International Baccalaureate IB, Is it any good?

After her SPM, Francine Tan decided to take the road less travelled and enrolled herself in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Sri KDU International school. Today, she is here to share with us what the IBDP is all about.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) was created in 1968, but it was not just for the sons and daughters of globetrotting diplomats as it was originally intended, but for anyone who wants a broader education.

Francine with her student (she teaches mathematics at a refugee center)

So what is IB, really?
The IB organization is a nonprofit institution that offers an international education to students at over 3,500 IB World schools in 145 countries. It offers a Middle Years Program for students from 11 to 16 years old, and even a Primary Years Program for students from 3 to 12 years old, building up to the Diploma Program for students from 16 to 19 years old.

The IB program is increasing in popularity among Malaysian students, but it is still a less-trodden path. However quite interestingly, besides international schools and IB World School, the IB has been offered in Mara Colleges for the past two decades or so.

The Diploma Program, which is what I'm currently doing at SRI KDU International School, includes an advanced academic curriculum and several core requirements, including:

1. Extended Essay (a kind of senior thesis)
2. Theory of Knowledge (an epistemology course that emphasizes the IB philosophy)
3. CAS (extracurricular activities highlighting "creativity, action, and service" that counterbalances the academics).
Francine (first from the right) with her dance team after a competition.

The downside?

Nonetheless, the system has its share of critics. One of the most commonly voiced criticisms is that the IB promotes breadth over depth compared to A-Levels, which places more emphasis on individual subject knowledge.

As I was offered the Ministry of Education's bursary, by God's grace, I was given the option to do STPM, Matriculation, A-levels or the IB, which was initially not in my cards because of the expensive school fees. A lot of college counselors and friends have advised me to opt for another route that also carries sufficient weight with universities.

Being an exam-orientated student (as with all the other students in our Malaysian education system, which I have never regretted), I was a little apprehensive if I would be able to adapt to the structure of the course, the challenge of getting back into the academic rhythm after a 9-month hiatus from books or whether I could compete with the crème de la crème as IB students are somehow always viewed as "gifted students".

Of course, after giving myself quite a few validating reasons, I wanted to give myself a challenge and thus decided on the ever so daunting IBDP. But truthfully, why IB? I still don't know, I guess as an IB student we're all an indecisive bunch.

What it's really like...
Entering the IB program at my school was not what I had expected. It is somewhat like a factory, and it does not offer a large variety of courses in any of the 6 subjects. Therefore, I did not have the full flexibility to explore what subjects as I would've wanted to do. I would have loved to study Psychology, Anthropology or even French. But my school did not have the scheduling capabilities to allow such flexibility in my course selection.

However, I am really impressed by the passion that my teachers have expressed for their IB course subjects, which was rather difficult to find in the many years of my life as a student. With only 15 people in my batch this year, walking into the IB program as one of the few in the school, everyone would know if you were an "IB kid" or not as compared to other colleges.

Francine (top row, 6th from the right) with her netball team.

What I've experienced so far:

Two months on, I'm still apprehensive of the challenges ahead and the workload, which will definitely start to pile up after this term, but my hopes and expectations have grown.
In the past two months, I've learnt how to play netball (sort-of), entered a modern dance competition, did a short film, went survival camping, build a raft and had a raft race in a lake, paintball games, learnt how to use Photoscape, spent my Friday afternoons teaching a bunch of munchkins Mathematics at a Refugee Centre, went for MMA classes and explored a few new subjects outside out of my comfort zone.

Likewise, I have made so many amazing new friends; a crazy talented bunch of people who continues to charm me everyday by their bright personalities. Because we will be undergoing the same stress, the same judgment from my non-IB cohorts, and since we are such a small group in the entire school--I feel, to a certain extent--we've developed this sense of community, a strengthening one.

                                      Francine with her classmates.

So basically, this is what I have to say.
I know that I'm only in my first term, and I have so much more to learn. But what IB has taught me so far is that all the while, during my high school days, I was always worried about the grades, and the fear of not maintaining my grades to keep my scholarship is definitely very real, but IB has taught me to worry about learning, instead.
With 22 more months to go, this newfound love for the IB and determination to do my best in everything is bolstered by my desire to grow with love, humility and faith as a more holistic individual in all aspects.

IB may still be a minority choice in our country and enough has been said that IB is simply more about an ethos of an educational style; it is for everyone and anyone who has a passion in learning. Undeniably it is also important to do a thorough and calculated assessment on your tertiary education. If you already have a good idea of what you want to study and want to dive in immediately, or if you're financially strained and want to save money by graduating early, it is wiser to do a shorter pre-u course, go straight into your degree or do the whole transferring credits thing.

However, I must say that the IBDP is definitely for me.

I shall leave you with this image:

Me in a few months:

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  1. Having gone through (and survived!) the IB, I have to say that I can really relate to the cartoon ahah and also to the fact that we're an indecisive bunch - the fact we have to do so many different subjects definitely suits those of us who are so good at many things that we have no idea which to choose! CAS is definitely something that you get used to, if you can incorporate it into your weekly schedule it makes the whole thing a lot easier. I found that IB has given me great time management skills (you certainly learn them very quickly in IB!) and a lot more...

    I think you'll like the recipe to make an IB student that I wrote: :)