IBDP syllabus: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

What exactly is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and how best can teachers deliver it?

What is the IBDP Syllabus?

The IBDP or The International Baccalaureate® Diploma Programme is a 2-year diploma for students aged 16-to-19 offered in more than 100 countries of the world. The IBDP offers a globally accepted Diploma For Students to take admission into higher education institutions and is accepted by many universities across the world.

The IBDP school board delivers standardized international qualifications to learners, which offers them a lifelong experience of practical learning. They also concentrate on other skills such as art, sports, personality development and communicative skills. The number of subjects taken by a student at the higher level is limited to four.

A student on the baccalaureate diploma programme who has studied two subjects at the higher level can apply for a third subject only if they have already studied two subjects at the lower level. Subjects offered at the higher level are usually more challenging and demanding than those offered at the standard level.

The IBDP is a rigorous academic program that requires students to complete three years of study. It consists of four subjects: English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. Each subject has its own unique set of requirements. Students must also complete two electives from a list of over 100 choices.

In this guide, we'll everything you need to know about the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). This program is designed to help students develop skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, entrepreneurship, global awareness, leadership, problem-solving and self-management. This article will cover the basic information that teachers need to know about delivering the IBDP. You'll find out what the program is and receive guidance on the best ways of delivering it.

What are the components of the IBDP syllabus?

The IBDP syllabus includes six subject groups and Diploma Programme (DP) core.

The Diploma Programme (DP) core is consisting of 3 components, aimed at widening students’ academic experience and challenge them to use their skills and knowledge.

Following are the 3 Diploma Programme (DP) core elements:

  1. Theory of knowledge: Through this programme, learners reflect on the character of knowledge and on how they understand what they claim to understand
  2. The extended essay: The extended essay is a self-directed piece of research with self-directed essay questions, and ends up with an article of about 4,000-words.
  3. Creativity, activity, service: In this programme, students take part in a project involving those 3 concepts.

The six subject groups in IBDP Curriculum Model are as follows.

IBDP Studies in language and literature

To fulfil the core requirements of the IB programme, students must choose a single subject from studies in language and literature. Students may choose to obtain a bilingual diploma by choosing two different languages.

The courses include a wide range of texts, and students learn to use a language with great complexity and subtleties in various contexts across their education. With the guidance of their school, students choose to study a language in which they are academically strong. Different types of school have differing ways of approaching this.

There are 3 courses on this diploma subject:

  1. Language A: literature, present in 55 different languages and, if asked especially, any other language with adequate written literature;
  2. Language A: literature and language, which is present in 17 different languages.
  3. Literature and performance: literature and language, automatically present in English, and on special request in French and Spanish.

All of these courses, allow students to create:

  • an individual appreciation for literature and language;
  • Awareness of aesthetic, stylistic and formal qualities of texts;
  • critical-thinking skills with regards to a variety of texts from different eras, text-types literacy forms and styles;
  • a fondness for cultural institutions;
  • A dominant power of expression, both oral presentation and written;
  • knowledge about challenges of language and sustainable ways of thinking;

Academic studies about literature and language, enable students to build an IB Diploma Programme students' lifelong interest in literature and language, and a fondness for the variety of human expression.

Enhance the delivery of the diploma program with the thinking framework
Enhance the delivery of the diploma program with the thinking framework

Language acquisition in the IBDP

One of the core requirements of IB Diploma Programme is that learners must study 1 diploma subject (at a minimum ) from Language Acquisition (Group 2)

The primary focus of the course of modern language is on the usage and acquisition of language in a variety of contexts such as oral presentation and for various purposes as well as promoting an awareness of a new culture by way of studying its language.

There are 3 subjects aimed to fulfil students’ interest in and experience of language study. The first 2 subjects are taught in several languages.

1. Modern Languages

Language ab courses intend to teach beginners (those with little to no experience of learning the language they have selected). These Language Acquisition (Group 2) courses are taught at a standard level only.

2. Language B

These courses are designed for students with some experience in learning their selected language. The language is taught at either standard or higher level.

3. Classical languages

Classical Greek or Latin coursework offers opportunities for learners to study the culture, literature and language of Greece or ancient Rome.

Following Language Acquisition (Group 2) Individual courses are taught online:

  • French ab initial;
  • Mandarin ab initial;
  • Spanish B SL;
  • Spanish ab initial.

Integrating language development in the IBDP
Integrating language development in the IBDP

IBDP Individuals and societies

Students need to choose 1 diploma subject from each of the 6 academic areas in the IB Diploma Programme, including 1 of the diploma subject from Individuals and societies. They may pick a second subject from any academic area other than the arts.

Subject options include:

  • economics
  • business management theories
  • global politics
  • geography
  • information technology in a global society
  • social and cultural anthropology
  • IB history
  • psychology
  • philosophy
  • world religions (SL only).

Concept-based learning of any of these subjects leads to the development of a critical acknowledgement of:

  • the IB history of cultural and social institutions;
  • human behaviour and experience;
  • the varieties of social, economic and physical environments owned by the people.

Also, each subject is formulated to build in students the ability to analyse critically, to identify and analyze concepts, theories and arguments about the activities and nature of societies and individuals.

Graphic organisers have a positive impact on student attainment
Graphic organisers have a positive impact on student attainment

Below are the individual Diploma Programme (DP) courses that are available online:

  • Business Management theories HL
  • Business Management SL
  • Economics SL
  • Economics HL
  • Information Technology in a Global Society HL
  • Information Technology in a Global Society SL
  • Philosophy SL
  • Psychology HL
  • Psychology SL

IBDP Science

The IB Diploma students must study at least 1 individual diploma subject from IB group 4.

The following 6 subject options are available:

  • IB physics
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • computer science
  • sports, exercise and health science
  • design development technology

Interdisciplinary subject

  • Environmental systems and societies: This subject fulfils the core requirements of IB group 3 and group 4 both.

Students of the IB Diploma Programme, analyze the techniques, models theories, and concepts that support each of the academic subject areas and with these develop their knowledge of the scientific method.

A mandatory project allows students to appreciate the ethical, social and environmental implications of science. This activity is interdisciplinary and collaborative and allows learners to explore scientific explanations for global problems.

IBDP Mathematical Studies

Below courses are available in Mathematics (group 5)

  • Mathematics HL: analysis and approaches
  • Mathematics SL: analysis and approaches
  • Mathematics HL: applications and interpretation
  • Mathematics SL: applications and interpretation

Students may study 1 course in Mathematics (Group 5) as part of their IB diploma.

Each of the Mathematical Studies courses is designed according to the individual abilities, interests and needs of students, and to accomplish the entry requirements of several universities and professional aspirations.

These courses allow students to:

  • Build mathematical knowledge, principles and concepts;
  • develop creative, critical and logical thinking;
  • Apply and improve their powers of generalization and abstraction.

Learners are also encouraged to acknowledge the global dimensions of Mathematics And Computer Science and the multiplicity of its historical and cultural perspectives.

Each of the DP Mathematics (Group 5) courses encourages learners to use digital resources in mathematics and computer science.

Design IBDP activities with the Thinking Framework
Design IBDP activities with the Thinking Framework

The Arts and IBDP

Secondary school students may choose to study an extra language, individuals and societies, or experimental science course, rather than selecting a course in the arts. The baccalaureate diploma program has long been associated with private schools, but there are now an increasing amount of secondary state schools offering this qualification.

The arts subjects in IB Diploma Programme, allow a high level of adaptability to various cultural contexts. The focus remains on creativity in the context of practical, disciplined research into the related genres.

Also, each subject is developed to nurture reflective, critical, and informed practice, explore the diversity of arts across cultures, places, and times and enable students to understand the vigorous nature of the arts, and express themselves with competence and confidence.

The following subject options are available for students at standard or higher levels:

  • Music
  • Analysis of Dance
  • Theatre
  • Film
  • Visual arts

There is one course available online I.e. Film SL.

Selecting subjects in the IB Diploma Programme

Secondary school students pick courses from the below subject groups:

  • Studies in language and literature;
  • Language acquisition;
  • Individuals and societies;
  • Sciences;
  • Mathematics; and
  • The arts.

Secondary school students may choose to study supplementary languages, additional science and individuals and societies courses, in place of an individual diploma course in the arts.

IB Diploma Programme utilizes both internal assessment and external assessment.

Students of IB Diploma Programme, will study some subjects at the standard level (SL) and some at a higher level (HL).  SL and HL courses are different in terms of scope but both are assessed under standard assessment conditions with the same grade descriptors, in which individual diploma programme students are required to demonstrate a greater body of skills, understanding and knowledge at an advanced level for admission to universities.

Every student of IB Diploma Programme selects at least 3 (but not greater than 4) subjects at a higher level, and the rest at a standard level.

Students belonging to any physical environment (regions of extreme environments, arid environments or cold environments) may attend an IB programme at the higher level in  240 teaching hours; whereas, standard level subjects take up 150 teaching hours.

Concluding thoughts on the IBDP

In conclusion, the IB diploma programme has been around since 1968, but its popularity continues to grow in all types of schools. It's a rigorous academic course that prepares students for university study and beyond. But it also offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities, including sports, music, art, drama, and languages. And because it's designed to develop well-rounded individuals, it's ideal for developing a broad international education. As with all the international baccalaureate programs, there is an emphasis on conceptual thinking, which is both a challenge to deliver but also a rewarding outcome for any student. This deep conceptual understanding comes from well-designed learning strategies that help children understand the big picture. This type of mindset requires educators to move beyond rote learning and create experiences that enable learners to 'think their way through' the curriculum. Remember, those who do the thinking do the learning.