The little known Bac OIB – L'option internationale du baccalauréat – gives children a grounding in English Literature, essay-writing in English and opens the way to either the top French universities or higher education overseas.
The Bac OIB, option internationale du baccalauréat, is not, of course, an option for the faint hearted. There are some six hours of extra study per week, a lot of reading – including Shakespeare – and even more exams than demanded by the ‘normal’ bac. Entrance to the course is therefore highly selective, based not only on collège reports but also series of tests and interviews. Top marks aren’t enough – what the examiners are really looking for is motivation and an aptitude for a heavy workload. Near bilingualism is also obviously a prerequisite – and tested – which is of course no problem for foreign children who have been schooled in France or, indeed, French children who may have been schooled for a while abroad.
While all this may sound grimly academic, it is the fringe benefits which attract many parents, especially, and pupils as the lycées offering OIB tend to be in lively university cities and the mix of pupils in the international section is cosmopolitan. Says the (British) mother of one OIB student: ‘We live in rural France near a small market town and my daughter wasn’t really being stretched. The cultural life is pretty limited and most of her friends here have never even travelled outside France.
‘I heard about the OIB through an English girl who had done it and is now studying law at Durham University. I made enquiries and as soon as I told my daughter about it, she jumped at the chance to apply. Now she is weekly boarding (most OIB students are boarders as there are so few places that offer the course) and mixing with kids from all over the world who are clever and motivated. They go on endless trips to the theatre and art exhibitions and to meetings with authors and playwrights. She is a hundred times happier because she is so fulfilled and I’m happy because her horizons have been widened.
‘Now, she has her heart set on Cambridge and is planning a gap year doing voluntary work in South America.’
The French mother of another says that her daughter had always been crazy about English at collège and it was her English teacher who mentioned the OIB British option. Indeed, many parents admit that they only heard about the course by chance – either through friends or English teachers who are aware of the course.
At the Lycée Victor et Hélène Basch in Rennes, one of two lycées in the Breton capital with an International department, a group of OIB students explain what they get out of the course. Although some of the French students admit they were pushed into OIB by parents keen for them to get a superior qualification, most chose the course because they wanted to become fluent in English in order to travel and possibly work overseas. ‘I came for the English language but since we’ve started I’ve really got into the literature as well. Now I try to read in English, and I’ve started watching English-language films in the original,’ says one. ‘What I really like is that through the literature we are learning so much about another culture at the same time.’ adds another. One of the handful of British students, says: ‘I have never had any education in English because my parents travelled a lot before we moved to France so it’s fun for me to be taught in my own language some of the time – some of our teachers are British.’
So what about the work load? Most agree that: ‘it’s not nearly as bad as expected. The bac itself is already a lot of work so we thought we’d be completely overwhelmed but it’s manageable.’ ‘We do spend a lot of time reading,’ says another, ‘as, of course, we’re still doing the full French bac, with French literature, and then English and American literature on top. It wouldn’t be a great choice for anyone who doesn’t love reading!’
‘Anyway, they don’t let you continue the course if you can’t manage.’
At this lycée, they explain, after the initial intake in September, OIB students are re-examined in their first December to see how they are coping – only 50 percent get to continue with the OIB course and the rest do a bac mention européen (see box).
All of them say they would definitely recommend OIB with just a warning: it’s not an easy option! But it’s a lot of fun.
OIB at a glance
The OIB, l'option internationale du baccalauréat, is a bilingual bac offered in select lycées across France with an international section. Some 22 lycées offer the British option of the OIB and students graduate with a Bac as well as a grounding in English literature equivalent to A standard.
Students can take the OIB in the L, ES and S streams, with Language-Literature and History-Geography being taught and examined in English.
The OIB is also available in other languages – 14 in total, including German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese – and students graduate with that country’s equivalent of a literature A level. In all cases, the OIB is run in collaboration with the education authorities of the country concerned.
The Bac OIB should not be confused with the International Baccalaureate, which is not a French diploma but run from Switzerland and available only in private schools. The OIB is the normal French baccalauréat with an international option added on – in other words students follow the normal bac S, L or ES curriculum – albeit in two languages – as well as extra courses.
The better known Bac ‘option européen’ also offers some classes in English (or another foreign language) and students gain a bac with ‘mention européen’. This option is widely available and most decent sized towns will have a lycée which offers this option.
For more information on the OIB which is run by the University of Cambridge International Examinations look at at www.cie.org.uk
To find participating lycées, select Liste des sections internationales and scroll down
Lycée open days are generally held in March-April.