The newly-founded organisation was to a large extent a Genevese initiative. Among the founding fathers were Edouard Claparède, Pierre Bovet and Adolphe Ferrière.
In 1929, the IBE open its membership to other countries, and became the first intergovernmental organisation in the field of education.
At the same time, Jean Piaget, professor of psychology at the University of Geneva, was appointed director and he went on to lead IBE for 40 years, with Pedro Rosselló as assistant director.
Since 1934, the IBE has organised the International Conference on Public Education (now the International Conference on Education). From 1946, this conference has been convened with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), founded in 1945. In 1969, the IBE became an integral part of UNESCO, while retaining intellectual and functional autonomy.
In 1999, the IBE became the UNESCO institute responsible for educational content, methods and teaching/learning strategies through curriculum development.
Over the years, the core mandate of the IBE has changed, reaching an apex in 2011 when the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference declared the IBE a Global Centre of Excellence in curriculum and related matters.
Today's mandate is to strengthen the capacities of member states to design, develop, and implement curricula that ensure the equity, quality, development-relevance, and resource-efficiency of education and learning systems.
The mandate positions it to support member states' efforts to implement Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4): Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.