Curriculum: Why Choose The IB’s PYP?

What are the benefits of choosing an IB school in Hong Kong that offers the Primary Years Programme (PYP)? WhichSchoolAdvisor.com speaks to PYP co-ordinators at the English Schools Foundation (ESF) to find out…
Curriculum: Why Choose The IB’s PYP?
By Carli Allan
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Before you take the big step of selecting a school, you’ll need to consider which is the best curriculum for your child. But there is a variety of curricula offered at international schools in Hong Kong, so which do you choose?

One choice is the International Baccalaureate programme, which is widely offered in Hong Kong and begins with the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) for students aged three to 12 years. Offered from Pre-K to Grade 5, the PYP is a framework rather than a curriculum and it’s less prescriptive than other curricula such as the Early Years Foundation Stage, which underpins the UK’s primary education.

There are 40 international kindergartens and schools in Hong Kong that are authorised to teach the PYP. These include all four kindergartens and the 10 primary schools run by the English Schools Foundation (ESF): Beacon Hill School, Bradbury School, Clearwater Bay School, Glenealy School, Island School, Kennedy School, Kowloon Junior School, Sha Tin Junior, Peak School and Quarry Bay School. The ESF’s two all-through Private International Schools – Renaissance College Hong Kong and Discovery College – also offer the PYP.

Watch: Choosing a Curriculum panel discussion on WSA TV

In addition, these international schools offer the PYP: Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS), Carmel School, Creative Primary School, ELCHK Lutheran Academy, Galilee International School, Hong Kong Academy, International College Hong Kong, Hong Lok Yuen, Japanese International School, Kingston International School, Think International School and Victoria Shanghai Academy.


Science is a core part of the PYP at ESF's Glenealy School

Most recently, HKCA Po Leung Kuk School, one of Hong Kong’s most affordable schools, was authorised to offer the PYP.

The list above offers families a choice of standalone kindergartens and primary schools or all-through schools. In Hong Kong, there are seven IB continuum schools offering all three IB programmes: ESF’s Renaissance College, ESF’s Discovery College, Hong Kong Academy, Victoria Shanghai Academy, CDNIS, Carmel School and ELCHK Lutheran Academy.

And there are two schools offering a bilingual PYP option: Kingston International School and Creative Primary School both offer a dual-language PYP programme, with an English and Mandarin teacher working alongside the children in both languages throughout the school day.

While the PYP prepares students for the IB Middle Years Programme, it is not a prerequisite for it, just as the Middle Years Programme is not a prerequisite to sit the IB Diploma. The majority of all-through schools here will offer a hybrid programme that starts with the PYP, is followed by the UK National Curriculum and IGCSEs, and then ends with the IB Diploma Programme.

Key facts about the PYP include:

  • Schools must be authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) to offer the PYP
  • All teachers must be trained to teach the PYP
  • From at least the age of seven, all students have the opportunity to learn more than one language
  • In the final year of the PYP, students, carry out an extended, in-depth, collaborative project known as the PYP exhibition

Read more: Our curriculum guide to the Primary Years Programme (PYP).

Do you want to understand how the PYP is taught in Hong Kong’s international schools?


PYP students at ESF's Clearwater Bay School

WhichSchoolAdvisor speaks to PYP co-ordinators at the English Schools Foundation (ESF), which has four kindergartens and 10 primary schools offering the Primary Years Programme.

What would you say is the broad teaching style/objectives of the PYP?

ESF schools use the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) framework to help provide a structure for the kindergarten and primary school curriculum. The PYP is interdisciplinary, or cross-curricula, in nature which means that learning experiences are a blend of many different subject areas. Skills taught and learned in one area or discipline are able to be transferred to other subjects or areas of the curriculum.

The PYP is designed for as a framework for ages three to 12 and focuses on the total holistic growth of the developing child encompassing academic, social, emotional and physical needs. Kindergarten and primary school students learn by connecting prior and new knowledge in meaningful ways, so they may broaden their understandings about the world around them.

The PYP aims to bring together knowledge, skills and dispositions for students to feel empowered to take ownership for their learning and encourages students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that being open-minded and considering the perspectives of other people helps to bring about cultural understanding and respect.

What are the advantages of the IB Primary Years Programme? Why should children choose this programme?

The PYP ensures that learning is engaging, relevant, challenging and significant for all students. Students are encouraged to be curious, creative, collaborative, kind and considerate of others. Teachers provide opportunities for students to seek and address local opportunities and challenges, and to help students develop the necessary competencies to navigate this changing world.

At ESF, through the PYP, our students are developing the ability to be:
• Active and engaged learners
• Collaborative contributors
• Responsible global citizens
• Critical and creative thinkers
• Effective communicators
• Healthy and resilient individuals

In addition, students in ESF are given the opportunity to gain knowledge that is relevant and of global significance; develop an understanding of concepts, which allows them to make connections throughout their learning; acquire transdisciplinary and disciplinary skills; develop attitudes that will lead to international-mindedness; and take action as a consequence of their learning.


Primary students during a library session at ESF's Renaissance College 

How does the PYP differ from the UK National Curriculum at primary level?

The PYP is a progressive international curriculum which is not controlled by any one national government. This makes it a stable, internationally relevant choice in a global context. Ongoing review, school accreditation and teacher professional development are an integral part of being an IB world school.

The PYP begins at three years old and is an integral part of the continuum of an IB education, finishing with the IB diploma at age 18. At ESF, this supports our schools in providing a continuum of learning from K-13.

The IB has identified a set of attributes for the learner profile to nurture active, compassionate and lifelong learners. The PYP encourages all students to be open-minded and inclusive and aims to support students of all ages to become self-regulated learners. Students learn how to ask good questions, set realistic goals and think, research, communicate, socialize and manage themselves effectively.

What are the main subjects covered in your PYP?

The PYP is organised around six themes which provide a starting point from which students can examine local and global issues and opportunities. The six overarching transdisciplinary themes are taught each year, with increasing complexity and different but related subject knowledge. This allows for students to continually build on their foundational understandings and make conceptual connections.

The PYP is developmentally appropriate for young learners because it is a coherent educational experience that is broad, balanced and holistic, incorporates the needs and developmental stages of all students.

The six overarching themes in the PYP are:
• Who We Are
• Where We Are in Place and Time
• How the World Works
• How We Organise Ourselves
• How We Express Ourselves
• Sharing the Planet

Supporting the six transdisciplinary themes are six subject-specific knowledge areas: language; mathematics; science; individuals and societies; arts; physical, social and personal education. These curriculum areas are embedded within each theme to foster student development of subject knowledge, skills, conceptual understandings and dispositions.

The PYP also demonstrates a commitment to multilingualism that is central to fostering international-mindedness. Language acts as a vehicle for meaning-making and human connection allowing humans to interact with others and shape new understandings. At ESF, the curriculum is delivered in English and all students in kindergarten and primary schools learn and engage with Mandarin, as the second specified language.

How is assessment carried out and when?

ESF teachers use a range of school-based and standardised assessment strategies throughout the year to inform learning and teaching in the PYP, which include:
• progress continuums and benchmarks for literacy and numeracy
• structured observations
• anecdotal records
• standardised assessments
• rubrics or guiding descriptors
• portfolios of student work
• Mandarin benchmark assessments
• student/teacher/parent conferences

Students help to inform the assessment process through the use of self and peer assessment tools. Students are empowered to set learning goals and these are shared with parents or caregivers and evidenced through a portfolio of learning.

Assessment in the PYP is both formative (feedback informs a student’s next steps in learning) and summative (a culmination or showcase of learning for a unit of work). It is through using a variety of assessment approaches that ESF is able to personalise learning for every child, to enable each student to be the best they can be.


Digital learning is part of the PYP programme at ESF's Glenealy School

How well does the PYP prepare students for the IB Diploma Programme?

At ESF, students transition seamlessly from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) to the Middle Years Programme (MYP) then to the Diploma Programme (DP) or the Career-related Programme (CP).

Inquiry, interpreted in the broadest sense, is the process initiated by student and teacher helping to develop and deepen current levels of understanding to deeper conceptual levels of understanding. Students in the PYP engage with learning through:

• exploring, wondering and questioning
• experimenting with possibilities
• making connections between previous learning and current thinking
• making predictions and acting purposefully to see what transpires
• collecting data and reporting findings
• clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
• deepening understanding through the application of a concept
• making and testing theories
• researching and seeking information
• taking and defending a position
• solving problems in a variety of ways
• reflecting on learning

These skills remain central, ensuring students are fully prepared as they transition through the IB programmes, successfully meeting the needs of the PYP, MYP, and the IB Diploma.

Can students transfer easily from the PYP to another curriculum at the secondary level?

The IB PYP is designed to progress to the IB Middle Years Program which takes the conceptual inquiry framework and applies it across eight subject areas; Maths, Science, Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Design, Physical and Health Education, Arts and Individuals and Societies.

This allows students to not only deepen their ability to inquire but also develop disciplinary skills and content which lets them gain a wide variety of experiences across different secondary school subjects. The PYP is also broad enough in scope that it allows for students to successfully transition to other curriculums, as the conceptual framework enables students to be self-motivated and skilled learners.

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