While some of us may be sick of writing stretched-out essays to reach a certain word count, and others are tired of trying to solve math problems which do not solve themselves, deep down, we are grateful for an opportunity to learn. We experience a sense of warmth when we step into our favorite classes, have an after-lesson talk with admired teachers, or take part in nerdy discussions with our friends. Regardless of its flaws, school remains a place where we can gather knowledge, facts, and skills that expand our worldview and define how we think, act, and live.
Regrettably, not all students have the ability to experience school in this way. High-quality education is undoubtedly reliant on the economic status of one’s state, city, and family, and, as a result, isn’t accessible to all. This is when the concept of equity of education reminds us that each individual has a right to basic and life-long learning, even if the world doesn’t acknowledge this right as a priority, even if each generation has to confront and tackle this unfairness.
So let us ask ourselves as IB students, what role does the organization play in this situation? Do the objectives of educational equality and the IBO agenda align, and if they do, can we see positive results?
How it all started
The IBO emerged in 1968 due to a few unique reasons (Peterson, 1977). On one hand, society was in need of a rigid international education system due to increased immigration. Such a curriculum had to be taught in common instruction languages (English or French) to be accessible to a wider student audience. However, as for any private institutions, these programs were approachable only to the children of politicians, diplomats, business world representatives, in other words – families with a higher income. On the other hand, pupils’ paths to universities were highly sophisticated as students had to be prepared for different requirements and examinations imposed by various universities. This was inefficient and problematic, and, as a result, the IB – a program offering a curriculum recognized by major universities, stepped in to run the show.
It is no surprise that the beginning of IB doesn’t associate with equality – after all, its primary aim wasn’t to tackle injustices regarding worldwide education. But times change, and while not perfect, the IB is working to align its structure, syllabus, and values with the goals of inclusive education. Below is a list of arguments that show this:
The rates of public schools offering IB programs are increasing
More than half of schools that offer IB studies are state-run. To be more specific, 56% of IB programs in 2016 were implemented in public schools compared to 44% in private schools. This statistic includes all 5700 IB schools across 159 countries. (IBO, 2017, 2023). This is important because public school education is accessible to pupils of disadvantaged backgrounds.
However, these statistics may not portray the whole reality – oftentimes state-run schools find it difficult to gather strong teachers and specialists, prepare the equipment or deal with IBO financial requirements. For instance, the head of one public school in London argued that their whole preparatory budget was spent on IB training, and due to that, they couldn’t further develop their program for another few years. (Resnik, 2012) Thus, while the IBO has made an effort to change the stereotypical viewpoint that it belongs only in private classrooms, it does not always consider the different situations of public and private schools.
IBO makes an effort to establish IB schools in less-developed nations
In the past, the IBO has been accused of elitism and Eurocentrism (Resnik, 2012). Such allegations are based on the fact that IBO requires relatively high tuition fees for the programs to be set up which creates hurdles for disadvantaged students. Just looking at the statistics of IB school distribution shows the disparity: the Americas: 46.1%, Asia-Pacific: 23%, and Africa, Europe, Middle East: 30.8%. (IBO, 2023) For a more specific example, IB is offered in 155 schools across African countries (IBO, 2023) as compared to 944 schools in the US alone. (IBO, n.d.)
However, IBO has been trying to make amends. A good example is the IBO policy shift in Latin America (Resnik, 2012). In 1984, the organization added Spanish as a third official language of the program so that students could write exams in their native language, as well as an examination session in November to suit the school calendar of South American countries. These changes were successful. In a more specific case, after an initiative to start the program in public schools in 2008, the Association of IB Schools in Costa Rica (ASOBITICO) was founded which provided its expertise and support for the state to develop its pathway for IB schools resulting in 49 schools (and counting) that have integrated the program (IBO, n.d.). It is not just in Costa Rica either.
The IB is trying to work with regions all around the world. Recently it has been promoting a Memorandum of Understanding, an act aimed at strengthening cooperation between IBO and local governments so that IB schools could receive the best resources and equipment both for the students and the educators (IBO, 2023). The memorandum was signed in countries such as Uruguay and UAE
IB DP has an adaptable curriculum
There are some countries who may refuse to work with IBO and establish IB schools, based on the fact that its program isn’t inclusive, and open minded-enough to their individual cultures (Resnik, 2012). The national program of each state is unique and valuable, as J. Resnik (2012) states, and three crucial processes – the struggle for secularism, the establishment of a national language, and the formation of the nation – add up to the creation of a meaningful educational system. Furthermore, Besley (2012) has argued that international education can be used for the purposes of not only eroding traditional educational values but promoting ideas and spreading influence used to affect these nations in a negative way.
However, the IB, in its efforts to create globally-aware citizens, does not aim to eradicate local cultures. Instead, the syllabus can be worked to meet crucial cultural and social preferences depending on national educational needs. For example, in Literature subjects, it is mandatory for all students to analyze textual and non-textual work chosen from an extensive collection of pieces written by national authors in their native languages (Resnik, 2012). Similarly, teachers in History courses may use different topics and historical examples to connect themes outlined by the IB to a national context. The IB recognizes that an appropriate syllabus is key to creating a just educational system. A system that, one, respects the state’s boundaries and preferences, and two, cultivates the national identity of its students.
All in all, while the IBO has had a history of marginalizing students of disadvantaged backgrounds, it has made meaningful improvements toward making its curriculum accessible for students across various areas and diverse financial backgrounds. While there is still work to be done if the IBO will continue to focus on global accessibility, it will inspire other institutions to do the same, and perhaps the status and standards of education globally will change. Perhaps, one day, the world will become one big classroom whose door will be open for all.