Students entering the competitive, 21st century workplace are facing an increasingly complex set of expectations from employers, which traditional academic routes are leaving them unequipped to meet. With rapid digitisation creating both opportunity and uncertainty, schools and universities are required to produce graduates who can adapt to the changing world and understand how to apply the skills they’ve learnt to real-world, work-related challenges.
Educators are waking up to this discrepancy, and with the launch of the International Baccalaureate Career-related programme (IBCP) in January 2016, students are welcoming a more holistic educational experience which aims to create well-rounded, career-ready learners. More than 141 schools in 23 countries now offer the IBCP – so what makes this course so desirable?
What is the IBCP?
Designed as a two-year programme for students between the ages of 16-19, the IBCP draws on the academic rigour of the core IB model in combination with career-related study and real-world experience. The programme comes in three parts: courses from the IB’s Diploma Programme (DP), the CP core and career-related study.
Students are required to take a minimum of two courses from the IB’s traditional Diploma Programme (DP). The idea behind this is to provide a theoretical basis to the CP, giving a solid grounding in the IB’s core academic subjects including sciences, mathematics and the arts, among others.
To complement and provide context to students’ DP courses, the CP core emphasises experiential learning to develop their personal and professional skills. It aims to equip students with the necessary interpersonal and problem-solving abilities which are not only desirable in the workplace, but also ensure their adaptability to an ever-evolving world. This is achieved through four interconnected areas of study:
- Personal and professional skills: This focuses on developing students’ attitudes and interpersonal skills in readiness for the workplace.
- Service learning: A research-based module where students apply what they’ve learnt to a community need.
- Reflective project: This is an in-depth piece of work which is designed as a reflective analysis of students’ career-based learning, based around identifying and analysing an ethical issue which has arisen during the course.
- Language development: In keeping with the IB’s international status, this module demands that students develop their communication skills in a second language.
The third part is the vocational career-related study, in conjunction with an external study provider. At Ecolint, students can choose their stream of study based on the broad, overarching BTEC options of Business or Art and Design. Students have the freedom to explore industries which they may already have an interest in, and gain practical, insightful exposure to the working environment.
This varies considerably from school-to-school, as bespoke IB-accredited courses are developed in collaboration with local institutions. At the Collège du Léman in Geneva, for example, students are offered a choice of Hospitality, taught in collaboration with Les Roches School of Hospitality Management in Valais, or Sustainability Management, taught in collaboration with the Sustainability Management School (SUMAS) in Gland, Vaud. For both career-related courses, students spend a total of five weeks during the two-year programme at the partner institution. At Les Roches, students study and practice the basics of hospitality, including working on the service desk, catering and banqueting and hotel services, as well as visiting local businesses which supply the luxury hospitality industry. At SUMAS, students follow lectures around sustainability, including eco-tourism, conservation and management of wetlands, international business and biodiversity, alongside participating in nature conservation projects around the Suisse Romande area.
The programme is assessed internally over the two years, predominantly through project-based coursework, as well as traditional IB-assessed examinations.
Why choose the IBCP?
The IBCP offers students a plethora of advantages through its personalised, interdisciplinary approach to learning. The course is tailored to students’ interests and strengths, encouraging self-confidence and fostering an enjoyment in learning. “It really gives students the opportunity to play to their strengths, to focus on the things that they are good at and really access success,” explains Alexandra Juniper, DP and CP coordinator at the International School of Geneva’s Campus des Nations (Ecolint). The course teachers play an active role in guiding students in their course selection based on their interests and objectives, believing that when students choose subjects they love, they are more likely to excel.
The natural outcome of this is that students feel more engaged and in tune with their studies. Students can emerge from the course having created their own brand of sunglasses, or having created art in Augmented Reality (AR). Clara, who is currently half-way through her CP programme, enjoys the wider variety of options on offer under the BTEC course umbrellas: “You have more freedom with the IBCP, with only having Business or Art and Design you can choose what you actually like doing.”
This focus on student-centric learning is embodied through the programme assessment, which is mostly in the form of project-based coursework. This, again, gives students the opportunity to tailor their own studies to issues and areas that they enjoy, rather than pigeon-holing them into learning subjects by rote for examinations. The course takes a progressive step in recognising that not all pupils respond well to traditional exams; many are more likely to excel through project work. Students welcome the flexibility this offers: “The advantages of the IBCP are definitely having more coursework and the length of time given to complete a project,” says Freya, a former student at Ecolint who has recently completed the programme with a distinction in BTEC Business. “The way it was taught and the way that we were assessed was so much more open to interpretation. A lot more personal input can be put into your work and I really liked that.”
The exposure of students to real-world situations develops an understanding and appreciation of the work-place, and their chosen industry more generally. Linking academic-based classes with practical examples means that students see their learning as relevant to the problems and issues of the outside world and their future life, helping to broaden their horizons. It also exposes them to areas of work that they may realise they have a talent for. “It has helped me to explore and develop my skills in relation to art,” says Clara. “I’ve discovered many things that I didn’t know I was good at and skills I didn’t know I had. I now know that I want to do something related to art.”
The beauty of the IBCP course is that it can prepare students for a wide variety of options after high school. The programme is designed to develop a transferable and life-long skillset which prepares students to go on to further education, apprenticeships, or straight into employment. According to Julie Hutchins, CP Coordinator at Collège du Léman, the duality of the course and the breadth of experience offered will be an advantage for students seeking to go on to university: “Students who have already decided that they would like to go on to further education in their field will have a broad experience in both the practical and theoretical side,” she says.
What are the options after the IBCP?
As a result of the IBCP programme, graduates have found that universities and higher education institutions value the skills, experience and qualifications gained during the course. Universities recognise the academic rigour of the DP aspect of the programme, while the international outlook and vocational teaching give students a portfolio of relevant skills which they can continue to grow.
In keeping with the aims of the course, most graduates of the IBCP go on to continue in an area that they were exposed to (and inspired by) during their studies. Examples of graduate paths from Ecolint include further education in a diverse, international mix of practical, artistic and academic courses, including Film at the Met Film School London, Fine Art at Ecole Condé Lyon, Hospitality Management at IHTTI Neuchâtel, Business and Management at the University of Reading and Cyber Security at Highline College Des Moines (WA).
Sam, who has been offered a place to study at the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design, saw the IBCP as the first stepping stone in the journey towards his dream job. “My next step is to further develop my skills in graphic design and film and hopefully get a job in the film industry,” he says. It also allowed him to access financial help to study: “When I was applying to university, I found out that the IBCP programme can be awarded for scholarships – just by attending the classes.”
A strong focus on building relationships with world-class local institutions as qualification providers, has meant that many IBCP students have gone on to study further with the organisations that they undertook their career-related studies with. These institutions have already invested in producing high-quality high-school graduates, meaning that they can be sure of the student’s calibre, experience and skillset for ongoing education. While Sam will go on to study at Ecolint’s partner organisation in providing BTEC Art and Design qualifications, other graduates have been offered places by Les Roches School of Hospitality Management and SUMAS.
Graduates from the IBCP also find that they are well-equipped for further learning. Nat, who is currently studying at the College of Art in Plymouth after studying BTEC Art and Design, says: “The BTEC and IBCP course really prepared me for university; I’ve got a 2:1 in my first year and I’m hoping to continue learning and improving – maybe even go on to do a master’s degree.” On the more practical side, graduates have found that they are confident in understanding work-related requirements. “The BTEC really was the right choice, it really prepared me in the business aspect including CVs,” says Nat.
It is too early to give a full picture of how these graduates will fare in later life, but the fact that the course is creating more engaged students, with an enthusiasm for learning and an eagerness to develop themselves, is already a huge step forward in addressing the challenges of modern education. Narrow specialities are being disregarded in favour of broader, more adaptable skills, and this will surely equip graduates to address future problems from a broader, more imaginative perspective. It’s a bold, progressive step, and it’s encouraging to see world-class schools, universities and employers leading the way.