A-Level vs IB: Why Choose IB as the Curriculum

A-Level vs IB: Why Choose IB as the Curriculum
By C Hoppe
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We all know the age-old curriculum debate. What’s best - an all British or entirely IB school? Or could it be the popular ‘hybrid’ combination of both?

In an attempt to settle the issue once and for all, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asked some of the biggest names in education to put forward the case and discuss the pros and cons of ‘their’ specific curriculum.

In this, the first of the series, we ask Christopher Bromham principal of Taaleem's Uptown School an IB curriculum school in Mirdif, why he advocates the IB system.


Why choose the IB system for students up to the age of 16? Can you compare and contrast the curriculum with the British system up to the same age?

"The IB has the ambitious aim of changing the world through educating young people. This is stated in the IB Mission Statement and flows through every aspect of all four programmes."

"Students in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) learn environmental awareness through the transdisciplinary theme of “Sharing the Planet”. Middle Years Programme (MYP) students develop empathy, which is at the heart of international mindedness, through their Community Projects. At Diploma Programme (DP) level, students continue to enrich their intercultural understanding by studying a second language to pre-university level. The list could go on!"

"Another advantage is that the IB curriculum is detached from any national agenda or political system. Those familiar with the British system will understand the disruption that successive governmental changes can have on teachers and an education system in general. While the IB does undergo rigorous self evaluation and development, those driving the change are educators. Changes are due to emerging knowledge in curriculum areas or pedagogical research not the proclivities of politicians who are out to make a name for themselves."

"Additionally, the IB curriculum is a coherent whole, rather than a collection of stand alone qualifications. Since the IB has gained in popularity, many other systems have tried to bolt on their own equivalent of Creativity, Action and Service (CAS), Attitude to Learning Skills or the Learner Profile. However, the IB curriculum has such elements interwoven throughout each of the three (or four!) programmes, making for a smooth continuum with a clear rationale throughout."

"The focus on developing language proficiency leads the drive to ensure children are internationally minded. All students must have the opportunity to develop the language of instruction and the language of the host country up to the end of their schooling. The IB also encourages schools to offer further languages and to offer the opportunity for all students to develop their mother tongue."


What type of child/parent/family does the pre-Diploma IB system work best for?

"The IB system is designed to be inclusive and can welcome all students. At the heart of the programmes is the Learner Profile. This is a list of the attributes that an IB education will engender in the students. These are explicitly developed and talked about in all lessons. Any student that partakes in an IB education will develop these skills becoming the right type of student for the IB. Through the Learner Profile and the Attitude to Learning Skills, the IB deliberately focuses on teaching students to become better learners. This is why IB students generally have such low university drop out rates."


Briefly explain why it is ideal for students to follow the IB system throughout their education, NOT just for the Diploma?

"Students starting the Diploma Programme without an MYP and PYP background can find it difficult to get up to speed and to respond to the varied demands of the DP. The PYP and MYP explicitly develop the skills and knowledge base needed to tackle to DP. One obvious example is the Extended Essay. This can come as quite a shock to students who have not been taught research skills or have never been required to complete an extended piece of work lower down the school. In an all-through IB school, the preparation for this daunting task starts in the PYP where students prepare a demanding presentation in in their final year. This continues within the MYP where students complete a community project and a personal project, both extended pieces of work that need to be researched and presented. There is a clear development of skills and expectations through these tasks that deliberately prepare students for the extended essay."

"The same structure flows through all other aspects of the IB system. Students are constantly pushed to bring their own personality and interests into the PYP and MYP. Choice is at the heart of everything that students are asked to do, which values and encourages their interests. Therefore, when choosing topics for their internal assessments at DP, former PYP and MYP students find it far easier to make the tasks meaningful and of personal interest."

"The DP requires the demonstration of skills and attitudes developed over many years through the PYP and MYP. To be successful in the DP, students need to display the attributes of the Learner Profile and need to have mastered the Attitude to Learning Skills. This is much easier if they have been following a programme specifically designed to engender these skills and qualities."


Are there any negatives you see in the full IB system (KG through to Diploma) which parents should be aware of?

"In the past, a criticism leveled at the IB was the lack of a certified qualification at 16 years of age, such as GCSE. However, the MYP has now introduced optional e-assessments at the end of the programme. These cutting edge assessments use multimedia techniques, such as video clips and on-screen manipulatives, to present in-depth questions that assess the difficult-to-test concepts at the heart of the programme."

"Another wide spread criticism is that the transdisciplinary nature of the PYP does not develop adequate skills in mathematics and English. However, the PYP is quite clear that schools can supplement the transdisciplinary Units of Inquiry with stand-alone lessons. Most PYP schools do have separate mathematics and English lessons to ensure that core skills are reinforced daily. There is also, of course, scope to incorporate language development in sophisticated ways."

"The last of the big criticisms is that the MYP has no prescribed content. While this is true to a certain extent, all MYP schools will simply use the content from the DP and backwards plan to know what to cover. The confusion comes due to the level of choice schools have in how they construct their MYP programme. The curriculum is driven by key concepts, which are prescribed by the IB. The key concepts must be covered across all subjects. For example, the key concept ‘Balance’ can be addressed in Humanities, Mathematics and Science from related, but different, perspectives. These concepts, alongside Global Contexts such as ‘Fairness and Development’, provide a framework for each school to design learning experiences that are relevant to their own learners."


How ideal is the full IB system for expat children who are often expected to relocate throughout their school years?

"As a truly international curriculum, the IB allows students to easily transfer from country to country. The uniting focus on the Learner Profile and the themes and concepts that weave throughout the programmes, means that, although different schools will cover different topics, the overriding aims are the same everywhere."

"Another consistency comes from the teacher training provided by the IB. All IB teachers receive compulsory training at the start of their IB career. This is then supplemented by further courses run by the IB in various areas. Some will go on to develop along a subject specific path, while others will branch out into the different aspects of the programmes. Every school will appoint a co-ordinator for each programme, who receive additional training and monthly updates and newsletters. Despite being a world wide organization, the IB is a family of schools, where teachers and school leaders learn from each other. IB schools across the world come in all shapes and sizes but will, at their heart, be striving to achieve the same goals."


What do you see as the real benefits for a student who has completed the IB school system?

"The Diploma Programme is now widely regarded as outstanding preparation for university and beyond. The undoubted challenge of the DP is made significantly more accessible by a full IB education. The skills and attitudes explicitly engendered by the programmes, are closely aligned to the skills and attitudes needed to do well at university and employment. The IB is rightly proud of the very low drop out rates of IB students once they have started at university."


How can parents assess the suitability/success of any full IB school before enrolling their child?

"The problem when assessing schools is very similar to the problems when assessing students. Those aspects that are easiest to measure are not always those that are the most important. While we all want excellent academic outcomes for our students, we also want them to become people that we are proud of and that is much more intangible."

"External results from DP examinations and MYP e-assessments are hard evidence of success. However, those who fixate on these measures are possibly misunderstanding the rationale of an IB education. While all IB schools support students in achieving their very best in these terminal examinations, the true worth of the IB system lies within the students it produces at all ages."

"My advice would be to visit IB schools and meet the teachers, who will evangelize about the IB; meet the parents who will be able to talk at length about what their sons and daughters are learning in school and what Learner Profile attribute that they are focusing on; but most of all, to meet the students. IB students never fail to impress. They are reflective thinkers, who communicate and take risks, they are principled, knowledgeable and caring. They are open minded and balanced. In short, they are the young people who will go on to change the world!"


You might also like:

A-Level vs IB: The Case For A British Education

The Best IB Diploma Schools In Dubai

The Best IB Diploma Schools In Abu Dhabi

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