What is the purpose of education? The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) aims, through its educational programmes, to create well-rounded citizens: to provide frameworks that allow students to learn through thinking, experiencing, and doing. This approach nurtures young people to develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and planning skills - all key to the future of our students. What role does the Extended Essay play in this?
While classroom lessons and IB exams can nurture and measure these faculties with greater success than other curricula, conducting a full assessment of young peoples’ ability to plan, research, investigate, and come to complex conclusions - especially when they approach university - requires a purpose-built assessment. It is this kind of assessment that is missing from our national curriculum. However, students of the IB Diploma Programme (aged 16-18), must complete an Extended Essay to graduate. We spoke to our Extended Essay Project Coordinator, Sonja Bartholomew, and IB DP Coordinator, Lori Fritz, to find out why this is such an essential step in our students’ academic development.
Here’s why all students should complete an Extended Essay.
What is the IB Extended Essay?
The IB Extended Essay is a 4000 word essay, completed during the IB Diploma Programme, which lasts between the ages of 16-18 (Year 12-13/Grade 11-12).
An Extended Essay begins from a question, posed and selected by the student, that involves looking at a topic from a theoretical angle, in addition to: “extensive research, thorough investigation, scientific assessment, or an in-depth exploration of secondary resources,” explained Sonja Bartholomew.
Whilst challenging, students find that the Extended Essay is a greatly enjoyable opportunity to focus on one of their interests while acquiring practical skills that they can directly apply in their their future careers. Students pursue a topic that relates to one of their chosen six subjects - or, if a student find that their interests are especially disciplinary, they can choose to ‘world studies’, which is a combined topic related to two of their subject choices.
An extended project: the only way to assess a range of skills
We asked our IB DP Coordinator Lori Fritz why the IB Extended Essay has remained at the core of the IB Diploma Programme since 1978.
“Having a mandatory longer piece of work in the curriculum, such an Extended Essay, is essential so that educators are able to formally assess skills that aren’t just based on students’ ability to fulfil an exam syllabus,” Lori shared.
We can see why the inclusion of the Extended Essay allows the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme to produce a fully well-rounded education for its students, and why a similar requirement in other curricula - such as the national curriculum, which lacks any assessment of critical thinking throughout - should be considered.
Extended Essays and the future: gaining real-life career knowledge and skills
Beyond supporting Diploma students in developing the general skillset they will need for university and beyond, the IB Extended Essay encourages students to think about the specific skills and knowledge that they might need for the career or academic discipline they aspire to pursue.
Completing an Extended Essay in medicine, for example, not only allows students to embark on research in that field at a young age, but provides them with an opportunity to “learn and practice scientific skills and gain experience in medical citation patterns”, as Lori Fritz explained.
At Halcyon, our students have engaged in research with real-world implications for their Extended Essays, developing skills that will take them far into the future in the process. One student, for example, studied how we can predict the movement of plastics through seas with the assistance of Markov Chains (a mathematical model) to make predictions about the aquatic environment. Another conducted a dual environmental and economic study of wind farms in Grimsby, measuring the physical output of energy that they created and providing an economic justification for their proliferation.
Sonja Bartholomew explained, the EPQ, or Extended Project Qualification, which is an extended piece often taken alongside A-Levels, may “allow students to explore something they are interested in, but it is optional. A-Level students are not required to seriously think about how they might want to take their interests to the next level through academia or beyond.”
Why students should study the IB Diploma Programme
“Arguably, other curricula should have a mandatory assessed piece of longer work to ensure students are developing these crucial skills, but the International Baccalaureate is the only curriculum that has such a future-facing philosophy at its core,” explained Lori Fritz. The IB’s mission - to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world” - has created a robust, educational framework that prepares our students for the future. In that sense, it is like no other, and Halcyon is proud to be an IB-accredited international school in London.