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A Professor’s View on IB

An IB education gives students the exact tools they need to succeed in college in the twenty-first century: critical thinking, the ability to approach topics from multiple angles, and a high level of confidence in their own learning.

I have a joke I tell to every one of my classes, about halfway through the semester when I am done setting up and there are a few more minutes before class begins. I look out at the students in their rows, every single one of them in that familiar hunched-shoulder position tapping away on their phones. “What I don’t understand,” I ask them, “is how you all meet the friends you are texting right now. You never talk to the people sitting next to you. How do you make friends?” Welcome to college in the twenty-first century.

More than ever before, learning, at all levels, is an exercise in disciplined focus and attention. Smartphones, wireless internet, and an endless vista of distractions compete with classwork for attention, and classwork usually loses. Yet there is a benefit to a connected world: vast quantities of information on every subject imaginable are available anywhere, any time. The skills that are necessary for students of the twenty-first century are not the rote memorization of facts and figures of an earlier time. Instead, what matters is understanding how and where to obtain the right information to answer a question, and even more importantly, how to know what question to ask. Without a doubt the college students who are best prepared to know where to look for both questions and answers are the students who come from an IB background.

When I teach a lecture course on World History since 1945, I bombard the students with content: Cold War, decolonization, etc. The students who do well in the course, however, are not the ones who can regurgitate the date of the Cuban Missile Crisis or the independence of India. They are the students who can place these facts into a manageable schema, who can tie different themes together using multiple approaches, and who can understand how one strand of history interacts with another. They are self-motivated, and realize that if they do not understand something, it is incumbent on them to search for information themselves. And students from IB backgrounds have had years to hone these skills. They take a collaborative approach and have excellent critical thinking skills. While many first-year students struggle to comprehend what it means for an argument to connect multiple themes of the course, the IB curriculum is focused on nurturing just these sorts of critical-thinking skills, the bedrock of a modern college education. Whenever I find a student who seems far more advanced than the other students, better able to connect disparate ideas into a comprehensible whole, I am never surprised to learn that they had an IB education.

And don’t just take my word that an IB education is the best possible preparation for success in college: at my university, a score of five on an Advanced Placement test nets a student eight credits. Passing the International Baccalaureate subject test is rewarded with ten credits, and those credits are in upper-division-level classes, not introductory ones. Frequently, IB students are already a semester ahead before they even walk onto campus, and they are years ahead in their ability to tackle the types of learning that will define our common future.

William S. Goldman, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of International Studies
University of San Francisco