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Will the IB curriculum suit Korea?
Written by Rayoung (Madeline) Lee | Published. 2019.10.22 20:58 | Count : 301

What’s TOK and EE? Then there’s CAS. These are words you would most likely hear if you happen to pass by IB students. IB stands for International Baccalaureate, a 2-year curriculum taught in various high schools across the globe. In Korea, there are currently 11 international schools that offer the IB Diploma Program, which allows students to apply to both domestic and foreign universities. In recent years, the IB curriculum has gained more and more interest from governments around the world. For instance, since 2013, the Japanese government has been increasing its number of IB schools, developing a dual language IB Diploma with the International Baccalaureate Organization. In September, the Offices of Education in Daegu and Jeju each announced plans to begin the process of adopting the IB curriculum in public schools. 

But that doesn’t say much about what the IB Diploma Program actually is. Fortunately, I attend one of Seoul’s three IB schools. Seoul Foreign School is in fact one of the first two hundred schools worldwide authorized to teach the IB Diploma Program. To explain the IB curriculum, I should first start with its basic requirements. An IB candidate needs to take six subjects in total consisting of three standard level subjects and three higher level subjects. In addition to this, the candidate must fulfill separate requirements for the IB Core which are TOK (Theory of Knowledge), CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service), and the EE (Extended Essay). Over a two year period, each candidate will be assessed through various tasks that are both internally and externally graded. Around fifty percent of the students’ work will be externally graded by IB examiners unrelated to the school. 

[Students in class at an IB school. Photo Credit: Rayoung (Madeline) Lee]

Life as an IB student means you need to be in control of your schedule for the next two years. The Extended Essay, for example, is a 4000-word research essay based on research and analysis conducted throughout the duration of an entire course. It’s not something that can be worked on within weeks and requires a step-by-step approach, which is why it’s important that students are in constant communication with their EE supervisor. But on a more daily basis, IB can be tough because you need to have a clear idea of what subjects you enjoy and are good at.

[IB textbooks for the new curriculum. Photo Credit: Rayoung (Madeline) Lee]

So does the IB curriculum suit Korea? The Korean public education system has not changed much for decades and still prioritizes rote memorization over a more holistic understanding of concepts. Some other differences lie in the subjects that are taught in the program. For math, Korean students are not allowed to use a calculator for their tests. Paper 2 in the IB, on the other hand, allows the use of calculators but requires students to write down their mental processes reaching toward answers. This is one of the examples that show how IB focuses more on the student’s understanding of the process rather than calculating skills. The use of laptops is also another key difference. International school students are trained to use their computers since middle school, as most of the assignments require online submission; however, everything is done by hand in Korean schools whether it be tests or calculations. The courses offered by the IB are also unique and not often dealt with in high school: economics, psychology, business management, sport science, etc. For teachers to be able to teach students on these courses, they would need more specialized training than what is currently provided as teacher training in Korea. All in all, education is a sensitive subject that needs years of consideration for any minor structural change. Despite the growing interest surrounding IB, there remain a lot of unanswered questions that need to be explored before IB can be said to suit the Korean public education at large.


Rayoung (Madeline) Lee
Grade 11
Seoul Foreign School

Rayoung (Madeline) Lee  student_reporter@dherald.com

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