The International Baccalaureate

If you’re considering the IB for your child, doing your research and looking for answers, or if you’re just curious to learn a little more about the fastest growing curriculum in the world, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve pulled together a wealth of information, drawing on the expertise of GEMS Education’s hundreds of seasoned IB educators, the decades-long track record of our IB schools, and the views and experiences of our GEMS families, to give you an authoritative resource you can rely on and keep coming back to whenever you need.

We hope you find our IB hub useful and look forward to the pleasure of welcoming you at one of our world-leading IB schools.

What is the IB?

Your questions answered

  • What is the IB and who's it for?

    In essence, the non-profit International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

    Developed in 1968 in Switzerland, the IB began as an education programme for globe-trotting students and their families. Today, almost 60 years later, the IB is taught to almost two million students in some 5,000 schools in 150 countries. In fact, it’s the fastest growing education system on the planet, recognised – and, some might say, preferred – by universities, higher education institutions, and employers the world over.

    Like the world it seeks to improve through its broad, balanced, conceptual education, the IB is ever evolving and undergoing regular review, ensuring it’s always relevant and up to date. Its programmes are driven by research within the IB Organisation, meaning changes to the curriculum are well considered – and, unlike national curricula, not at the whim of governments.

    The IB has a strong international dimension, making it ideal for expatriate families and those looking for a globally recognised education leading to highly transferrable qualifications that will open doors no matter where in the world they may find themselves.

  • What is the IB's approach to learning?

    Broad, balanced, conceptual, and connected, the IB is made up of four programmes – the Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), Diploma Programme (DP), and Career-related Programme (CP). It thereby offers pathways that cater to theoretical, practical, and vocational learners.

    All four IB programmes require study across a broad range of subjects. All emphasise the learning of languages, focus on developing the skills of learning, and provide opportunities for individual and collaborative projects, planning, and research.

    Unlike most other curricula, IB programmes are not exam-driven. Yes, results and regular, ongoing assessment are important, but the IB makes clear that the best results are attained by allowing students to develop their learning and engage in the curriculum.

    An IB education focuses on promoting healthy relationships, ethical responsibility, and personal challenge. It helps students develop the attitudes and skills they need for both academic and personal success, working within global contexts to increase students’ understanding of languages and cultures.

    IB programmes focus on moving beyond awareness and understanding to engagement, action, and bringing about meaningful change to make a more peaceful and sustainable world for everyone.

    The IB emphasises developing…


    • Thinking skills, including areas such as critical thinking, creative thinking, and ethical thinking.
    • Research skills, including skills such as comparing, contrasting, validating and prioritising information.
    • Communication skills, including written and oral communication, effective listening, and formulating arguments.
    • Social skills, including areas such as forming and maintaining positive relationships, listening skills, and conflict resolution.
    • Self-management skills, including organisational skills, such as managing time and tasks, and affective skills, such as managing state of mind and motivation.


  • What is the IB's approach to teaching?

    In all IB programmes, teaching is…

    • Based on inquiry, with a strong emphasis placed on students following lines of inquiry and making transdisciplinary links with teacher guidance. This reflects the complexity and interwoven nature of real-life issues, where problems are rarely siloed according to single disciplines.
    • Focused on developing conceptual understanding, with concepts explored to deepen disciplinary understandings and help students make connections and transfer learning to new contexts.
    • Developed in local and global contexts, using real-life contexts and examples, with students encouraged to process new information by connecting it to their own experiences and to the world around them.
    • Focused on effective teamwork and collaboration, including promoting teamwork and collaboration between students, as well as referring to the collaborative relationship between teachers and students.
    • Designed to remove barriers to learning, with teaching being inclusive and valuing diversity, thereby affirming students’ identities and creating learning opportunities that enable every student to develop and pursue appropriate personal goals.
    • Informed by assessment, with assessment supporting and measuring learning, while also recognising the crucial role of providing students with effective feedback.
  • What's the Primary Years Programme all about?

    The PYP, for students aged 3-11, focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside. It is flexible enough to accommodate the demands of most national or local curricula.

    The PYP is transdisciplinary, which means it conveys learning that has relevance between, across, and beyond subjects and that is connected to the real world. In this way, PYP learning aims to transcend traditional boundaries between subject areas.

    Students explore six transdisciplinary themes of global significance: who we are; where we are in place and time; how we express ourselves; how the world works; how we organise ourselves; and sharing the planet. The six subject areas are language, social studies, mathematics, arts, science, and personal, social, and physical education.

    The PYP finally culminates in the PYP Exhibition, which provides an opportunity for students to deepen, showcase, and celebrate their knowledge, understandings, and skills through project work.

  • What's the Middle Years Programme all about?

    The MYP, for students aged 11-16, provides a framework of learning that encourages students to become creative, critical, and reflective thinkers. The MYP emphasises intellectual challenge, encouraging students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and to the real world.

    MYP learners explore six global contexts that are developed from, and extend, the PYP transdisciplinary themes: identities and relationships; personal and cultural expression; orientation in space and time; scientific and technical innovation; fairness and development; globalisation and sustainability.

    The MYP comprises eight subject groups, including language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical and health education, and design.

    At least 50 hours of teaching time are devoted to each subject group in each year of the programme. In the last two years of MYP, students have the option to take courses from six of the eight subject groups within certain limits, to provide greater flexibility in meeting local requirements and individual student learning needs.

    The MYP finally culminates in the MYP Personal Project or Community Project, where students have the chance to research in depth a subject or topic of personal interest and thereby showcase their knowledge, understandings, and skills.

  • What is the Diploma Programme?

    The DP, for students aged 16-19, is a balanced and academically challenging programme of education with rigorous assessment. The DP prepares students for success in higher education and encourages them to become active participants in an increasingly global society.

    The DP curriculum consists of six subject groups: language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and arts. These are taught alongside the three elements of the DP ‘core’. These include Theory of Knowledge, which asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge and how we know what we claim to know; Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), which requires students to take part in a range of experiences and at least one project, and the Extended Essay.

    The Extended Essay is an independent piece of research culminating in a 4,000-word paper that is not dissimilar to a university-level dissertation. In this way, students are prepared – and in many ways given a head start – for the next step in their education after school.

Switching from the ICSE Indian curriculum to the IB was like stepping into a whole new world of educational possibilities. It’s been nothing short of a transformative journey, marked by its challenges and rewards.

Kibrish Kapoor

Student at GEMS Modern Academy

  • What is the Career-related Programme?

    The CP, for students aged 16-19, is a unique programme that specifically addresses the needs of students who wish to engage in career-related education. Students combine the study of two DP courses with career-related studies and the four elements of the CP ‘core’.

    As one of these core elements, the personal and professional skills course focuses on preparing students to effectively navigate a range of personal and professional situations that they may encounter in the workplace.

    The CP culminates in the CP reflective project, an in-depth body of work produced over an extended period in which students identify, analyse, critically discuss, and evaluate an ethical issue arising from their career-related studies. They have the chance to investigate a real-world issue in the field of their choice and develop possible solutions to the problem.

  • What does the 'international' in International Baccalaureate look like?

    IB programmes provide students with opportunities for sustained inquiry into a range of local and global issues and ideas, encouraging them to see beyond immediate situations and boundaries.

    An IB education fosters international mindedness by helping students reflect on their own perspective, culture and identities, as well as those of others. By engaging with diverse beliefs, values and experiences, and by learning to think and collaborate across cultures and disciplines, IB learners gain the understanding necessary to make progress towards a more peaceful world.

    International mindedness is encouraged through a focus on global engagement and meaningful service with the community. These elements challenge students to critically consider power and privilege, and to recognise that they hold this planet and its resources in trust for future generations.

  • What kind of students does the IB aim to develop?

    The IB programmes encourage students to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

    All IB students learn a second language, together with the skills to live and work with others both locally and internationally.

    IB students embrace their own cultures and are open and responsive to other cultures and views. They are fully engaged, ever-curious learners for life.

    The Learner Profile provides a set of learning behaviours that aims to inspire, motivate, and focus students, teachers, and the entire IB school community, uniting them in a common purpose. The ten Learner Profile attributes run from kindergarten through to Grade 12, meaning they are at the heart of all IB programmes and put the student at the centre of the IB.

    Through the IB Learner Profile, students are taught to be…

    1. Inquirers, who have the skills for inquiry and research, who know how to learn independently and with others.
    2. Knowledgeable, who use their conceptual understanding to explore knowledge across a range of disciplines, who engage with issues and ideas that have local and global significance.
    3. Thinkers, who use critical and creative thinking skills to analyse and take responsible action on complex problems, who exercise initiative in making reasoned, ethical decisions.
    4. Communicators, who express themselves confidently and creatively in more than one language and in many ways, who collaborate effectively, listening carefully to the perspectives of other individuals and groups.
    5. Principled, who act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere, who take responsibility for their actions and their consequences.
    6. Open-minded, who critically appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, as well as the values and traditions of others, who seek and evaluate a range of points of view and are willing to grow from the experience.
    7. Caring, who show empathy, compassion and respect, who have a commitment to service and act to make a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world around them.
    8. Risk-takers, who approach uncertainty with forethought and determination, who work independently and cooperatively to explore new ideas and innovative strategies, who are resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges and change.
    9. Balanced, who understand the importance of balancing different aspects of their lives to achieve wellbeing for themselves and others, who recognise their interdependence with other people and the world in which they live.
    10. Reflective, who thoughtfully consider the world and their own ideas and experience, who work to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to support their learning and personal development.
  • How does the IB compare to other curricula?

    As the IB is not a national curriculum, tied to a specific geography and dictated to by its government, it can be seen as more of a framework than a curriculum. What this means is that there is an inbuilt flexibility to the IB, enabling it to be adapted according to a school’s context and the needs of its community, ensuring greater relevance.

    For example, while a British curriculum school in the UAE would be required to teach pupils about pounds and pence as part of a lesson on money, as prescribed by the National Curriculum of England, an IB school has the freedom to adapt a similar lesson to make it more relevant to the local context.

    What remains consistent throughout is the IB philosophy and transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. This sees subjects taught not in isolation, as is the case with more traditional curricula, but connected and overlapped so they better reflect real life and so students deepen their understanding.

    Another difference is the IB’s relative breadth, which it maintains through all four of its programmes. For example, whereas A-level students are required to narrow their subject choices to an average of three, DP students choose from each of the DP’ six subject groups while also completing the DP ‘core’ of Theory of Knowledge, Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), and the Extended Essay.

    Lastly, assessment in the IB can take multiple forms. Whereas other curricula often restrict assessment to written tests, in the IB, students have abundant opportunity to showcase their learning, understanding, creativity, and problem solving in many other ways – through a presentation, for example, through individual and group project work, or even via a video.

    Far from merely ‘teaching to the test’, where what students learn is restricted to what is included in an exam, the IB seeks to go much further by developing fully rounded individuals who have the skills, knowledge, insights, and experience to inquire with confidence both in the school setting and beyond.

  • What's it like switching to the IB from another curriculum?

    While transitioning between curricula will always have a degree of uncertainty, with the requirements, processes, standards, and practices of the IB different from those of other curricula, the support provided by schools should go a long way to easing the switch.

    Whether transitioning from the Indian curriculum or moving from GCSEs to the DP, for example, GEMS IB schools provide a wealth of guidance and resources to ensure students are fully supported both on an academic level and in terms of their wellbeing.

    This support takes the form of special bridge programmes designed to prepare students and their families in advance and ensure they know what to expect and who to go to for assistance. But the help doesn’t stop there, with teachers, counsellors and other relevant staff on hand to facilitate a smooth transition.

Our international education footprint extends to 49 schools across the UAE, Qatar and Egypt, delivering a consistent, dynamic, high-quality education for every child.
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