Thursday, 21 July 2011

'I'm so glad I had the chance to take the International Baccalaureate'

Budget cuts mean fewer state schools will offer the International Baccalaureate. But it would be a shame if this tough but stimulating course was only available to the children of the wealthy, argues student Nastassia Dhanraj, who's just completed hers

Thursday, 21 July 2011 in the Independent
The International Baccalaureate – or the IB – has cropped up repeatedly in the news over the past few years; being heralded as a superior qualification to replace A-levels and revolutionise education worldwide. Such hyperbole was what led me to sign up to the course two years ago at the only state sixth-form college in my area to offer it. Now, government cuts are forcing headteachers at state colleges to either drop the course, or abolish plans to introduce it. This means that in future the only students who will get access to it will be those with parents rich enough to send them to independent schools. This will be a great shame for our state schools and for the future of Britain's education and its place in future international communication.

After completing the International Baccalaureate, I can say I am so glad I did it. However, that was certainly not always the case. I spent most of the teaching hours feeling like I was being punished for making the decision to be so pretentious as to do a qualification that only a few months before I had not even heard of, let alone known how to pronounce. But like all effective punishment, I see now it was for my own good.

The International Baccalaureate is not what most 16-18 year olds want to be doing. It is harder than I ever believed it could be, involving a huge number of taught hours. While my A-level contemporaries were lounging about in the college field, I was dragging my back-injury-inducing bag from classroom to classroom. It also has significantly more exams than A-levels. You have to do subjects you know you are – to put it mildly – abysmal at. The IB even dictates how you spend your free time, with a compulsory 150 hours of creativity, action and service needed to be completed over the two-year course, with the only incentive being: "If you don't, we'll fail you". But at the end of it all, I'm still glad I did it.

The benefits? Well, first and foremost the kudos from doing such an intense and "hardcore" qualification. Secondly, it forces you to expand your spheres of interest and as a result become a more well-rounded person – that sounds like flowery exaggeration, but is actually true. Perhaps most importantly – as this is supposed to be an education – you just learn more. By studying six subjects without the constant loom of exams every few months, you are able to absorb so much information and frankly, be better educated.
It's no secret that the traditional British education path needs a major overhaul. The once world-renowned A-level qualification is losing credibility by the day – and the Government knows it. By no means do I believe that A-level exams are getting easier; that is a huge insult to thousands of students who have worked exceptionally hard for them. However, more and more people are getting A grades, making it more and more difficult to distinguish which students truly make up the highest echelons of contemporary education. The introduction of the A* for A-levels was an attempt to fix this problem, but that merely attempts to hide the fact that the grades have become more inflated than the lips of Hollywood's superstars. I think this is to do with the basic structure of A-levels. With the modular format of the course, people can do numerous retakes until they get the grades they want.

With the IB, there are no retakes, as all exams are taken at the end of the second year. There is also a points system out of 45, which is a combination of the grades from all of your subjects, the compulsory Theory Of Knowledge course, and the personal research assignment called the "extended essay". Through this numerical system, it is far easier to distinguish between the achievements of students and is a lot fairer to those who truly are excellent and put the effort in, given that only 0.2 per cent of students studying the IB get the coveted 45 points each year.

The main reason that I think the Government's cuts to the IB budget are exceptionally short-sighted, narrow minded and foolish is that the International Baccalaureate, by its very name, encourages something that the future leaders and taxpayers of our country desperately need: a global understanding. The International Baccalaureate was forged out of the despair of the World Wars in an attempt to unite the world through education, by a collection of teachers at the International School of Geneva.

If there is one word that is constantly repeated in response to every instance of prejudice or infringement on human rights, it is education. It is not enough for Britain to sit back and feel that other countries need to be more educated in Western morality, without engaging in educating their own population in a way that actually takes the rest of the world into consideration.

At a time when international communication is growing ever more crucial, how can the Government possibly justify restricting the access of its own young people to a programme that is trying to unify the next generation through education? With some 876,000 students taking it worldwide, surely this is Britain's opportunity to take a forward thinking and pioneering stance and to set an example to the rest of the world that a global education is something we should be striving for.

If the Government goes ahead with these plans to reduce funding to the groundbreaking 139 state schools and colleges that offer the International Baccalaureate, they are not only condemning the students in the years below me to lose out on a more rigorous, fair and highly respected qualification, but also condemning the future of Britain to take a back seat in encouraging the world in global co-operation and understanding.

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