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.

Respecting Authoritative Decisions, even bad ones

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I talked about why the (then) recent decisions relating to school prefects and head students were terrible choices. Now I’m going to talk about why I will still respect those decisions. There really isn’t much to be said about it. The fact is that even though I and my peers don’t think the decision that was made was a good one, it was still made by authoritative people.

To continue the analogy of sport from the first post in the series, if the referee was to make a blatantly wrong decision, the players and coaches would have to accept it. Even the best people with authority make bad decisions. In some cases, they have time to think over their decision before hand, and this should decrease the likelihood of making a bad decision, but even then bad decisions will be made.

Now, that was a bit of a false analogy, because this decision was a deliberate one. It wasn’t made as an accident or misinterpretation of events. However, the result is still the same. An incorrect decision, but one by which you must stand. The teachers in charge made a bad decision, but for a good reason. They had to make the decision to promote the school, and more specifically their new prefect system. They chose the people they chose so that it would seem that they were giving equal and fair opportunities to everyone. Because of this, I’m going to respect the decisions that they made. I’ve moved on, and so has everyone else. I wouldn’t even be writing this if I hadn’t teased that I was going to in the last post, which was made shortly after the teachers made the decision, and before I had gotten over it.

Bizarre Choices, and the Justification of Them

This post is part 2 of my “poor decision making” series. It’s based on my experiences the weekend of the 12th March, when I was on a trip with my school for its prefects.

I talked in part 1 about why I was unfairly the subject of negative bias because my parents were teachers. In this post, I will talk about why the decisions that were made were not the best ones. Had my reasoning in this post been listened to, I would not necessarily have gotten the position; however, a number of those that were chosen would most likely have not gotten the position either.
It’s worth noting that the information I am basing this post off of is not directly from the teachers. It is second hand, from other students who say they have talked to teachers. So please, take this with a grain of salt.
I’ve heard two things about why the people were chosen. The first, is that they were people who don’t do too many activities. This supposedly means that they will have more time to devote to their duties as head students. Now, it’s interesting to point out that the student who found this out from the teacher actually mentioned to the teacher that they were not a good pick because they didn’t do many activities (meaning that—for some of the students—they were not particularly active and well-known in the school community). To me, it sounds like this reasoning is the teachers’ way of justifying what they already know to be a poor decision. Otherwise, did they ever think that maybe students who already do a lot of activities are very good at managing their time, and thus they are able to take on more duties? And perhaps students who don’t already do a lot of activities aren’t as good at managing time, so more duties may put too much pressure on them?

The other thing that I’ve heard was that they were chosen because on the trip, they played cards with others a lot. This supposedly means that they are already good at getting along with others. Now, on the one hand, I can see that there may be some logic in that. However; I know that myself, and others, didn’t play cards because it is antisocial. To us, playing cards did not seem like a good way of demonstrating leadership qualities such as good team skills and communication with the whole group. Again, it seems like some very crafty justification for the decision the teachers made.

I do have one more complaint about the decision-making process. This time, it’s not based on what I’ve heard second-hand from the teachers, but from what I’ve heard first-hand from one of the students who was picked. Specifically, the student who was picked as head boy. Now, on the one hand, he is actually an incredibly good pick for the job. He’s very well known, quite outgoing, he speaks well in public—even if he doesn’t enjoy it—but I actually disagree very strongly with him being picked. Why? Because he didn’t really want the job. He had to be talked into accepting the position by the three head teachers.
What’s the problem with that, you may ask? There are two problems: one which is simply about fairness and equal opportunity—something the head teachers had discussed with us earlier when telling us why they were choosing two boys and two girls, even though the ratio in our school is boys:girls 2:3 at best—and the other is to do with specifically choosing a person who is best for the job. As I said before, the person who was picked as head boy would have been the best person if he had wanted it. However, because he didn’t really want it, and was instead talked in to taking the position, he won’t be likely to do it as well as someone who really wanted the position and was working as hard as they could to show that they are good for the position (and to overcome negative bias that was already there against them).
The other reason, fairness, is very much related to the more logical decision of someone who wants the position being someone who will work harder at it. It simply doesn’t seem fair to give the position to someone who doesn’t want it—or who may only have agreed to accept the position for their CV—versus someone who really does want the position. It isn’t fair that other people who wanted the position missed out to someone who just isn’t that interested.
Part three in this series will talk about why I respect the teachers’ decisions, and will therefore give the head students the respect that the position should warrant. 

I do have one more complaint I could make about another person that was chosen, but because there’s a chance that he will read this, I won’t. Instead, why don’t you leave me your thoughts on the matter? Do you think it’s fair that a person who is better suited for the job, but doesn’t really want it got the position? I would be very interested to see a counter-argument to this. Please feel free to leave a comment about anything you like, and remember, you can comment anonymously if you feel the need.

Negative Bias? The overcompensation for the appearance of bias

This post is part 1 of my “poor decision making” series. It’s based on my experiences last weekend (12th–13th March) when I was on a trip with my school for its prefects.

 

My school recently introduced a system of prefects, and I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of them. The prefects who were chosen went on a training trip with the head teachers. One of the purposes of the trip was to pick from the team, four “senior” prefects: a head boy, deputy head boy, head girl, and a deputy head girl. It is the decision of who was picked for these four top positions that I am writing about.

This post is about the problem of what I am calling “negative bias”. Basically, negative bias is when someone overcompensates for something that may be construed as being bias towards someone, and it in fact becomes so that they are bias against them.

One real-world example where this could be easily seen is in sports. Let us take a hypothetical match between the Broncos and the Rabbitohs. Let’s say the referee in this match supports the Rabbitohs. Because he wants to do his best to be neutral, he deliberately becomes stricter against the Rabbitohs then he normally would be. While this should dispel any of the complaints of bias, it is then very unfair for the team being discriminated against. It would most likely actually have been fairer if the referee had acted as he normally would, although in this situation people would perceive the ref as being bias towards his preferred team.

While this particular example is unlikely to come up—sports tend not to allow referees to work when a team they support is playing—I experienced a very similar situation this past weekend on my prefect trip. I was one of the students interested in being head boy or deputy head boy, and I think I would have been a very good candidate for either of these positions. However, my parents are teachers at the school, and so had I been picked (even if it was based purely on merit), it would have seemed to the parents of others (who, at international school, are often very quick to complain) that I had been picked because of my parents being teachers. This is the perceived bias talked about earlier. Instead, the teachers responsible for selecting head students will have ruled me out as a candidate for the job. Ruling me out is overcompensation for the appearance of bias.

Now, obviously, I can’t say for certain that if I weren’t a teacher’s kid, I would have been selected. But I do strongly believe that had the situation been different, I would have been selected. I can say this based on who was actually picked, and other circumstances around their selection, which I will go into in the second post of this series.

So, what do you think? Have you been in any situations where you, or someone you know, have been the subject of negative bias? Do you think that there are any situations (perhaps even the ones I mentioned), where negative bias can be justified? Let me know in a comment below. If you’re a student at the school, I encourage you to consider posting anonymously if you’re talking specifically about the people who were chosen.

FOBISSEA Music 2010 (Part 3)

This is part three (and the final part) in a series of posts.

There are many reasons that I enjoyed this trip more than past trips, but the main one I want to talk about is my own personal experiences with the music. (The other main reason is that it was a much more social experience for me, and I feel I socialised with new people from my school, as well as people from other schools, but that’s not very interesting for anyone other than myself.) The Beethoven symphony is my favourite piece of music of all time. Some of the pieces I wasn’t playing in were great to listen to, James Bond, Viva la Vida, Smoke on the Water, Jump from Glee. But that isn’t the best of it. In two of the pieces, I was the only clarinet to play. One Short Day, from the musical Wicked, was for choir and a small band. I’ve had experience with pieces like this before, and although they look simple at first, they’re always actually quite a challenge. This was no exception, although it was great fun to play, being the only one playing at many points.
The other piece that I loved was called Look at the World. It was originally for the whole orchestra, but the conductor decided he only wanted 6 strings, 1 flute, and 1 clarinet to play. I was the best clarinet there, so he asked me to play. It was incredibly beautiful, but also very hard at points. For me, those two pieces were the highlight of the whole trip.
There’s so much more I could say, but this is already 3 parts long, so I’ll just finish by saying what a great experience it was, and I can’t wait until next year in Beijing!

FOBISSEA Music 2010 (Part 2)

This is part two in a series of posts.

The organisation on periphery matters (things not directly relating to the music) this year was not as great as in the past. The food was in general just acceptable, although the opening dinner, and the final gala dinner were spectacular.
On three occasions during the trip, were had the opportunity to do one of the music-related workshops we chose before the trip. My first one — Jazz band — was pretty fun, although the conductor was a real pain. He was also the person who conducted the concert band, and he cut the best bits of Star Wars, and made us play a stupid simplified version of Soul Bossa Nova (from Austin Powers). The worst, though, came at the final concert. I was sitting right at the front of the jazz band, and he was literally one metre away from me. As I was still setting up, he had already started counting us in (he also deliberately put on this annoying accent for the count in), and started before I was even ready. He was also really impatient with the drummer, not giving her a chance to learn the one bar drum solo and the start of the piece. Because jazz band was performing in the concert, we were required to be there for both our first and our third workshop.-
My second workshop was GarageBand. To be honest, it was kinda a waste of time. They basically only taught us how to create a song using loops, and nothing more than that. Although I’ve never actually done it before, it’s incredibly easy to do, so I didn’t think it was really worth my time. There was another workshop that I wish I had done, but still wouldn’t have taught me anything. In the conducting workshop, they showed a video of Rowan Atkinson conducting Beethoven’s 5th, which I actually showed to a friend the night before. Apparently it was only the absolute basics of conducting anyway: showing how to beat it 2, 3, and 4, and how to end a piece. I’ve already had some experience with conducting an actual orchestra, so although this workshop would have been fun, I wouldn’t have learnt anything anyway. 

Check back in three days for the next part of the series.