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France schools[This is] a really great page! Very informative. I’ve been using it as a way to explain to my future American classmates what the program is, so thanks! The site really is a great help to me."       Claire, student at Lycée International, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris

A variant on the French national Baccalauréat. Not to be confused with the Geneva-based IBO’s International Baccalaureate (or IB): the OIB and the IB are worlds apart. 

French international schools have been offering bi-cultural programmes of study for over forty years now. As the practice grew, so did the need for a formal framework to prescribe recognise the students’ attainment at the end of their school years. In 1981 the French government proposed that specially designed "international options" be added to the mainstream Bac.  One important purpose was to ensure that foreign students would be in a position to return to their countries of origin for higher education if desired, whilst having also fulfilled the requirements of the French Bac.  

The international options of the French Baccalauréat possess two important characteristics: 

• They have the same status and validity as all the mainstream Bac (Bac général); and

• The “option” subjects are taught and examined in the relevant language, to a standard comparable to that of the equivalent examination in the home country (A levels in the UK, AP in the USA). 

British Section and American Section OIB

The UK and USA were among the first countries to take part in the OIB initiative, the relevant education authorities taking responsibility for creating and administering each “option”, in cooperation with their French counterparts. 

British Section OIB is jointly designed, set, marked and certified by the University of Cambridge International Examinations and the French Ministry of Education.

American Section OIB exams are administered by the College Entrance Examination Board (Advanced Placement Program) and the Franco-American Commission (Fullbright office) in Paris, in cooperation with the French Inspection Générale.  

Not an easy option

The basic Bac général already covers more subjects than its American or British equivalents – most students preparing at least eight or nine subjects for examination. To compensate for the extra breadth of study, you might expect there to be less depth, but you would be wrong. Standards are high. Bac students already carry a heavy workload compared to their peers in the UK and the states, spending longer in the classroom and staying up later to complete their homework.

OIB students however, on top of following the same cursus as their mainstream French peers, also follow a two year syllabus in the language & literature of their country of origin. In addition, the mainstream Bac history & geography syllabus (which all Bac students must study) is modified to reflect a different cultural bias, and combined with an element of domestic history and geography from “back home”. 

The British Section OIB thus differs from the American Section OIB to the extent that the subjects concerned (language & literature, history & geography) are, to varying degrees, modelled on their own national curricula.

Who does it suit best?

Both the British Section and American Section OIBs are popular with academically-inclined bilingual students around Paris. The exams weight the various papers in such a way as to stress the “Section” papers (ie language & literature, plus the modified history & geography): students who are basically bilingual but whose English is stronger than their French are thus heavily favoured. Such is the bias in these exams that bi-cultural children who have more “French” in them than American or British, all other things being equal, may fare less well than their British-dominant or American-dominant counterparts.

Three branches

As with the straight Bac, OIB students choose one of three branches of study (“séries”): S (Maths and Sciences), ES (Economics, Maths and Social Sciences), L (Literature). Naturally, as with the classic Bac, the choice of branch (or stream) will be informed by a student’s academic aptitude as well as by his or her university aspirations. 

Students in the L (Literature) stream will go deeper into philosophy and French language. They are examined in French literature, plus usually two more languages (one of which is replaced, for OIB students, by the OIB language/literature component); they are spared physics and chemistry. These students will be headed towards careers in the humanities, education, linguistics, public service, the arts. 

Students opting for the ES (Economics, Maths and Social Sciences) stream will follow a course of study more evenly spread between sciences and the humanities. This is the only Bac stream which offers (and heavily weights) economics and social sciences. Other important subjects in the ES stream are history, geography and maths. ES students prepare for careers in the social sciences, philosophy and other human sciences, management and business administration, economics and the law.

The S (Maths and Sciences) is generally recognised as the most demanding of the three streams, preparing students for work in medicine, engineering and the natural sciences. As you would expect, the programmes in maths, chemistry and physics are exacting, and the corresponding papers are heavily weighted. Natural sciences students must specialise either in maths, physics & chemistry or in the equivalent of biology, “earth & life sciences”.

Common “core” subjects

It is worth noting that all Bac students, whatever their chosen stream, must sit a French language exam (which includes an oral exam) at the end of their first year… and a philosophy exam at the end of the second year. L stream students may be dismayed to learn that their programme will involve maths too, although it is combined with computer sciences, and carries a low coefficient. Finally, all students are also examined in Physical Education, although with the lowest possible coefficient of 2 (two).

University entrance

Students able to succeed in this dual curriculum are renowned for being capable of hard work. In the course of their programme they gain good time management, research, project management and prioritising skills. All students, even the scientists, learn to write organised, impactful and well-reasoned essays to a high standard. All students, even the linguists, learn how to research a project that crosses disciplines. They all show intellectual and cultural flexibility.

Needless to say, all these qualities are highly valued in universities everywhere.  Consequently, admissions tutors in France, Britain and the US often consider reducing the entrance requirements for OIB students as compared to students offering the straight Bac. 

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