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Five Myths about the International Baccalaureate Part 1 of 2

A version of this article was published by CACE in October 2016.

The International Baccalaureate Organization (IB) has been in existence for over fifty years and is well-respected in developing educational programmes for students from kindergarten to senior school graduation. However, there are many misunderstandings about IB that have influenced opinions regarding its appropriateness for all learners. While “IB has a hard-earned reputation for high standards of teaching, pedagogical leadership and student achievement,”1 some believe these attributes are not applicable for all learners or for only some kinds of schools. This article will address five myths about IB, and hopefully, will provide the reader with a better understanding of this exceptional program.

Myth #1: IB is just a university prep program.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is beneficial for students going to university and provides preparation for students attending all post-secondary institutions. More important are the lifelong benefits to IB including marketable job skills, career opportunities, flexible thinking skills, adaptability, and informed citizenship. Furthermore, this myth is perpetrated by those who are not familiar with other IB programmes such as the Primary Years Programme (PYP) for students aged three to eleven, and the Middle Years Programme (MYP) for students aged twelve to sixteen. IB is one of most effective programs in preparing students for the 21st Century. Extensive research has identified the following essential 21st century skills for today’s students2: collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking and problem-solving. These skills are addressed in all IB programmes supporting students and teachers starting in kindergarten.

Myth #2: IB is only for the brightest and best students.

There is a claim IB is an elitist program intended for just the ‘brightest and best’ students. This claim is usually found in North America because many public schools use the IB diploma as a program for the gifted. International Baccalaureate never intended for its programmes to be for a select group of students; rather, they have always supported an inclusive approach for all students: “The DP is open to any student aged sixteen to nineteen, at schools that have been authorized to implement the programme.”All students can do the IBDP if they are given enough time and support to learn. Most public schools in North America construct a timetable that limits instructional time based on government regulations of minimal hours expected and requiring equal time for each class to facilitate the collective agreement of preparation time for teachers.4 For example, most public secondary schools in Canada provide students with eight classes per year or 12.5% instructional time per class. This matches the usual requirement of 12.5% preparation time for teachers. If instructional time is limited, as it is in public schools, then it is fair to assume only the brightest and best students can successfully obtain the IB diploma. Private and independent schools can be more flexible in developing timetables with more instructional time which can support all students learning the IB, including students with special assessment needs.5

Throughout North America, school systems have recognized IBDP courses as equivalent to Department of Education courses. For example, IBDP English is a two-year course, and when completed the Department of Education will recognize IBDP English as equivalent to its own English 11 and English 12 courses. This means students will first receive credits toward the Department of Education graduation diploma, and then work toward the IB diploma, if all the necessary requirements for the IBDP are met. It is very possible an IBDP student would not meet the IB diploma requirements, but still graduate with the government diploma. Regardless, the IB approach to learning better prepares students for any post-secondary experience.

It should also be noted the PYP and the MYP must be provided to all students in the school for authorization to implement the programmes.

Myth #3: IB is a challenging and difficult program.

The IBDP is a challenging program, but expectations are not higher than Department of Education standards; just different. The IB approaches to learning encourage students to develop competencies rather than just content. Assessment in the IBDP is also different as students are evaluated using a 7-point scale, and post-secondary institutions believe IBDP scores are more reliable because of it’s standardize testing. For example, students take exams at the end of the two-year course that are the same exams written by IBDP students all over the world. Universities also convert the IBDP score to a percentage that indicates respect for students learning through the IBDP. For example, the University of British Columbia will assign percentages and convert IB scores as follows: 7 – 96% – 100%; 6 – 90% – 95%; 5 – 86% – 89%; 4 – 76% – 85%; 3 – 70% – 75%.6

The following descriptions of the PYP and MYP also address these programmes as suitable for all learners: 

“By choosing to implement the PYP, schools will develop students’ academic, social, and emotional well-being, focusing on international-mindedness and strong personal values. The PYP nurtures independent learning skills, encouraging every student to take responsibility for their learning. The PYP incorporates local and global issues into the curriculum, asking students to look at six related, transdisciplinary themes and to consider the links between them. The themes include ‘who we are’, ‘where we are in place and time’ and ‘how the world works’.7 It prepares students for the intellectual challenges of further education and their future careers, focusing on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside.”8

“The MYP is a challenging framework that encourages students to make practical connections between their studies and the real world. The MYP is inclusive by design; students of all interests and academic abilities can benefit from their participation. Implementation of the MYP is a whole-school endeavor, although the programme can accommodate academically-selective models.”9

To be continued in Part 2…



  2., January 9, 2014 by Barry Lawrence


  4. Relates to British Columbia public school contract agreements with teacher unions.

  5. IBDP Candidates with Special Needs Assessment document, May 2011.

  6. UBC Entrance requirements.





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