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International Baccalaureate Explained

by Madeleine

IB. Those two little letters have been thrown around quite a lot by students, teachers and workers in the education sector for a while now. But what does ‘IB’ actually mean? While it is almost always an abbreviation of ‘International Baccalaureate’, the term can mean any of the following things:

1) the International Baccalaureate foundation which offers a range of courses;

2) any one of the courses offered by the International Baccalaureate foundation, or;

3) the diploma or certificate awarded at the end of one of these courses!

So what are each of these and what do they have to do with students? We’ve done the research so you don’t have to!

IB: The Foundation

International Baccalaureate (the international foundation) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. It was originally known as the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), but it changed its name in 2007 after the company got a bit of a facelift. The company was created after a series of events initially triggered by an article entitled “Educational Techniques for Peace. Do They Exist?” by French educator Marie-Therese Maurette. The piece inspired a framework which turned into the International Diploma Programme, and a group of teachers from the International School of Geneva in turn created the International Schools Examinations Syndicate (which later became IBO) to promote and develop the programme.

Over the years, the IB organisation has come to shape its programmes around the development of students according to the IB ‘learner profile’. This means that they aim to create learners who are:

  • Inquirers

  • Knowledgeable

  • Thinkers

  • Communicators

  • Principled

  • Open-minded

  • Caring

  • Risk-takers

  • Balanced

  • Reflective


With the learner profile in mind, the organisation’s programmes are drafted with the intention of creating students who “learn to respect themselves, others and the world around them”. What can be gleaned from this is that the IB isn’t just about creating academic success, but creating socially responsible and open-minded students too.

IB: The Course

The organisation is one thing, but the courses run by the IB foundation are also confusingly referred to simply as ‘IB’ or ‘International Baccalaureate’. The most well-known IB course is the Diploma Programme, which is generally considered an A-Level equivalent and is aimed at 16-19 year olds, but there are actually four IB courses offered. They are as follows:

• Primary Years Programme (PYP) – This programme is aimed at children aged 3-12, and aims to nurture young students in an attempt to get them to start thinking for themselves and shaping their own learning. Students will look at local, national and international issues in real-world contexts in order to develop the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and actions necessary to be ready for ‘successful lives’. It’s taught in over 109 countries, and the curriculum is malleable according to state and national standards.


• Middle Years Programme (MYP) – The next step up from PYP, this programme covers children aged 11-16, and its main aim is to help students forge links between their studies and the world around them. The programme spans five years and can be carried out in partnership with other schools. It focuses on eight subject groups and ends in an optional external assessment.

• Diploma Programme (DP) – The Diana Ross of IB courses, the Diploma programme is the most well-known and an increasingly popular option among schools and sixth-form colleges for 16-19 year olds. It attempts to allow students to acquire both breadth and depth of knowledge – interestingly the IB foundation states that they want students to flourish “ethically” as well as intellectually after taking the Diploma Programme. 


Exams are the main basis of assessment for Diploma courses, but internal assessment also plays an important part – this can include fieldwork, lab work, artistic performances and oral presentations. Students must take six subjects: five from the main subject groups (language and literature; language acquisition; individuals and societies; experimental sciences and mathematics) and one additional subject (this can either be an arts subject, or an additional subject from the main five groups). Each subject is ranked out of 7 (with 7 being the best mark), and the combined total of the student’s marks will be their overall diploma grade. Quite different from A Level! 


Students are also required to fulfil three core requirements to pass the DP, as well as completing their own subject examinations: an Extended Essay (an independent project of up to 4,000 words); Theory of Knowledge (a course introducing students to theories on the nature and limitations of knowledge); and Creative, Activity, Service (a course aiming to provide students with the means for personal growth and self-reflection).


• Career-related Programme (CP) – The CP is aimed at funnelling the values of the IB foundation into a programme which assists students focussing on skills- and careers-based education. By taking the CP, students can give themselves a higher chance of getting accepted into higher education, apprenticeships or employment.


IB: The Certificate

Sometimes, when people say ‘IB’ they’re simply referring to the certificate they were given upon completing one of the above four courses provided and regulated by the IB organisation. As if things weren’t confusing enough already!

Hopefully this demystifies things for you… but if, after coming to understand what the IB actually is, you’re stumped by the contents of your IB course, let us know and we can find a top tutor to help you through!

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