The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) – Pre-University Education on the Cutting Edge

By Frank Meagher, Associate Director, School of Pre-University Studies, Taylor's College

Parents seeking a pre-university programme for their children have an increasing variety of choices from which to choose. A relatively new pre-u programme on the scene in Malaysia is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). It was introduced in Switzerland in 1968 with the purpose of facilitating international mobility of students preparing for university by providing them with a curriculum and qualification recognized by universities around the world.

In terms of preparing students for the rigors of university study as well as fostering the qualities of a caring and globalized citizen, IBDP in my opinion is a top choice. Having spent over forty years in a variety of international educational programmes I most definitely give IBDP full marks as a broad-based, challenging programme which provides an excellent bridge from secondary school to university. This same attitude is subscribed to by an increasing number of top ranking universities who aggressively seek out IB graduates because of the comprehensive preparation these students have received.

There are three main areas where I feel IBDP leads the pack in ensuring a readiness and motivation for university study:
  • The holistic nature of the programme
  • Focus on high level research skills
  • Creativity Action Service (CAS)
The holistic nature of IB is clearly a departure from the knowledge transmission approach to education that has been familiar in the past. Most educators agree that an academic programme can be described as holistic when it focuses on the following key characteristics:
  • The intellectual, emotional, social, physical creative / aesthetic development of the student
  • Students and teachers working in an open and collaborative relationship
  • Learning experiences beyond the classroom
  • Empowering students to critically examine the cultural, moral and political context of their lives
The IBDP captures all these characteristics in both its subject offerings as well as its core. In the IBDP, students are required to study six courses providing a breadth of experience in languages, social sciences, the experimental sciences, mathematics as well as the arts. In addition they are exposed to a Theory of Knowledge Course, involved in high level research projects as well as participate in Creativity, Action and Service activities over the two year duration of the programme.

The holistic learning approach of IBDP prepares the student not only for the challenges of university but for life- long learning. It encourages students to think critically, to think creatively and to reflect on their own values . Equally significant, it strives to develop students actively beyond academic excellence alone.

The focus on effective research skills is an essential requirement for success in tertiary studies. A recent report from Guelph and Rutgers Universities revealed that nearly three quarters of first year university students reported cheating on written work while in secondary school by copying without citation, creating a false bibliography or submitting someone else's work. This practice can put students at a great disadvantage as they face their first written assignment in university. The stress on effective research skills embedded within IBDP will ensure these students don't fall into the "goggle cut and paste" trap so prevalent in first year research papers.

In the IBDP each student has the opportunity to investigate a topic of special interest. This essay requirement provides a practical preparation to the kinds of undergraduate research required at the tertiary level. This Extended Essay is an independent, self-directed piece of research culminating in a 4,000 word essay. Emphasis is placed on a high level research process i.e. formulating an appropriate research question, engaging in personal exploration of the topic, developing an argument, analyzing and synthesizing the material and communicating the results both orally and in written form. Each student is guided by a mentor in this process.

The Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) requirement is a fundamental part of the IBDP programme and takes seriously the importance of life outside the world of scholarship and as such provides a refreshing balance to academic studies. Creativity is interpreted broadly to include a wide range of activities such as art, music and dance as well as theatrical pursuits. Action can include participation not only in individual and team sports but also taking part in expeditions and in local and international projects. Service includes a host of community related projects such as helping children with special needs, assisting in hospitals and seniors' homes as well as working with refugees and the homeless. Students are expected to participate in all three components of CAS and spend time each week over the two year programme. Through CAS, students are encouraged to share their energy and special talents with others and through these activities gain a greater awareness of themselves, concern for others and an ability to work cooperatively on a team.

Senior IBDP students at Taylor's College have commenced their final semester. They will be heading to prestigious universities in UK , US and beyond and are confident that they are well prepared for the challenges ahead. They see their time in IBDP as not only a preparation for success at university but for success in life. They have gained a broader world view, followed in-depth approaches to the academic disciplines, developed time management, problem solving, research and organizational skills that will remain with them long after the IBDP experience is over.