The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is an educational programme for students 15-17 years old, which now is competing with Advanced levels (or A-levels for short) for the popularity. As well as an A-level course, the IB Programme is a two-year course and its results are also accepted by universities as ‘an entrance ticket’, as the IB is a recognised pre-university programme. Nowadays the Programme is becoming more and more popular all over the world, and, for example, in 2007 the number of schools in the UK, which offer the IB programme, had doubled since 2004. Some people see it as much more challenging programme for gifted and bright students as opposed to A-levels, which become easier and easier each year. There are many differences between A-levels and IB programme and, in order to answer the question, first of all we should compare those courses.
The IB Programme is a two-year international programme, which is taught in more than 125 countries in three available languages: English, French and Spanish. The structure of the course completely differs from A-level’s one and it is more expanded and, I would say, it is a multi-area course whether a student wants it or not. A student is supposed to pick a subject from each of six areas of the educational programme such as two languages, social studies sphere, experimental studies, mathematics and arts. Each area gives a student an opportunity to pick a subject, however, no subject area can be ignored or replaced by a subject from another group (the only exception is the arts area, which can be replaced by another language or a science or a social study). Three of the picked subjects are studied at a high level (210 teaching hours), the other three are studied at a standard level (150 teaching hours). In addition to six subjects, an IB student is required to complete a four-thousand-word extended essay, take the Theory of Knowledge course and complete one hundred fifty hours of work in CAS (Creativity Action Service). If a student ignores one of those, he will not get the IB diploma. CAS is one of the most interesting features of the IB programme – it is an extracurricular aspect, which requires a student to participate in sports, show his or her creativity and do some community work. Theory of Knowledge course can be described as a critical thinking course for IB students and it takes 100 teaching hours. Extended essay can be written in any subject that a student studies and any topic can be picked if it is approved by a student’s essay supervisor. The IB programme is a successful programme, maybe it is the main reason why its analogies like the European Baccalaureate, the French Baccalaureate and the Welsh Baccalaureate have already appeared. The UK government is now thinking of introducing the British Baccalaureate based on the IB programme.
A-level programme is also a pre-university programme, however, it is taught mainly in the UK and Commonwealth countries and British Overseas Territories and some international schools all over the world, which makes it as widespread as International Baccalaureate. As we all know, A-level is also a two-year educational programme and has its pros and cons as well as an IB programme. The first year of A-level programme is called Lower Six (AS level) and the second year is Upper Six (A2 level). A-levels are usually taught in the so called Six Form Colleges and International Schools and Academies. At A-level (which is Years 12 and 13 at school) a student is able to choose any subjects he wants to study (however, he should take in account whether his or her school offer it) and study them for two years on advanced level. A student is able to drop one or two of his subjects on the second year. Usually students take 4-5 subjects at AS level and keep 3-4 subjects at A2 level. The results of A-levels are recognised by the all universities in the UK and other countries. The analogy of A-level is the American Advanced Placements.
It is obvious that each programme has its strong and weak points. The IB offers a bigger range of subjects and a student will probably have knowledge in all the areas of his study, which will help him with his future studies and life, however, it is difficult to concentrate on one or two subjects that you are really interested in. Also, on the IB programme some people will have to deal with subjects they cannot understand (for example, a student is really bad at sciences but has to pick biology or chemistry), it will distract from other studies and take extra time to understand. In this case, A-levels leave all the decisions up to a student, which means that he or she can either fully concentrate on a particular area of studies or pick some other subjects to develop knowledge in different areas. On the other hand, A-level finishes only with 3-4 subjects that student knows and no extra skills, while studying the IB programme means developing a set of skills and participating in activities, which is a helpful experience for any person’s life and study.
In terms of the University and College Admission System (UCAS), studying the IB is more effective than studying A-levels. For example, gaining three grades A on A-level subjects gives 360 UCAS points, while score 30 out of 45 on the IB is 419 UCAS points. Many IB students are predicted to obtain 40-45 points, which is 650-770 UCAS points (5-6 grades A on A-levels), which makes them more competitive when it comes to university applications. Pretty unfair, isn’t it? Many people argue that A-level knowledge is much deeper than the IB High level knowledge, while others are talking about grade inflation, too low passing rates for A-levels and that the A-level curriculum is becoming easier each year.
So, is the IB a realistic alternative to A-levels? It definitely is. It has many advantages and encourages personal knowledge development in all spheres as well as social and sport activities, from all of which a student only benefits. A-levels have strong points as well, but no doubt that soon the IB will be even more popular around the world as it opens the doors to the best universities.