Problems with IB

This post is about some of the biggest problems that I have with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma programme. I just want it to be completely clear, however, that I love the programme overall. Everything I’ve heard about alternatives; such as A-levels, the American system, the French Baccalaureate, and the Queensland system; make me think that IB is truly by far the best of the ones I know about.

At the bottom is a quick glossary of IB-related terms for those that aren’t acquainted with the IB.

EE poor marking

My first problem is more of a whinge than anything else. I haven’t got a great deal of evidence about this. But first, the backstory.

I did my EE in Music, which is my strongest subject, and the only subject I got a 7 in as my final result. I put a lot of effort into my EE, not at all leaving it to the last minute, and doing a lot of research and work well ahead of deadlines. I made sure to consult with my supervisor frequently, and took his suggestions into account and made many corrections to my EE. My supervisor was really good, very efficient and quick to get back to me after any queries. The essay was well referenced using the MLA format (IB specifies that any system may be used, as long as it is used consistently). In the end, I was predicted to get a high A for my EE.

The IB gave me a B. Keep in mind, I wasn’t predicted to be near the borderline, but to get a solid A. Another student doing a Music EE, who was far less hard working with it—frequently missing deadlines and causing trouble for their supervisor many times—also got a B. Not only a B, but one point higher than I got overall.

I’ve been told (informally) that our school would challenge my result if they had more weight behind them. If we were one of the bigger older IB schools that would have their challenge taken seriously. This result cost me one point, as I also got a B in ToK (also a relatively sketchy grade, but I have nothing to point at for that).

All this comes from a fundamental problem with the way EEs are marked. The person who marks them isn’t necessarily educated in the subject of the EE. My topic was quite esoteric, and as such would have been fairly inaccessible to a marker who does not know and understand all the music terminology. It’s really a simple fix: EEs need to be marked by people who have had extensive experience in the subject of the EE. It’s not perfect, because even then they may not have access to everything they need to understand the EE (for example, in the case of a music EE, they don’t typically have to listen to the music being studied). However, this simple change would produce much better results for all the students doing their EEs. For such a core part of the course, it’s embarrassing that they don’t have proper examiners already.

Group 6

Many fans of the British A-levels criticise IB for being too generalised. I’m not going to get into how terrible their assessment is (that’s a debate for another day, perhaps), but I will say I might agree with that criticism, albeit for a different reason. I believe IB is either too general, or not general enough.

The problem comes in with group 6, named “Arts & Electives”. The choice is either an art (Visual art, Theatre arts, Music, as well as a pilot dance programme), or an elective from groups 2 – 5. If you don’t want to do an art, you could do a second second (a third?) language, a second humanity or science, or from group 5 you could do Further Mathematics or Computer Science. When compared to all the other groups, which are mandatory, this seems unfair. Why is it required that everyone study a second language, or a humanity, but not everyone must do an art? Alternatively, why is it that someone who may want to do Further Maths or Computer Science would not then be able to take an art? In this sense, group 6 is not held as an equal to all the other groups.

But not to be a complete whinger, I do have a solution to this particular problem—or, to be specific, I have two possible solutions that would solve this problem that they could consider.

  1. They could make group 6 mandatory, like all the other groups are. Everyone would have to do a single subject from each of the six groups. This could a problem for people who want to, or for whatever reason need to, do two subjects from the same group, such as two sciences, however I believe the IB has some subjects that count for two groups, which would allow a person an alternative way to do two subjects from one group. I can’t be sure exactly how this works, as my school didn’t offer any such subjects.
  2. This is probably the better option: relax the rules a little to allow people to opt out of any one of the groups if they wish, not just group 6. If a particular person didn’t want to, they could choose not to do a Second Language, but they would then be required to do an Art, as well as groups 1, 3, 4, and 5. Instead of doing their Second Language, in this case they could fill it with a subject from any of the other groups, such as a second Science, Further Mathematics, or even a second Art.

Either of these solutions would solve the inequality that The Arts face under IB, but the second would by far be the better one for students, giving them more choice in their subjects, whilst still maintaining most of the IB Diploma’s prized well-roundedness.

“Core” weighting

IB has a concept of what it calls its “core”. This is the EE, Theory of Knowledge, and CAS, which are done by all diploma candidates. The thing is, although they’re core in name, they certainly don’t get treated as core. For the EE and ToK, a maximum of just three points are available, and CAS is worth no points: it’s pass or fail. With CAS, this means a student that just barely does enough after much nagging by their supervisor is on equal footing to one who puts a huge amount of effort into it throughout the two years on their own initiative.

In my school, we spent two periods a week on ToK, as well as two a week on CAS (SL subjects got 4 periods, and HL got 6). We were also given some amount of time at school for the EE. Needless to say, all of these also require a great deal of time outside of school, especially the EE. For all this, why are these core requirements only worth 3 points, compared to 7 for all normal subjects? I propose that the matrix for ToK and the EE be changed to a 5 point maximum, such as the one shown below:

A B C D E
A 5 4 3 2 2
B 4 3 2 2 1
C 3 2 2 1 1
D 2 2 1 1 0
E 2 1 1 0 Fail

The only part I would strongly state is that an AA would be the only way to get 5, and two Es is the only automatic fail (as it currently is). The rest could be changed, and someone more skilled than myself could probably work out a better system than I.

The advantage of this system, as well as rewarding effort in these subjects more than it currently does, is that it allows for a slightly finer gradation in the marks awarded, as shown by the 5 for an AA, but a 4 for AB, whereas they were previously both awarded 3.

Furthermore, I would award up to 2 points for CAS. This way people who put more effort into their CAS programme would be rewarded more than those who barely do enough. Under this the grades available would be a fail, 0, 1, or 2. Students who fail to complete their CAS would fail their diploma, as is already the case, but then students who only barely do enough would pass, but add 0 points to their total. For achieving a greater level with their CAS, students could get 1 point, and for going above and beyond what is required, they could gain themselves 2 extra points. How these gradations would be determined I am not exactly sure, but my suggestion would be:

Fail Failed to reach the level required to pass
0 As previously: reached the minimum required level to pass
1 Did a good amount of extra CAS work, but failed to document correctly
2 Did a good amount of extra CAS work, with thorough documentation

Under this system, the core requirements would, combined, be worth the same as any individual subject, bringing the total maximum possible IB points to 49. At the moment many students who do incredibly well in their main subjects slack off at the core, and fail to put any effort into them. I don’t believe it is fair that this is not accurately reflected in their scores, and my proposed solution would solve the problem. Someone in my year got 42 points, including only a 1 for their EE and ToK. They received a C and a D, I think. They also were not very involved in CAS, so under this system they would have gotten 42 or 43 out of 49 (86% or 88%), which looks much less impressive than 42 / 45 (93%).

If the IBO wanted, they could find some way of giving out one more point, to bring the total to a nice round 50, but I can’t see exactly why that would be necessary. Perhaps they could give schools the option (heavily moderated, of course, especially in the larger school known for doing shady things in order to boost their marks) to give students who they think deserve a bonus point for all-round attitude and effort in school and school life/community. This isn’t a central part to my argument, though, and I would be perfectly happy with a score out of 49.

Glossary

IB: International Baccalaureate, the high school programme run by the IBO (International Baccalaureate Organisation). When used here, I am usually talking about the IB Diploma programme.

IB Diploma programme: The main IB programme, where students must take 6 subjects, one in each of six groups—Language A1 (mainly literature), Second Language, Individuals and Societies (Humanities and social sciences like Geography, History, Economics, and Psychology), Experimental Sciences (the main three: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, but also Design Technology and a few others), Mathematics and Computer Science (CS can only be taken in addition to a normal Mathematics course, however), The Arts & Electives. Three of these must be taken at Higher Level, and three at Standard Level (4 HL and 2 SL is also an option, though not commonly taken). In addition to this, students must complete a CAS, EE, and ToK “core”.

CAS: Creativity, Action, Service. Currently, CAS is pass or fail. If you fail CAS, you are automatically not awarded your IB Diploma. Students have to undertake a variety of activities that meet these criteria. Creativity is things like the arts and languages, Action is sports and physical activities, Service is community service, and helping people. Previously, 50 hours of each was required, but now the requirement is simply to have put in a consistent amount of work into each of these, and to be able to show documentation (photos, videos, and written reflections).

EE: Extend Essay. A research essay with a 4000 word limit that each student must complete in a subject of their choice. It does not have to be in a subject they take, or even a subject offered by the school, although this is recommended. Students are assigned a supervisor within the school who can help them and give them advice. Assessed externally via a specific marking grid, although the criteria are quite vague in many cases.

ToK: Theory of Knowledge. This is a basic philosophy-like course about understanding how we know things, teaching IB students to question their understanding of the world. It is assessed via an internal presentation in groups of up to 5 (individual presentations are also allowed), and an externally marked essay on one of a group of assigned titles.

What is the greatest invention of all time?

My school recently ran a discussion on what is the most important invention of all time.

Portrait of Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur, courtesy of Wikimedia

Before I jump to what my answer was, and why, I just want to provide some context. Last term, they ran a similar debate where people had to vote for what one famous person in history they thought was the most important. On this list were such horrible examples as Alexander the Great, Ho Chi Minh, at least one British queen, and a past US president (I think Washington). There were also better examples, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. These people I ruled out early in my selection process because although they did great things, their achievements were largely limited to a particular demographic in their effect. While it was incredibly important for that demographic, and therefore humans in general, it couldn’t really have the same effect as same of those that will come later.
My top three were Steve Jobs, Louis Pasteur, and one other person who’s name I unfortunately have forgotten, as I didn’t actually know it at the time. I looked it up, and found that their contributions to medicine were astounding. I ended up knocking out Steve Jobs relatively easily compared to the other two, but finally decided on the unknown person. When the school’s votes were tallied, Steve Jobs won. While I’m not surprised at this result, I am disappointed. I defend my position in putting him in third place by saying how much of an indirect effect he and Apple have had on technology, which I’m sure many of you probably already know (but I’ll go into more detail if anyone asks). Not just through Apple products, but nearly all computer-type devices today, from the traditional desktop and laptop computers, to smart phones and tablets. Not to mention the music industry.
However, I definitely don’t think that these achievements trump pasteurisation, germ theory, and the rabies vaccine (all Pasteur’s discoveries); and again, you have to take my word that I thought this third person’s medical discoveries trumped even that, at least in my opinion.

So, fast- (or not so fast) forward to the current discussion. I saw a poster about the debate on what is the greatest invention of all time, and decided to hop online just to make sure people weren’t voting for the iPod. It turned out they weren’t, but a couple of other interesting things came up.

The first was simple, but fundamental to the question. What is an invention? How does one distinguish between an invention and a discovery. I’m sure anyone would agree that we discovered fire, or that we invented the computer. But what about the wheel? The argument was that round objects exist in nature, and it may have been observed that they could be useful for various human purposes. Other things suggested that can’t really be considered inventions include language, mathematics, and steel. All of these, in my opinion, are things that either existed naturally or were developed in an organic and natural way, rather than being specifically invented.

People also suggested refrigeration (which I would consider a discovery), the Internet, contraceptives, electricity. These all have their advantages, but for various reasons I would not consider them as important as my suggestion, which is (finally…)
The printing press.
The printing press allowed, for the first time in human history, mass availability of information to anyone who wants it. It made learning to read so much easier, and allowed people to be more informed about what was going on outside of their immediate area. I believe that this spread of knowledge is a crucial part of the long-term scientific and cultural advancement of the human species. Let me consider each of those points one by one:

Easier education

The printing press made the supply of books cheaper, which in Economics is a shift of the supply curve to the right, and results in a higher quantity supplied at a lower price. This means that more people can get books, and it is cheaper for them to do so. Whereas previously only the most affluent few could afford books, as a result of the printing press nearly anyone can afford to own a book today.
Because they are able to have books, they are then able to use them to learn. First to learn to actually read, which is arguably the most important step in primary education, and then to use that ability to read to get more comprehensive education in all areas.

Spread of information

A printed book

From the Flickr Commons

The printing press made it possible for written information to easily be spread to further areas. Because a written work could now be produced in large quantities, that written work no longer had to be kept carefully in the area which it was most relevant to. Because it can be spread information like this, people could, for the first time, learn about things that were happening thousands of kilometres away. The printing press made it possible to have newspapers that could be spread around the general public. For the first time, the general population was able to learn about events in faraway places such as politics, natural disasters, and scientific discoveries. This last point, in particular, is key. It makes it easier for new discoveries to be built upon old ones. Newton’s work on gravity was based upon the previous work of Kepler. Without easy access to this work, Newton not have so easily been able to form his theories. Every major advancement in human history has been built upon previous ideas. Because of the printing press, written information can be copied and sent to different areas, to make it more readily available to people hoping to build upon it.

Freedom of speech

The printing press was perhaps the ultimate symbol of freedom of speech and freedom of press in its time. The printing press greatly increased the availability of a wider variety of information, as it was relatively easy for one to obtain a printing press and distribute media. A great example of this is in the 1983 French film “Danton”, starring Gérard Depardieu. In it, the titular character, Danton, runs a publication that the local government disapproves of, which he is able to distribute widely thanks to the power of the printing press.

What about the Internet?

Map of the Internet

A map of the Internet, from Wikimedia

Sure, the Internet has been an even greater tool in promoting the spread of information and in promoting free speech than the printing press. It gives a much wider degree of anonymity, wherein people can speak out even against governments that may otherwise attempt to persecute them. Danton ended up being executed, but had he been distributing his message via the Internet, that likely wouldn’t have happened.
The Internet is also a much more effective way of spreading information. With the printing press, we can have multiple copies of the same work sent out to various areas, but they must still be carried there by hand. The Internet allows instantaneous availability of content anywhere in the world.
The reason I decided against choosing the Internet is that I feel its philosophy is a direct descendant of the printing press. In my opinion, all these great benefits of the Internet came about directly as a result of the philosophy of the printing press, allowing freedom of press and the easy transference of information.
Another factor others considered for why the Internet should not be the most important is that it’s not a tangible item. I personally don’t think that this matters, as it is nevertheless something that had to be invented.

There  you have it, my opinion on the greatest invention of all time. What do you think? Are there any important points I’ve missed out? Do you have another invention that you think trumps the ones I’ve mentioned? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.