The History of the International Baccalaureate Program

Bryan Nixon

Bryan Nixon

From our very beginning, Whitby was founded with the purpose of creating a better education for our students. We began as a Montessori school, but have never lost our passion for learning about other educational methods that help students thrive.

In 2010, Whitby was authorized by the IB to teach their Primary Years Program (PYP) and Middle Years Program (MYP). From this date, we became the only school to be accredited by both the American Montessori Society (AMS) and the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO).

To understand the value that the IB program brings to Whitby students, we think it helps to understand why the International Baccalaureate was founded and how it develops students who are able to thrive in a global community.

What is the International Baccalaureate?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a learning community comprised of students, educators, and parents from across the globe. Applauded for its multi-faceted approach to lifelong learning, service, global inclusivity and awareness, it is used in over 4,000 schools worldwide.

IB schools encourage students to develop intellectual, personal, and social skills that can be applied to the world outside the classroom. The principles of the IB Learner Profile are designed to help students develop the attributes needed to thrive in a rapidly-globalizing world. With this concept as its focus, the IB offers four highly-regarded programs of education for students, ages 3-19 years old.

The International Baccalaureate program’s mission is to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

Here’s a look at the history of the IB program:

1962-1967: The Roots of Reformation

Like the Montessori education, the International Baccalaureate emerged from an era that emphasized teacher-centered learning, lectures, IQ testing, and memorization. Students were passive learners, expected to absorb the teachings of their educator without asking questions or contributing their thoughts. This style of education dominated the classrooms of the mid-twentieth century, but it was clear to some educators that it was ineffective and uninspiring. There had to be a better way.

In 1962 the International Schools Association (ISA), teachers of social studies in international schools, convened in Geneva for a conference. These educators advocated for a globally-minded education, based on student centered learning and interactive classrooms. They were influenced by the teaching philosophies of several progressive educators, including John Dewey, A.S. Neill, Jean Piaget, and Jerome Bruner. During the conference, the ISA adopted the term International Baccalaureate, based on a recommendation by conference organizer and educator, Bob Leach.

In the years leading up to the IB’s official registration in 1968, educators including Alex Peterson, Robert Leach, John Goormaghtigh, and Kurt Hahn developed the philosophy, structure, and content of the IB Diploma Programme. They laid the framework for an educational program based on a “broader education with some degree of specialization, ethics in science, ‘the beauty of mathematics,’ and critical analysis and learning to learn (rather than to accumulate encyclopedic knowledge and learning through memorization).”

1968-1975: Building the Foundation

The International Baccalaureate was recognized as an official organization in 1968 and introduced the same year as a pilot program by 12 schools in 12 different countries. Globally-focused, it was based on the IB Diploma Program that was primarily developed by Alex Peterson. The pilot program included a philosophy class called Theory of Knowledge (TOK) with the goal to explore connections between different branches of knowledge. Additionally, the principles of Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) were integrated into the program. Both TOK and CAS still exist today and continue to be important to the IB curriculum.

The six-year IB pilot period was a resounding success and the official IB diploma was established in 1975. During the same year, the International Baccalaureate North America (IBNA) was formed to spur the expansion of the program across the United States.

1975 and beyond: The growth and development of the IBO

Since the 1960s and ‘70s, the IB program has expanded beyond schools in Europe and the United States. Regional offices opened in Buenos Aires and Singapore in 1982 and the IB Diploma Programme became available in Spanish. Since then, the IBO has continued to build its global learning community, which now includes nearly 150 countries, with materials in 13 languages. Developmental conferences are held across the globe every year to encourage an active and engaged community of educators of various nationalities and backgrounds.

The 1990s were a significant time for the International Baccalaureate. The Middle Years program was introduced in 1994 to give students access to an internationally-minded, student-centric curriculum before high school. The successful launch of the Middle Years program paved the way for the IBO to introduce the Primary Years Program in 1997.

1997 - 2006: The IB Learner Profile

In 1997, the International Baccalaureate Organization introduced the IB Learner Profile to the Primary Years Program. This profile outlines 10 key attributes that the IB program aims to foster and develop in students. It’s designed to be a guide to help IB schools develop students who can contextualize big ideas, look at data from different perspectives and seize opportunities for reflection that lead to their overall growth. Students with attributes of an IB learner are able to adapt, perform and thrive within an international community and workplace.

The success of the IB Learner Profile led to it being introduced program-wide in 2006.

The International Baccalaureate and Whitby

Now taught to 1.25 million students across the world, the International Baccalaureate Organization continues to grow and evolve as a global learning community. Even as the IB community expands, however, its core focus remains on developing inquisitive, compassionate, and knowledgeable young people who are set up to become lifelong learners and globally-minded citizens.

At Whitby, the IB is included in both our Lower School and Upper School curriculum. We believe that IB program’s focus on fostering curiosity, global awareness, and problem-solving skills aligns perfectly with the Montessori philosophy of empowering students. Together they help us create a school that empowers students to be global citizens and lifelong learners.

To learn more about how the International Baccalaureate and Montessori compliment each other, schedule a tour to learn more or download our infographic about how students benefit from the combination of the two student-centered learning programs.

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Bryan Nixon

Bryan Nixon

Bryan Nixon is now the Head of School at TASIS England, having previously served the Whitby School community for 5 wonderful years. The 'Life of Bryan' continues to be an adventure in many ways. From Belfast to Bavaria and Cardiff to Connecticut, and now onto London, his learning journey has proved to be a source of wonder and exploration through each opportunity and challenge enjoyed. Bryan shares this journey with his family and the school communities that he serves. He draws inspiration from the multiple perspectives provided by students, parents and colleagues that continue to enrich his learning and expand his horizons.