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Reflections of an IB student

I know I’m a little late to the “why-did-I-even-choose-IB” party, but I just wanted to reiterate something that slipped out of my friend’s mouth during the International Baccalaureate (IB) ice cream social: IB was the best mistake of my life.

I’ve been seeing more rants on social media about the IB Program than usual. This goes beyond the occasional outburst from one of my fellow IB peers – everyone seems to be weighing in on the matter. Yet the fact that they’re communicating their feelings and opening it up to discussion is proof that the IB program teaches its students to discuss problems they experience and search for solutions. And indeed, their concerns are very real and legitimate.

The biggest complaint that my IB peers have is that they weren’t properly informed of what the program truly entails. From the outside, it seems as though the work is always challenging and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, the IB program relies on rote memorization as much as it does on critical thinking. Sure, my French class discusses social problems like anorexia and Islamophobia in French every day. But without learning memorizing conjugation techniques and studying vocabulary, the class never would’ve gotten that far.

Secondly, the program has separated itself from AP classes over time, but I encourage more classes to become exclusive to IB. One reason for the rigorous, memorization-focused curriculum is that classes cater to both the IB and AP tests. For example, during their first years of Math HL and Biology HL, students take Calculus AB and Biology AP classes. The classes would be taught at a more consistent pace if both years focused on the IB HL exams, since students would have two years to prepare for one curriculum. The AP program emphasizes more direct memorization and less critical thinking, so perhaps IB classes can have more discussions and fewer tests if the AP curriculum is removed. My German friend attends an IB school in Munich, and he is rarely tested on how much material he has memorized.

The workload is uneven for numerous reasons. In addition to making sure classes focus on the IB curriculum, teachers could coordinate with each other better so there is a constant, as opposed to fluctuating, workload. I encourage students to ask their teachers to move tests so they aren’t on the same day, but teachers could also benefit by ensuring that large assignments and presentations aren’t due on the same week. For example, on top of the normal workload, most Internal Assessments (IAs) are assigned and edited from December to February. It would be beneficial for different classes to assign IAs during different months. However, this problem exists for every student’s schedule, not just IB students’. Every academic program goes through a similar boom-or-bust cycle, but not every academic program is as rigorous overall.

Lastly, many of my peers have qualms about the program’s rising cost. Apparently, the school budget stopped covering some adviser fees and stamp costs, so current seniors had to pay another installment of $800 over the summer. The costs of the IB program shouldn’t deter students from doing the program. The administration should find ways to make the program more affordable, perhaps by applying for grants or awards. Students in the IB program could also organize fundraisers throughout the two years to raise money (hello CAS hours). However, students’ financial backgrounds should not affect whether they can participate or not in IB.

If you’ve already chosen your fate and decided to put yourself through two years of torment, I think you’ve made a sound decision. I knew I worked hard, but I never considered myself much of a thinker until I was forced to communicate my thoughts in my English and Theory of Knowledge (TOK) classes. Quite frankly, IB is enrichment stuffed down students’ throats, meaning the program is often exciting but excessive. As an IB diploma recipient and Walnut alumni stated online, students learn the basics, along with applicable critical thinking skills. They’re forced to apply and communicate knowledge as they acquire it, meaning they discuss literature and write essays as soon as they learn new material. Trust me, our ability to articulate ourselves intelligently comes in handy during presentations and conversations. In fact, during a college interview, my interviewer and I discussed whether a molecule existed, if math was discovered or created and the nature of knowledge as it synthesizes to form interdisciplinary fields.

And even still, IB will become students’ first priority, whether they like it or not. Some teachers are open to rescheduling tests if another one has been scheduled for the same day, but there have been countless times when I had three tests and a paper due. I wouldn’t possibly be able to handle a tennis game or mock trial competition on the same day. Sure, I learned to prioritize my academic classes over anything else, but I made countless sacrifices in other commitments for IB. Additionally, many students couldn’t take certain electives or be in organizations, because some IB classes are only offered during one or two periods.

In terms of asking IB students what they think of the program, keep in mind: it takes a persistently positive attitude to appreciate IB while going through the program. I spoke to at least fifty diploma recipients before deciding to join the program, and none of them regret the experience in retrospect. However, my friends and I continue to crash and burn on a weekly basis. I’m sure, in retrospect, those instances will make for great stories too, but as of right now, I’m just sleep deprived and exhausted.

I’m not advising people to avoid the IB program altogether, but this is an honest reflection of the program. I hope students make their decisions cautiously and remain wary of its flaws. The IB program overall can go through some fundamental improvements, but it should neither be simplified as “easy” nor considered “impossible.”

By Samantha Gomes, Opinion editor


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