The International Baccalaureate and the Globalisation of Geography

Article excerpt

Briony Cooke looks at the growing popularity of the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

The place of geography in the IB Diploma

The Diploma structure

The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) is a recognised leader in the field of international education and the IB Diploma programme is gaining increasing support worldwide. The course offers a broad curriculum which is academically rigorous and universally respected as a qualification for higher education. Students following IB study in six academic fields: three at higher level (HL) and three at standard level (SL). These six include two languages, one experimental science, mathematics, individuals and societies (including geography), and one further subject of the student's choice. The IB has a core curriculum, which is a complimentary and compulsory part of the programme and must be completed for the Diploma to be awarded at the end of two years. It includes the submission of two essays in the theory of knowledge (TOK), a 4000-word extended essay on a topic of individual interest and a commitment to extra-curricular activities called creativity, action, service (CAS) which encourages students to become involved in the arts, sport and the community as a means of fostering their awareness and appreciation of life outside the academic arena.

The changing place of geography in the IB diploma

Geography is one of nine subjects offered at both HL and SL in 'individuals and societies'. Students must study at least one the following:

* business and management

* economics

* geography

* history

* IT in a global society

* Islamic history

* philosophy

* psychology

* social and cultural anthropology.

Geography's global growth

The global uptake of geography at HL and SL has kept pace with that of the IB Diploma as a whole and has been particularly dramatic in the last five years. Between 2003 and 2007, the total number of candidates registering for geography worldwide increased by 330/0 at HL and 47% at SL, and in the Asia-Pacific region uptake for geography has increased by 64% over this period (Figure 1).

The new IB geography syllabus

A new syllabus for geography will be introduced in September 2009 for the first exam in May 2011. It is designed to endure the inevitable environmental, socio-economic and political changes that will occur over its seven-year life- time. The process of curriculum review has involved worldwide consultation with university academics, IB teachers, examiners and external advisers, and this has resulted in a review of the aims and objectives as well as substantial revisions of the subject content and the assessment components.


The key aims of the new geography syllabus are: 'to develop an understanding of the interrelationships between people, places, spaces and a concern for human welfare and the quality of the environment'. These aims are compatible with those of the IB philosophy as a whole and fulfil many of the attributes of the IB learner profile.

Relevant themes

The subject content (Figure 2) has been updated in response to changes in geographical thinking. It is also designed to cater for the preferences of teachers working in a great variety of schools and geographical circumstances by offering some of the major international issues of our time. These include climate change, resource management, vulnerability reduction and global participation. While new and popular themes such as sport and health have also been added, others such as urban models have been dropped.

Underlying the syllabus content are two fundamental geographical concepts: change in time and space, and the relationship between people and the environment. However, there has been a shift in emphasis from the notion of problem relationships towards encouraging students to think critically and constructively about the people/environment relationship. …