IB or 'International Baccalaureate' schools are growing in popularity around the world. Designed to provide a rigorous curriculum for both international and national schools worldwide, 'IB schools' are a good option for many expatriate families.

The first thing to understand is that not all schools which use the 'IB curriculum' are international schools. In fact, numerous national schools (e.g. government schools) around the globe are choosing to implement the IB curriculum. One of the main attractions for many students of the IB is that it offers a very rigorous diploma programme in the final 2 years of secondary school. This means that students wishing to graduate with an IB Diploma will need to pass a final exam in their last year of secondary school. This diploma is generally well-recognised by universities around the world and some may even grant university credit for certain course equivalencies.

The IB Organisation also offers the PYP (Primary Years Programme) which can be implemented in schools during the primary/elementary years or grades and the MYP (Middle Years Programme) for students in middle/secondary school. The DP or Diploma Programme is undertaken in the last 2 years of secondary school and prepares students for a rigorous set of course exams in their final year. Many 'international schools' use all 3 programmes (or curricula) in their schools. There is also an additional programme which some schools are now implementing as an option in secondary school called the Career-Related Programme. The Career-Related Programme can also be taken in the final two years of secondary for students who seek a more focused career-related diploma which includes service-learning and personal/professional skills. 



The philosophy of the IB programmes are what make it unique. Great emphasis is placed on critical and creative thinking and fostering attributes that enable students build an international mindset and skills for the 21st century (e.g. language-learning, research, collaboration, etc.).  The IB framework outlines specific expectations as in other curricula; however, schools create their own programmes of study and 'units of inquiry' based on the specific culture, environment and countries their schools are based in. IB schools engage students in guiding the learning of specific topics based upon the questions they have and want to discover (this is called 'inquiry'). Students will then undertake research and study the topics in a variety of different ways, based upon what they want to learn. The teacher acts as more of a 'facilitator' who supports students in this learning journey. This type of learning often allows students to 'go deeper' into topics and concepts. In this way, the learning is very open-ended and unstructured until the teacher and students set out what they want to learn along with how the learning would be assessed. The IB programmes for PYP and MYP could be considered to be the least-structured as compared to the British and American curricula, however, in the DP, the expectations and learning is more prescriptive and organised.

The IB curriculum can be incorporated within national school systems in different countries but are also implemented in international schools around the world. It is very common to find both British schools and American schools using some or all of the IB programmes. As a result, you can have international schools which implement a 12-year programme (as in American schools which graduate students in Gr.12) or a 13-year programme (as in British schools which take the IB diploma in Yr.13). Parents should be mindful if they would like transfer students between a 12-year IB school and a 13-year IB school. Although this can certainly be done, they need to discuss this situation with school admissions officers or registrars to discuss the finer details.

Francesca from SchoolsDXB interviewed Robert Cummings and Dina Khalaf, both of whom work for the IB Organisation. She learnt more about the programmes and assessments. A brief overview is available in the image and the full-interview transcribed below:









Francesca McGeary – Educational Consultant, IngeniousEd & SchoolsDxb (Dubai, UAE)

Dina Khalaf – IB Development Manager (UAE & Turkey)

Robert Cummings – IB Communications and Marketing Manager (International Baccalaureate Organization, The Hague)

Good Morning, My name is Francesca McGeary from IngeniousEd. and SchoolsDXB.  Today I will be interviewing 2 key people from the International Baccalaureate Organization (I.B.O.) to help parents here in the UAE understand more about IB schooling and education.  I’d like to introduce Mr.  Robert Cummings, the IB Communications and Marketing Manager who is based in The Hague, and I am also joined by Ms. Dina Khalaf, who is the IB Development Manager for the UAE and Turkey.  A very warm welcome to you both and thank you for joining me today.

Robert and Dina:  Thank you very much.

Dina I will ask you this question first if I may.  Many parents in this part of the world are a little confused about education options and the I.B. is something that many of them are not very familiar with.  So I was wondering if you could give a brief overview of the I.B?

Dina:   Sure, the I.B. is a not-for-profit educational Foundation and we offer 4 different educational programmes, starting with the Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme and then 2 programmes in the final years of a student’s school life – the Diploma Programme and the Career Related Programme. The Organization started with the Diploma Programme in the 1960’s with the purpose of offering an international education that wasn’t solely based on one curriculum or tied to one country, but was based on best practices from the different options around the world. That would make it easier for those students who lived a transient lifestyle because of the job that their parents had.  It would make it easier for them to move around from school to school around the world and not have their education impacted.

How does the IB now fit in with preparing children for a knowledge economy and the 21st century then?

Dina:  Well all our Programmes have a core focus on developing skills and attributes of students so it’s not solely based on curriculum knowledge but also on developing the skills and attributes that will help them move on into further education and into the job life.  We focus on what we call the Learner Profile which is our list of attributes that students have developed over the course of their IB schooling and so we focus on both personal and academic achievement. Our Programmes are challenging but they are also flexible enough to meet the needs of students.  We focus on encouraging students to use different approaches to learning and it’s very important for students in an IB education to become responsible for their own education.

That sounds great.  When we hear the words IB curriculum or the IB framework what does that actually mean?  I think a few parents are confused about what a curriculum is and what a framework is?

Dina:  In the Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme we offer a curriculum framework.  It gives the schools some expectation benchmarks and the framework of how the curriculum is going to be taught and the schools have the flexibility in terms of the content.  And that is why the framework in the PYP and MYP is very adaptable to different curricula.  So schools could offer their own national curriculum within the framework of the IB.  Moving into the Diploma Programme and Career-Related Programme, these programmes are much more prescriptive.

Dina, can you tell us a little bit about how the Diploma Programme is different from a national  school curriculum that a parent might find in their home country?

Dina:  Well the Diploma Programme is a 2-year programme that students engage in within the last 2 years of their schooling.  They take a number of subjects and complete a number of requirements to then sit an external assessment, but over the 2 years they will also complete a number of internal assessments.  The combination of all these assessments will give the student a grade that is used for university entry. So it will depend on the national curriculum of the student that we are comparing to.  A lot of national curricula have a 1 year programme towards the end of the schooling or they may only have some entry requirements for university where students sit exams for entry to university.

So I know one of the criticisms that I hear from a lot of parents here is that there doesn’t seem to be formal assessments through the PYP or the MYP as such, is that true?

Dina:  With our MYP we have recently introduced an e-assessment which is a formal, summative assessment.  So that is now available for the MYP.  In terms of the PYP we do not have any external assessments which is part of the beauty of the programme.  And even with the MYP it is only in the last year that students have the option to take a summative assessment that is externally assessed. But throughout the rest of the years in the PYP and MYP the assessments are set by the school as part of the frameworks that they establish.

Robert:  May I add that with the assessment for the MYP, our very first cohort of students opting to do the assessment will be doing so in May of this year.  Students can opt to have the summative exam or they can choose not to –it is entirely optional.

Dina: These assessments are up-to-date and cutting-edge like no other assessment tool out there.  We can share with you a demo that you might like to share with your parents on your website (click HERE for video).  There is currently nothing like it in any other offering around the world.

That would be helpful.  I think it’s important to point out that PYP/MYP IB schools are free to choose any external assessments or examination boards they wish to use to assess their students’ levels.  Is that correct?

Dina: Yes they can, of course.

Is there any particular kind of learner who is ideally suited for an IB education and why?

Dina: An IB education can be adopted to meet the needs of different learners. One of the misconceptions is that the Diploma Programme is for the highly capable, highly intelligent and that is not the case at all. There is so much flexibility within all our programmes that we can meet the needs of various students whether it’s gifted and talented or students with a learning disability.  In fact, one of our standards requires that every school develops an inclusion policy to state how they will meet the needs of diverse students and this is applicable to all 4 programmes.

So are there any alternatives for children who are studying in an IB school but may not want to pursue the Diploma Programme because they are not so academically inclined, for example.  Is that possible?

Dina: Well that depends on the school.  Some schools may offer the Diploma Programme alongside another examination and the students would have the option to take whichever one they wanted.  If the school only offers the Diploma Programme, there is flexibility within it so that some students do not have to do the full Diploma with all the requirements.  They could also do just a specific number of the diploma courses which would be a lighter load for the student.

What kind of special training does an IB teacher need? And what kinds of procedures does an IB school have to go through to attain authorization?

Dina:  The procedure that a school has to go through in order to be authorized to deliver the IB Programs is really very rigorous.  A school would indicate that they are interested in becoming an IB school and if we think that they are eligible then they go through an application for candidacy.  They have to do a feasibility study; they have to show that they have looked at this in-depth and that they have both the philosophical and financial commitment.  Once they are a candidate school, we assign them to a consultant to guide the school and to help them get ready (based on our standards and practices). Once we feel that the school is ready, then they apply for an Authorization and a team comes in to visit the school and makes sure that the school is actually ready before giving them the Authorization.  The school has to commit philosophically to being an IB school and so there should be an ethos within the school that meets our standards and practices.  There is also a huge financial commitment for schools since we require continuous professional development.  We offer recognized IB workshops in different categories and schools must meet the minimum requirements in order to become an IB school and to maintain that.   The Authorization is a continuous process and not a “one-off” thing.

If we compare one IB school to another IB school, how do they develop their standards? Within the U.K. curriculum for example, there are set standards and expectations that all the teachers have to meet when delivering their units and lessons. So how does that work with an IB school ?

Dina: First of all, we have our own standards and practices in terms of teaching and learning so we require a lot of collaborative planning where teachers have to get together and work on various areas of the curriculum, assessment, and meeting the students’ needs.  This collaborative planning also includes (vertical and horizontal) alignment of those standards.  As I said earlier, in terms of the Diploma Programme, the curriculum is highly prescriptive in what needs to be taught and what is going to be assessed. It is very clear.  And in terms of PYP and MYP, we give benchmarks and a framework.  Based on the collaborative planning of the teachers, the team and leadership requires that it is standardized but it may differ from school-to-school.

So in literacy, math and science expectations, would each of the schools have their own set of standards or is there a commonality?

Dina: There is some commonality through the benchmarks for PYP and MYP.  However, the Diploma Programme would not differ at all from school-to-school.  It would be exactly the same.

For example, would it be easy for a Grade 2 child to move from one IB school to another?   Would he have met the expectations set in both schools? 

Dina: Mostly yes, there may be some differences but for the most part it should be an easy transition.

So are the same assessments used as well?

Dina: Only in the Diploma Programme.

Many parents wonder what specific assessment tools are being used in order to show student progress and what the teachers are using to work out their child’s progress.  So are these tools guaranteed to be the same throughout different IB schools around the world?   

Dina: No, in the PYP and MYP there are the benchmarks and frameworks only.  Each school has the flexibility to offer the curriculum and assessments that they want.  So they would not necessarily be the same.  However, with the Diploma Programme it is consistent around the world.

Robert: May I just add that we do focus, especially in the PYP and MYP, on the pedagogy principle as opposed to the other end of the spectrum which is pure assessment.

Thanks.  How easy is it for a child to move from another curriculum in their country into an IB school? 

Dina: It would depend on which system they are coming from.  With the Diploma Programme,  it would be almost impossible to enter into it unless they are already coming from another I.B. school within those final 2 years. Throughout the rest of the school years in PYP and MYP it should be fairly easy to move to and from an IB school.

Well that was the original aim that children could move flexibly from city to city and fit reasonably well into their new IB school.  That was the whole ethos right?  

Dina: Correct. That is why the Diploma Programme was developed.

Well Dina and Robert, it has been very informative chatting with you both.  I would like to thank you both for giving your time and sharing your expertise with us.  Thanks very much.

Dina and Robert:  Thank you.


Recommended Information for parents from Robert Cummings, IB Organisation:

Comparison of IB and American Common Core Standards click HERE

Information about the IB in a UK-context (visit parent's section) click HERE 

Learn about the IB Learner Profile click HERE 


Read more about the IB Programmes and if it's right for your child click HERE