The education think tanks were busy in 2013. As the Year of the Snake slithered to a close, the education ministry made headlines by announcing bolstered English education plans — again — in an attempt to better prepare Japanese students for an increasingly connected world.

Having now entered the Year of the Horse, the most interesting news on the education track involves a relationship decades in the making — and one that's more about philosophy than language.

At the starting line is the International Baccalaureate (IB), a nonprofit educational foundation established in 1968. The IB was formed with the aim of merging the best in national curriculums around the world to create an international standard. In 1979, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) officially recognized IB diploma holders as eligible candidates for university admissions in Japan, although this was applicable mostly to overseas students.