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Relevant to students: answers to the 5 most important questions about the International Baccalaureate

In society, there is often debate about outdated general education programs that still rely on rote memorization of facts and their recitation but do little to foster critical thinking, argumentation, creativity, and other essential skills. Some schools in Lithuania offer an alternative by inviting students to pursue the International Baccalaureate (IB) program instead of the traditional 11th-12th grade curriculum. What is it? How does it benefit students? How does it differ from the conventional educational program?

According to Dr. Donatas Šinkūnas, a teacher at the “Erudito” Licėjus who instructs students in the International Baccalaureate program, IB is a prestigious international program recognized and valued by both local and international universities. “IB students work diligently and purposefully to improve various competencies. They learn to manage their time, apply higher-order thinking skills, and should, in the future, be attractive to employers as value-added employees,” he says. IB is taught in more than 150 countries, and the program is based on the cultivation of intellectual, personal, emotional, and social skills.

What skills are developed through IB?

IB encompasses several programs for different age groups, with the Diploma Program (IBDP) catering to students in grades 11-12. According to Dr. Donatas Šinkūnas, a teacher at the “Erudito” Licėjus IB program for history and knowledge theory, IB students lay a solid foundation for future studies and careers.

“Although IB programs may sound demanding and trendy, they have a real system and methods that enable students to learn to think independently rather than simply memorize and regurgitate learned material. The depth and focus of the curriculum are also crucial. Students choose what they want to learn and receive highly targeted, meaningful, and concentrated content,” he explains.

According to the teacher, the program’s primary focus is on nurturing critical thinking, encouraging students to actively construct arguments, understand different perspectives, and form fact-based opinions about various global phenomena. “Another essential aspect is that IB produces individuals with a broad and universal profile. Many students who have completed the IBDP program have said that when they entered university, they didn’t face any significant challenges, unlike some of their peers from different education programs,” notes teacher D. Šinkūnas.

How do IB educational programs and methods differ?

The IBDP program is characterized by purposeful and directed development of students’ competencies. According to D. Šinkūnas, it’s not enough to rely on memory because the foundation of IBDP programs is not attempting to memorize a large amount of mostly unrelated information that is often forgotten a few days after the exam. Instead, IBDP focuses on very specific research, synthesis, evaluation, analysis, communication, and other competencies.

“For example, in the subject of history, students extensively and deeply study 5-8 broad but specific themes, depending on the chosen subject level. Students learn to analyze sources, evaluate different historical traditions, compare them, formulate arguments, and process information in various ways,” explains D. Šinkūnas.

According to him, one of the most significant differences from traditional educational programs is that many assessments and exams in IB consist of open-ended questions, for which students need to provide essay-style responses. “A significant number of students coming from traditional schools are often shocked when they are required to write an essay and present a well-reasoned assessment, analysis, comparison, and the like for the first time. It’s not something they are used to,” says the teacher.


How does the student-teacher relationship differ in IB programs?


One of the differences highlighted by teachers is the smaller number of students in IB classes. According to D. Šinkūnas, this allows the teacher to quickly notice who is excelling and who is struggling, enabling immediate responses to different students’ needs. “Students in smaller classes can receive more social and academic attention. Most importantly, it allows for personalized feedback. This teaching approach yields the best results. Teacher work is also facilitated by the universal “ManageBac” electronic learning system, where students can upload their written assignments, and teachers can provide feedback: comment, highlight sentences, underline misspelled words or questionable arguments, and comment directly on or next to the text,” he explains.

While the relationship between teacher and student is closer, learning is still focused on developing students’ independence. “Students formulate their own research questions, choose topics, literature, evaluate it, and write papers while following formal guidelines, and commit to meeting deadlines,” he says.

In what language are IB classes conducted?

The vast majority of subjects, textbooks, and assessments in the IB program are in English. The exception is Lithuanian lessons, which are taught in Lithuanian. D. Šinkūnas considers this an important advantage.

“Even those who have not previously studied in international programs improve very quickly. Not only do students’ foreign language skills and vocabulary expand, but they also become familiar with specific terminology. This learning approach allows for the fastest acquisition and practical application of English,” says the teacher. In his opinion, this is much more effective than discussing the nuances of using various past tenses in English and doing grammar exercises during classes.

What is the Theory of Knowledge (ToK), and why is it essential in the educational process?

IB students are also taught the Theory of Knowledge (ToK). This subject develops the ability to evaluate the same things from different perspectives and fosters respect for differing opinions. “When discussing various phenomena and events, students rely on their experience, cultivate their creativity to construct responses, and enhance their communication skills. For example, in the integration of history and knowledge theory, students are encouraged to discuss an individual’s ability to influence society and the environment and the extent to which an individual is defined and limited by external factors versus the extent to which they have free will to transform external circumstances. When analyzing a geopolitical situation, students discuss how much morality should determine the foreign policy of states. They discuss how pragmatic and idealistic approaches are revealed in history, which one predominates, and why,” D. Šinkūnas explains.

Thus, IB should be chosen by curious, inquisitive, and ambitious students. “These should be individuals interested in the world, society, science, and who crave depth. These are students who think and are dissatisfied with overly factual, encyclopedic, traditional learning relying solely on memory,” say teacher.