bALANCING THE ib with National Education

A few years ago I read about the IB DP adoption in government schools in Peru, Costa Rica and Argentina. Since then I have been fascinated about how this is implemented, the challenges it faces and its successes. I feel that it could be an inspiration for other countries considering adopting IB to raise national education standards. 

The manner in which IB has been adopted in these three countries is quite different. For example in Peru the DP has been introduced in one public highschool in each of the country’s 25 regions. The initiative by the Ministry of Education aims to educate Peru’s most gifted students. Access to the IB DP programme is highly competitive. Once in the programme, the students no longer need to follow the national curriculum or take national assessments, as such the students (and teachers) are able to focus entirely on learning in accordance with the IB programme. This made the process of authorising and implementing easier than in countries which require students to also meet the outcomes of the national curriculum. The challenge it creates is for students (and teachers) to adapt from a very traditional method of teacher-led schooling to the IB’s student-led, inquiry focused approach to education – in a very short period of time.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Ministry of Education implemented the IB DP in 11 public schools. Entrance to the programme is competitive and students are required to have a ‘good academic standing and positive predisposition’ to be considered for the programme. Similarly to the IB DP in Peru’s schools, students (and teachers) are required to adapt to the IB way of learning quickly to succeed. The other challenge facing IB learners in Buenos Aires is that the students are required to also meet the requirements of the national curriculum and sit national assessments in the final year of high school.

Transitioning to IB learning at high school level

In the majority of schools that offer the IB Diploma Programme students will have been introduced to the ID approach to learning at a young age. In schools which offer the PYP,  MYP and DP, students may have already spent 12 years learning in a student-led, inquiry focused manner. For those students transitioning into the DP will be relatively smooth. 

However, students coming from a traditional teacher-led education system which focuses on facts and rote learning, the transition could be overwhelming. Added to the fact that students need to ‘hit the ground running’ because of the challenging nature of the DP, and this becomes potentially a large obstacle to the programme’s success.

To make the transition to learning in the DP more manageable, there are a few important steps that school leaders should take.

  • Adopt Elements of IB’s ATT and ATL in all state schools

IB’s approaches to teaching and learning are required of all IB schools, however these practices are not ‘exclusively IB’, I would argue that they be considered ‘best practices’ and their adoption would improve learning wherever they were implemented.  

Professional Development to help teachers in state schools understand and implement IB approaches to learning could begin with areas which teachers in any system should already adhere to, such as – differentiated learning, teaching informed by assessment, development of collaboration skills and realising the importance of conceptual understanding over remembering facts and formula. 

After teachers are confident with this, moving on to training that encourages inquiry based learning and global citizenship could follow.

The IB Approaches to Learning, also include areas which the majority of education systems adhere to such as the development of communication skills, thinking skills, research skills and self-management skills.  Training for teachers to show how these skills are developed within IB educational institutions will, I believe, inspire teachers in state schools to make changes which will improve their ability to help learners grow in these areas.

If state run middle schools (and primary schools) provided training, support and encouragement for teachers to adopt these ‘best practices’ their teaching would help prepare those students moving on to IB DP. Furthermore, it would also empower the students who stayed within the state school system with skills which are invaluable for life.

To further improve the student population’s ability to develop IB learner skills, dedicating an afternoon each week to student-led project work would make an incredible difference. This would give students and teachers more scope to focus on skills like inquiry, research and learning about the wider world.

Balancing the demands of a national curriculum and the Diploma Programme 

In IB DP schools, such as those in Buenos Aires, the challenge for teachers is balancing the demands of the IB DP and those of the national curriculum and high stakes national assessments students take in high school. 

In educational research conducted with students in Buenos Aires, findings show that students feel overworked and highly pressured balancing the demands from two education systems. To negate these stressful demands I would suggest education leaders in these school consider implementing the following changes.

  • Identify and Avoid Educational Overlap

The curriculum of the DP and Argentinian national curriculum have common learner outcomes in numerous areas such as; foreign languages, mathematics and the sciences. When both systems cover the same academic content, that content should be appointed to one of the educational programmes, i would suggest the DP,  and removed from the students study load in the national curriculum programme. For example, trigonometry would be on both curricula, the student does not need to learn this concept twice and do redundant exercises and assignments.

By identifying academic duplication and removing it from the national curriculum course of study, that programme can be reduced to a more manageable load. It may also be possible to contain the national curriculum course of study to lessons on a few afternoons each week. The students timetable can then be set so that each morning students focus on the IB DP and in the afternoons they do independent study and have lessons which focus on preparing them for national examinations.

By ‘working smart’ the students’ will gain more benefit from the DP, they will be less stressed and they will be more likely to succeed!


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