for more in depth studies and instructional hours. HL would be equivalent to Sixth Form‘s principal level. The rest of the subjects are taken at the standard level (SL), equivalent to the Sixth Form’s subsidiary level. This combination of SL and HL neatly tackles both breadth as well as depth. Students with an “artsy” bend need not take mathematics and science at the same intense level as would-be engineers.

This integrative approach is reflected in that all students have to take three common core elements. First is the Theory of Knowledge that emphasizes critical thinking and relates knowledge in the overall grand scheme of things. Second, students choose a topic for an in depth study, culminating in the writing of an extended essay, similar to the portfolio exhibition of the American CES schools. Third, students participate in a community project (CAS) that involves the three elements of creativity (C), action (A), and service (S).

IB’s HL pass is so highly regarded that even elite American universities give college credits for it. The American National Research Council praises IB, considering it one of the two best programs to prepare students to pursue science and mathematics in college, the other being AP.

The secret for IB’s success is due to its strict adherence to standards. Participating schools not only have to pay the equivalent of a franchise fee, but they also have to be regularly accredited. There are regular professional development programs for teachers as well as continuing curricular support for them available on-line. The emphasis on class participation and group projects means that IB, unlike other matriculating examinations, cannot be obtained through home schooling or correspondence courses. But like SAT, IB is both broad and comprehensive. All matriculating examinations have the same disadvantage of being a single end-of-year assessment, instead of regular and ongoing as with GPA. In this regard IB has a slight advantage in that with its science subjects, 26% of the final marks are based on teachers’ internal evaluation of the students’ laboratory work.

IB is sufficiently flexible to meet the national needs of various countries. I suggest modifying Sixth Form towards the IB model.

Next: Brazil’s Bolsa Escola

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