Since it's beginnings over 50 years agp, the International Baccalaureate program has become synonymous with international education worldwide. However, despite the strength of the global IB brand, the International Baccalaureate program has and continues to face challenges to its ability to actualize some of its internationalist goals to promote international understanding and intercultural respect (Cambridge citing Tarc, 2013, pg. 187).
The National Baccalaureate?
The changing demographic of schools offering the IB program around the world may be one source of difficulty. The IB program has seen much expansion into national school systems in recent years, with Australia even replacing its previous national education certificate with the IB diploma (Resnik, 2012, pg. 248). The motivation for the increasing offering of the IB program in national public schools lies in meeting the desire of the middle class for educational 'products of distinction' and a 'private school aura'(pg. 249). Neo-liberalism and globalization support this growth as elite local populations view the IB program and international education as a path to top universities for their children (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 187; Resnik citing Lauder, 2012, pg. 249).
Resnik (2013) states that this intermingling of the national and international in education creates a 'frontier zone' (pg. 251). The IBO seems to be seeking to insert itself into this grey area more and more, offering a number of flexible implementation options to bring schools into the IB network through partial implementation of their program (pg. 261). As the IB is implemented piecemeal to meet the globalist demands of parents in national systems, how much of it's internationalist ideals are maintained? In many schools, IBDP programs serve small class sizes of gifted and talented students (Resnik, 2012, pg. 252; Cambridge, 2013, pg. 192). Schools maintain these programs despite limited enrollment to market their schools as offering international education, and despite the fact that many cannot afford to purchase the training and resources to support implementing them properly, they are often allowed concessions by the IBO (Resnik, 2012, pg. 261). This raises questions as to the degree to which such schools correctly implement the IB program and promote its normative agenda. As the IB expands its vision to insert itself more into national public schools, there is also the risk that 'mission creep' will occur, and its internationalist ideals will begin to be compromised as it finds itself trying more and more to serve national interests and support the creation and maintenance of national citizens as opposed to global ones (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 197). There is also the chance that, as the IB program enters this new market with new competitors like the AP program, it will follow neo-institutional trends and begin to resemble those products more and more, further losing sight of its internationalist goals in the process (p. 197).
Assessments: Making the Grade?
Another challenge to the International Baccalaureate's ability to meet internationalist visions is due to changes in assessment. Despite offering Primary and Middle Years programs in addition to the Diploma Program, the IBDP is by far the most implemented option, with relatively few schools offering the PYP and MYP (Bunnell, 2014, pg. 138, 149). The IBDP program, in order to maintain its status as an internationally accepted, worldwide curriculum relies heavily on standardized, performance based assessment, often carried out externally (Resnik, 2012, pg. 258-259). The Theory of Knowledge course, intended to develop deep understandings and values, has also seen changes and has become externally assessed as well (Wilkinson & Wilkinson, 2013, pg. 111). Often, this leads to teachers feeling pressure to teach 'to the test' rather than 'to the heart', resulting in less individuation of instruction and freedom, and, as a result, a reduced potential for moral education and the passing on of internationalist ideals (pg. 113). Further reducing individuation of instruction is that the IB has developed its reputation globally in a large part due to common training for teachers and schools (Resnick, 2012, pg. 257). Cambridge (2013), citing Engel and Ogden, states that teaching to strict standards supports only limited multiculturalism rather than the development of cosmopolitan competencies such as the ones outlined in the IB learner profile (pg. 190). The standardization of instruction and strong performative assessment in the IBDP, and increasingly in the MYP (pg. 199), works against the transmission of internationalist ideals in the IB program.
Reasons to Believe...
In spite of the challenges it presents, the spread of the IB program into national public education also offers some hope that internationalist ideas may be adopted by the wider public system. London schools have brought in classes on 'critical thinking', inspired the the Theory of Knowledge class offered by the IB, expanding the number of students accessing some of the ideals of internationalism (Resnik, 2012, pg. 264). National curricula have also begun to incorporate elements similar to the IBDP's extended essay and 'Creativity, Action, and Service' projects (Bunnell, 2014, pg. 151). Students of the IBDP have expressed that classes such as this support learning internationalist morals and values (Wilkinson & Wilkinson, 2013, pg. 115). Also, the IBs global expansion has led to it incorporating other languages of instruction and national histories such as Spanish, Chinese, and Islamic within the program, offering opportunities for more intercultural understanding to emerge as the program expands to meet globalist agendas (pg. 261).
Despite changes to the International Baccalaureate program, students report that elements of the IBDP like the CAS and extended essay offer the opportunity for them to develop supportive relationships with teachers and learn morals and ideals (Wilkinson & Wilkinson, 2013, pg. 115). In addition, though not implemented broadly, the PYP and MYP programs offer a less performative and more competency-based program of instruction that might allow teachers more room to focus on the normative goals of the International Baccalaureate program in the early years of the program (Cambridge, 2013, pg. 199). Despite the lack of widespread implementation, the MYP serves the largest number of students globally, since access to the program isn't limited to only the ablest, as is often the case with the IBDP (Bunnell, 2014, pg. 137). Offering further hope are statements from the Chair of the Board of Governors of the IBO, who has been promoting a move to make the IB program more inclusive and for it to shift towards 'educating hearts and minds' and to increase its impact with respect to fostering peace (pg. 148).
Thus, it appears that, despite challenges and conflicting agendas, the International Baccalaureate program remains able to meet its goals in terms of educating to promote internationalist values and intercultural understanding, though perhaps less efficiently and with less clarity of focus than it might otherwise.
Bunnell, T. (2014). The International Baccalaureate and its “second era” of ambitious rhetoric: Wider access and greater impact. In Dobson, D. P., & I. Silova (eds.) Globalizing minds: Rhetoric and realities in international schools. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc. 137-157.
Cambridge, J. (2013). Dilemmas of international education: A Bernsteinian analysis. In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. Oxford, UK: Bloomsbury Publications Ltd. 183-204.
Resnik, J. (2012). The denationalization of education and the expansion of International Baccalaureate. Comparative Education Review, 56(2), 248-269.
Wilkinson, D., and Wilkinson, V. (2013). The Pestalozzi influence on international education. In Pearce, R. (ed.) International education and schools: Moving beyond the first 40 years. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. 106-117.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.