IB decoded

Learn about the pros and cons of the International Baccalaureate, the popular high school option.

May 03, 2015 08:46 pm | Updated 08:49 pm IST

The last decade has witnessed a surge in the popularity of the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. Established in 1968 in Geneva, the IB diploma is a high school programme equivalent to class XI and XII. Says education counsellor Viral Doshi, “About a decade ago, there were hardly 10 to 12 schools offering this programme. Today, there are close to 100 schools with thousands of students studying in them, across the country.”

Growing international exposure is cited as the major propeller. Parameswaran Muralidharan, Principal of the CPS Global School in Chennai, says, “Today a number of Indians are going abroad for work and many NRIs are returning. This population is well aware of the strengths of an international education and wants their kids to be exposed to it. A lot of them intend to send their children abroad for further studies and feel that the IB is a good gateway for this.” Jasmine Madhani, Head of School, Jamnabai International School, Mumbai, corroborates this, “Nearly 65 per cent of our students go abroad after completing the IB programme.”

But what about students who want to go back into local universities after completing an IB education? Here’s a detailed outline of things you must know, especially if you want to go back into the local board.

Choose your subjects

IB offers a variety of subjects, at both higher and standard levels. So, if a particular subject is not your forte, you can always choose to take it at standard level. Anaya Jhaveri, a final-year student at BD Somani International School, Mumbai, says, “Usually students take six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level. I’ve always enjoyed acting and learning new languages, so I opted for theatre and Spanish along with English, economics, biology and maths.”

However, it is very important that students carefully consider what subjects they take. If you are interested in pursuing medicine or engineering, science and maths should not be dropped. Advises Doshi, “If students want to stay back after completing the programme or are not sure of what to do, it is better to go with the conventional five subjects and take one of your choice.

In addition to the subjects that students take, they have to complete modules on theory of knowledge, write an extended essay and pursue creativity, action, service (CAS) for a certain number of hours. This can sometimes be a challenge, especially since there is no spoon feeding and they have to rely on extensive research and critical thinking. Also, unless they clear all the subjects, they will only get a certificate and not an IB Diploma.

Predicted scores

Towards the end of the IB programme, students are given predicted scores based on their performance and, in some cases, a mock exam. These scores are used to seek provisional admission to universities overseas and in India. In the past, when the board was relatively new to India, the inexperience of teachers often created problems with the accuracy of predicted scores. But today, this problem is not as common, owing to a growing pool of experienced teachers.

However, a major problem with predicted scores is their acceptability in India. Although the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) recognises the board, students applying for admission into local universities continue to face problems. “Applying for admission was really troublesome and I had to run from pillar to post, gathering documents to submit,” says Amalaya Jashani, who is pursuing an undergraduate course at Mumbai University after having completed an IB.

IB scores are based on a points system, and the AIU has an evaluation sheet which shows how these scores convert into percentages. Many students find that the conversion often results in them getting a lower percentage. “Even a good IB score often converts to a relatively low percentage, which creates difficulty in getting into Indian universities where cutoffs are often over 95 per cent. Thankfully, I could apply through a quota, but my friends in the general category really had to struggle,” recalls Jashani.

Gap year

IB exams are usually held in May, very close to various Indian entrance exams. This makes it inconvenient for students appearing for them. Recounts Doshi, “Many students take a gap year, especially for engineering or medicine entrance exams. However, I find that other entrance exams, such as law or architecture, are not as difficult. In fact, students find the critical thinking skills they develop in IB extremely useful for aptitude-based tests.”


Going back into the local curriculum after completing the IB can be a struggle. “In India, academics is all about rote-learning, with little room for critical thinking. This was a huge disappointment, but I’ve learnt to cope with it,” admits Jashani. “However, I do get more free time, since other than exams there aren’t too many regular tests or assignments. I use this time to volunteer and do things that interest me, so, by the time I finish my graduation, I am more certain about what I want to pursue, and can take up higher studies abroad.”

While nearly all students, parents and counsellors agree that the IB offers a superior educational experience, it is still seen as a better option for students heading abroad for higher studies after completing the programme.

Also, even as IB schools are mushrooming, counsellors caution parents to opt for schools that have sufficient experience in offering the programme and a proven track record of university placements.

The writer is associated with children's publishing.

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