I have been a fan of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for many years. It was founded in Geneva in 1968, to provide a high-level educational curriculum that would be applicable across the globe. Its success is illustrated by the fact that successful students have automatic, preferred, entry into almost any university in the world. The initial program concentrated on high school, but it now offers four educational programs starting at age three.

      When Marie-Thérèse Maurette wrote “Educational Techniques for Peace. Do They Exist?” in 1948, she created the framework for what would eventually become the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP). In the mid-1960s, a group of teachers from the International School of Geneva (Ecolint) created the International Schools Examinations Syndicate (ISES), which would later become the International Baccalaureate (IB).

      The stated objective of the original IB Diploma Programme 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”.

      International Baccalaureate North America (IBNA) was established in 1975, International Baccalaureate Africa, Europe and Middle-East (IBAEM) in 1986, and International Baccalaureate Asia Pacific (IBAP) during the same period. 

      The International Baccalaureate now functions as a global organization with centers in Geneva, Washington DC, The Hague, Cardiff and Singapore. In May of 2021, Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Finnish politician and director of the Finnish National Agency of Education, was selected by the board of directors to serve as director general, replacing Dr. Siva Kumari.

      The IB is a nonprofit organization, selling its products and services to schools, in a system analogous to a franchise network. Schools buy products and services from the IB – assessments, publications, the right to use branding and, in turn, schools act as distributors, reselling the products and services to families.

      There are currently fifty-six (56) sub-regional associations, including: fifteen in the IB Africa, Europe and Middle East (IBAEM) region; thirty-six in the IB Americas (IBA) region; and five in the IB Asia Pacific (IBAP) region.

      In 2003, the IB established the IB Fund, incorporated in the United States, for the purpose of enhancing fundraising, and keeping funds raised separate from operational funds. In 2004, it approved a strategic plan to “ensure that programmes and services are of the highest quality” and “to provide access to people who are socio-economically disadvantaged.” In 2010 and 2015, the strategic plans were updated after substantial consultation. The vision for the next five years was to more consciously establish the IB as a leader in international education.

      Access remains fundamental to the mission of the IB, and a variety of initiatives and projects are helping to take it forward in EcuadorPolandRomania, the Czech RepublicSouth AfricaKazakhstanSpainPhilippinesMalaysiaJapan, and South Korea.

      The United States has the largest number of IB programmes (2,010 out of a world total of 5,586) offered in both private and public schools.

      The IB Diploma Programme was described as “a rigorous, off-the-shelf, curriculum recognized by universities around the world” when it was featured in the December 18, 2006, edition of Time magazine. The title of the article was “How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century”. The IBDP was also featured in the Summer 2002 edition of American Educator, where Robert Rothman described it as “a good example of an effective, instructionally sound, exam-based system.”

      In the U.S. in 2006, as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), President George W. Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings presented a plan for the expansion of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate mathematics and science courses. The goal was to increase the number of AP and IB teachers and the number of students taking AP and IB examinations, as well as tripling the number of students passing those exams. Howard Gardner, a professor of educational psychology at Harvard University, said that the IBDP curriculum is “less parochial than most American efforts” and helps students “think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking.”

      In 2006, government ministers in the United Kingdom provided funding so that “every local authority in England could have at least one centre offering sixth-formers the chance to do the IB.”

      Inevitably, there are parochial detractors of IB. In 2006, an attempt was made to eliminate it from a public school in Pittsburgh, PA. Some schools in the United States have eliminated the IBDP due to budgetary reasons and low student participation. In Utah in 2008, funding for the IBDP was reduced from $300,000 to $100,000 after State Senator Margaret Dayton objected to the IB curriculum, stating, “First, I have never espoused eliminating IB … I don’t want to create ‘world citizens’ nearly as much as I want to help cultivate American citizens who function well in the world.” How myopically parochial can you get, but why am I surprised given the current politics of the U.S.?

      However, there are more enlightened administrators in the U.S. Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago believes that IB should be an option for students in Chicago Public Schools. Elizabeth Brackett, reporting on her own experience of studying the IB in Chicago, found that it made for a stressful school experience but subsequently eased the pressures of university study. A further report by the University of Chicago concluded that Chicago Public School students who completed the IB curriculum were 40% more likely to attend a four-year college, 50% more likely to attend a selective four-year college, and significantly more likely to persist in college than their matched peers outside the IB. The City of Miami Beach Commission entered into an education compact with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, with one of the initiatives of the compact to implement the IB curriculum throughout Miami Beach feeder schools.

      In 2013, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan and the IB announced a plan that will expand the opportunities for Japanese students to complete the IB curriculum in Japanese. In Malaysia a project has been developed in response to interest expressed by the Malaysia Ministry of Education (MoE) in working with the IB, to implement the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) in select secondary state schools. The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) signed an agreement with the IB in efforts to widen the options offered for parents and to meet the different needs of students in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In April 2014, The King Faisal Foundation in Saudi Arabia and the IB signed a memorandum of understanding to develop IB programmes, including the IBDP, in up to forty primary and secondary schools, with the goal of developing these schools as centres of excellence as IB World Schools. In Peru President Ollanta Humala has committed to building a high performing schools network (COAR) made up of IB World Schools. In early 2016, thirteen new schools were authorized by the IB as part of this programme. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has also committed to improving education in state schools by implementing IB programmes, and by January 2016 there were over 200 state schools. With support from local organizations, there are thirteen state IB schools in Russia. In Spain, various models have been implemented (3 types of schools in Spain: public schools, private schools and state funded-private or ‘concerted’ schools) and this has led to extensive growth, with 140 schools participating.

      The concept and implementation of IB is obviously successful at a level that was probably only dreamed of when it was founded. It is also a lone, practical, harbinger of world unity for future generations. Perhaps the fact that it has operated under the radar to some extent, is the reason that it has been successful. Heaven forbid that it should become a political/nationalistic football for self-serving, myopic rulers and countries. It is a great hope for the future of the world. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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