IB vs A Levels
Future skills, A Level and the IB Diploma
Both programmes have their merits – but which of these two well-regarded programmes best equip students with future skills? Alessandro Capozzi pauses for thought.
The nature of 21st Century change
Change is constant. Today these changes encompass how we live, how we learn and how we work. It can be both exciting and daunting in equal measure! Driven by accelerating globalisation and faster rates of development there are now technologies that were once ‘distant ideas’ that are becoming deeply embedded in many people’s daily lives.
Traditionally, many students have made subject choices based on a favoured career path; careers that were defined and established. Twenty years ago no one would have stated that they wanted to be an AI engineer, a cloud architect, or mobile app developer – these jobs simply didn’t exist. In 2018 a report published by Dell Technologies and authored by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) stated that 85 per cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. This remarkable statistic has endured and is still relevant today.
In theory this rapid evolution provides us with a myriad of new opportunities for today’s students. However, without being able to predict what the future holds, how can today’s teachers prepare students for the skills employers will need in the months and years to come, let alone the roles that don’t yet exist. Especially when these skills will involve using technologies that haven’t yet been invented to create things that we don’t even know we need?
The answer is a broad education that focuses on the development of attitudes and skills alongside knowledge that can enable students to be adaptable, flexible and creative.
Arguably, this acceleration of change demands an investment in a set of skills and knowledge that will enable young people to thrive. Students need to learn to be versatile, flexible and how to adjust to societal changes. They need to develop the cultural knowledge and learning skills which cultivate curiosity, problem solving, imagination, resilience and collaboration, emotional intelligence, technological literacy and objective judgment. If they are agile and learn to expect change, students will be able to move forward in the face of adversity. After all, jobs will inevitably evolve and continue to demand varied skills.
IB or A Level for future skills?
So what best meets the need for developing future skills – the IB Diploma or A Level? Each have their place. While A-Levels are ideal for those who know they want to specialise in a specific subject, the IB offers a broader learning experience across six subjects of English Language and Literature, maths, sciences, languages, humanities and the arts. This ‘rounded education’ focuses on nurturing an independent, adaptable approach to learning that matches the demands of today’s employers.
A-Levels and the IB are both widely recognised and respected by universities and employers around the world, but the IB is increasingly admired by universities and respected by companies because of its ability to equip students with the skills and experience that more closely fit the needs of higher education and the world of professional work.
Let’s consider what this might mean in practice.
Comfortable with uncomfortable
The first skill that today’s students need to develop is the ability to find a comfort level with the inevitable changes and challenges that they will experience during their working lives. Quite simply, they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. In some companies this may be a change driven by new industry standards, an unusual product requirement brief from a client, or the implementation of an updated company-wide software installation.
Students also need to learn to be independent in their thinking, using deep problem-solving skills to find a solution to increasingly complex problems. Because we can’t predict what tomorrow’s jobs will demand, the IB is aligned to developing skills that can be applied to many different, future jobs. Teaching the IB online develops project-based skills such as collaborating with peers from other countries, debating, discussing, listening, delegating and respecting others’ views reflecting the needs of the world of work. These are powerful skills that are not only a core part of the IB but can be amplified through the format of a thoughtfully designed virtual environment.
This connection with others from around the world opens students’ minds to diversity, different cultures, and the appreciation of others’ areas of excellence. One of the IB’s greatest appeals, particularly in these uncertain times, is its international outlook. All students must take a foreign language. A global mindset is woven through other IB subjects, from learning about international trade to understanding global religions.
Learning online with virtual reality
Over the past few years students have adapted to working remotely. However standard lessons on Zoom or in Google classroom leave much to be desired. Immersive virtual reality (VR) teaching, during live classes, gives students an insight into the working experiences they may face in future careers. Classes may include using VR headsets to interact with various simulated environments or using revolutionary simulation software that’s already being applied in top universities such as Harvard. Whether a science class involves dissecting a frog remotely using tomorrow’s technologies, or using the latest software to carry out data analytics in maths, in the right virtual environments, students have unlimited experiences to immerse themselves in tomorrow’s learning.
The IB Diploma and university entrance
What is also interesting to note is that students and parents are increasingly taking notice of the IB because of its acceptability . Ninety seven per cent of admissions officers agree that the IB prepares students well for university. It is currently the fastest growing qualification in the world, taught in 97 countries and welcomed by the best academic institutions.
Agile students with a broader mindset and skills that give them a level of adaptability to take on the constant evolution of our world are more likely to thrive. As Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director General of the International Baccalaureate so rightly says, “Past, present, future: the IB is a leading edge in a changing world.” Through education, we’re working with our students to renew their passion and spark their courage to create a better world.
Alessandro Capozzi is Head of Key Stage 5 at King’s InterHigh online school, which is now offering the IBDP alongside its well-established A Level programme.