Exploring the IBDP Curriculum


The IBDP celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018. Since its inception in the 1960s to develop globally-minded citizens, it has become a viable alternative in many national education markets, with over 3,400 schools in over 150 countries (IBO, 2019). Over this time, the IB has evolved into more than just an international diploma that promotes intercultural understanding for students in their final two years of secondary school, according to Tarc (2009), but one that has become a significant and growing presence in policy and curricular reform due to its strong emphasis on multiculturalism.

Factors of Growth
Indeed, one major factor in this growing presence was the introduction of programmes for younger age groups in the 1990s to create a learning continuum for all students: the Primary Years Programme (PYP, age 3-10 years) and the Middle Years Programme (MYP, age 11-16 years) (MYP, age 11-16 years). Furthermore, as globalisation became a more widespread phenomenon, the IB sought to diversify by becoming a more comprehensive corporate entity, allowing its programmes to be more accessible to less developed communities (Charleson, 2010), addressing the global drivers for change in education and demography. This shift resulted in a greater emphasis on international awareness and an effort to make a difference by incorporating a shared educational philosophy into all of its programmes that develop students’ values, academic skills, and disciplinary knowledge (IBO, 2020b). On the business side, however, the IBO flagship, the IBDP, remains the most popular of the three programmes, thanks to its transferable school qualification for expatriates and globally mobile families (Resnik, 2009).

IBDP Today
To fully comprehend the IBDP curriculum today, it is necessary to look back, as it has barely changed since its inception over half a century ago. The IBDP curriculum emerged in the early 1960s when IQ tests and memorisation dominated traditional teacher-centred learning, closed classrooms, and national perspectives. Social studies teachers met in 1962 at the International Schools Association (ISA) conference to discuss developing a progressive, holistic curriculum that moved away from the accumulated knowledge developed through traditional learning. To one that embraced a curriculum framework based on student-centred learning that encouraged critical thinking, skill testing, multiple perspectives, and constructivism, which was influenced by several progressive teaching philosophies, including John Dewey, A.S. Neill, Jean Piaget, and Jerome Bruner.

Staying Consistent
Its aims have remained consistent over the years, emphasizing critical thinking skills, promoting intercultural understanding, and providing students with an international perspective through an eclectic mix of academic models offering subject choices, a depth of knowledge to cope with the first year of university, and opportunities to explore the arts, sciences, and technologies. It is a prescribed curriculum containing information about the learning content and allows schools to decide how to implement it (IBO, 2020a). This curriculum autonomy has enabled schools to adapt to global drivers. One of the curriculum’s early primary drivers was ‘education for sustainable development,’ which continues today (IBO, 2020a), along with its pathway to international-mindedness for a better world (Hill, 2012).

Student Choices
Students in the IBDP Curriculum can study subjects from six curricular areas: language and literature, language acquisition, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. External and internal assessments, such as fieldwork, orals, and artistic performances, are included in all subjects (IBO, 2020c). These assessments enable students to demonstrate an understanding of using their personal, procedural, and propositional knowledge, allowing teachers to explore various topics and teaching approaches within the curriculum parameters (IB0, 2020b). In addition, students must complete three mandatory components: the Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS), and an Extended Essay (EE), all of which serve to develop research and critical thinking skills as well as opportunities for reflection and connection.

Reflecting on 50 years
Looking back at the IBDP, one of the significant constraints on the curriculum is that the DP cannot make any more significant revisions after fifty years due to international university admissions standards recognition. Indeed, the structure’s complexity, with its six subject groups, core components (TOK, EE, and Extended Essay), Approaches to Learning, and alignment with the IB Learner Profile, can be challenging for teachers and students. However, the IBDP remains consistent and reliable in assessment and continues to spread its unique brand of education worldwide.


Charleson, C. T. (2010) ‘Book Review: Global Dreams, Enduring Tensions: International Baccalaureate in a Changing World’, Journal of Research in International Education. London, England: SAGE Publications, pp. 330–334. doi: 10.1177/14752409100090030904.


Hill I. (2006) International Baccalaureate Programmes and Educational Reform. In: Hughes P. (eds) Secondary Education at the Crossroads. Education in the Asia-Pacific Region: Issues, Concerns And Prospects, vol 9. Springer, Dordrecht . https://doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-4668-5_

International Baccalaureate Organization (2012) The IB Diploma Programme, IBO, p. 3 figure 1 

International Baccalaureate Organization (2019) Key facts about the DP. Available at: https://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/what-is-the-dp/key-facts-about-the-dp/ (accessed 10 December 2020).

International Baccalaureate Organization (2020a) The DP Curriculum Available at: https://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/curriculum/ (accessed 10 December 2020).


International Baccalaureate Organization (2020b) The IB Teaching Style. Available at: https://www.ibo.org/benefits/the-ib-teaching-style/ (accessed 10 December 2020).

International Baccalaureate Organization (2020c) Assessment and Exams. Available at: https://ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/assessment-and-exams/ (accessed 10 December 2020).

Resnik, J. (2009). Multicultural education – Good for business but not for the state? the ib curriculum and global capitalism. British Journal of Educational Studies. 57. 217 – 244. 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2009.00440.x.


Tarc, P. (2009). Global Dreams, Enduring Tensions: International Baccalaureate in a Changing World. New York: Lang.

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