Deciphering the IB Diploma Program

I have elaborated upon the IB Primary Years Program in one of my previous article related to the IB curriculum. Now, keeping in view the inquiries we encounter about the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) curriculum and academic dimensions thereof, it is in order to present an article that explains the depth and domain of IBDP.

Deciphering_the_IB Diploma Program

For the benefit of uninitiated readers, IBDP is the equivalent to the school certificate examinations of the senior secondary i.e. class XI and XII, spanning 16-19 years age group. The diploma program has a reputation for being academically rigorous and comprehensive when it comes to the assessment. In India’s context, the candidates for IBDP include the ones who are IB students from the beginning of their schooling i.e. who have studied in IB schools offering IB Primary Years Program and IB Middle Years program; then, there are students who have earned their secondary school certificate from Indian boards of education—CBSE or ICSE and finally, there are students who have passed the IGCSE exam, in other words, class X exam equivalent offered by Cambridge International.

The ones who choose to study for the IB diploma do so for good reasons, the most prominent of which is the national and international recognition that the diploma enjoys making its holders eligible for applying for admission for undergraduate courses in most eminent universities across the globe.

IB Diploma Program

The two-year diploma course which can be likened to our conventional class XI and XII, they are respectively called Standard Level and Higher Level. The IB programmes are distinct from all other curriculums in that they are based on a ‘framework’ rather than a predefined curriculum for all students. What are the implications of this, I will shortly explain? It is fair to say, at this stage, that it gives the practiced curriculum greater dimension and unparalleled flexibility but at the same time it makes it academically rigorous to pursue.

Fundamentally, the IB students are expected to inculcate a value system or, broadly speaking, expects the inculcation of international-mindedness or global outlook, inquisitiveness, creativity, facility of communication, community-consciousness and research orientation.  The combination of these creates a ‘Learner Profile’ that lies at the core of every IB program.

The other orbit of the framework is composed of ‘extended essay’, ‘creativity and action’ and ‘theory of knowledge’. The extended essay is a curricular exercise which is aimed at extracting and developing genuine research potential in the student and articulation. It is structured as a 4000-word dissertation on a subject of the student’s own choosing. The subject can differ as widely as the study of Indo-Pak relations and a study on, say, stem cell research or analysis of the work of Indian Mathematicians or Astrophysicists or Untouchability. Extended Essay is truly an exercise in cognitive expansion and intellectual probity which carries grade points.

‘Theory of Knowledge’ aims at intellectual inspection of what the student is taught or comes to know through other sources. This segment encourages the students to introspect the purpose of knowledge or academics and also the veracity and sincerity of the information they receive. TOK is an ingrained element within the study of every subject. This includes a 1600 word essay and an oral presentation.

‘Creativity Action and Service’ incorporates exactly what the title suggests. It is included in the framework to stimulate creative action in students with an emphasis on coming out of their comfort zones and trying new things and gaining a set of skills in the process, it also includes community service projects.

IB Diploma program has 6 groups of subjects and the students have to study 6 subjects on which they will be assessed besides the extended essay, 3 subjects a year in the 2-year program.

The subjects under six different groups are as under

  • Group 1 – Studies in Language and Literature (language A)—English Literature and Language, native languages—Hindi, Gujarati among others
  • Group 2 – Language Acquisition, second language (language B)—French, Russian, Spanish, Japanese among others
  • Group 3 – Individuals and Societies—history, geography, economics, environmental systems
  • Group 4 – Experimental Sciences—biology, chemistry, physics, environmental systems
  • Group5 – Mathematics—Higher level Mathematics, math studies depending on the interest
  • Group6 – Arts and Electives—another group 2, 3 or 4 subject, art, music, theater arts, Films, visual arts, Dance

Students may opt to study additional sciences, individuals and societies, or languages course, instead of a course in the arts.

The students, keeping in view their future studies and career, can choose the subjects. For instance, someone with a career in medicine in mind can choose biology, chemistry, and physics besides language and any of the arts. For an engineering aspirant, higher level mathematics will prove to be beneficial, while someone with only moderate interest in mathematics can opt for the math studies.  Language studies and Humanities can be of great utility for those interested in literature, Journalism, and law.

It is noticeable that in the case of IBDP, there are no stream constraints that are salient features of the other boards of studies. The students can opt for science subjects along with that from humanities and the arts. Besides that, the study of arts and a comprehensive list of electives cater to the students oriented towards creative arts.

Each subject has 7 points and extended essay carries 3 points, some foreign and Indian universities have a minimum point requirement for different courses while others have entrance examinations to test the scholastic acumen.

IBDP intends to create Independent learners who are risk-taking, communicative, intuitive, reflective, researchers with wider perspective akin to university study culture.

It is observed that all of it sounds rather too far removed from what we have come to perceive a school education. To the ones who are skeptical of the new approaches, it must be said that IBDP students are methodically trained for university or higher studies of whichever stream they want to pursue. The educational environment that the framework creates is akin to a university and that makes IBDP a somewhat literal pre-university educational program and the global recognition it carries can take the students who sincerely pursue it places.


Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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