The Integrated Programme or The International Baccalaureate?

A lot has been said over these two pathways. While I have been exposed to these two programmes, and have personally help develop, administer and execute the IB in one of our local schools, I must comment that both tracks are essentially disparate in terms of curriculum, rigour, the range of subjects, and more importantly, the type of students suitable for each domain.

Parents should not espouse each programme based solely on the ‘success rate’ of institutions. Rather, we need to understand our children and their learning style to make the right decisions for them. It is of little use to have a one-upmanship mentality and declare that a more ‘traditional’ route offers a safer option while another ‘experimental’ set-up entails higher risk. It is like saying a mountain-climber is a better performer than an F1 driver just because one ‘sport’ has been in existence much earlier. In my years of teaching, I have come to realise that the joy of learning and the process of discovery, coupled with an inquiring mind and a supportive learning culture is highly understated.

Just to ease some fears and to set the record straight from the onset, the A-levels and the International Baccalaureate are both eligible qualifications for entry to our undergraduate degrees. We do not weight either of these qualifications as ‘better’ than the other, since both are eligible for entry, and all applications are considered very carefully on their individual merits.

Neither programme should be seen as or deemed to be ‘elitist’. Do not just listen to the 'promotional talks' of schools running the IB or the IP programme at their various Open Houses. The IB programme is meant for students who are average and above, and is meant to be a programme that international schools can run and most international students can perform well.

pri-sch boringRunning the IB programme as an elitist programme only increases the pressure on students to perform well. Not only are students paying much more (vis-à-vis the A-levels), they could also have additional academic goals set by the school. For example, I know of one IB school that sets the target that all students should get at least 38 points (out of 45) for the IB diploma, and that all students should get either 6 or 7 (where 7 is the highest grade) for all their subjects. I seriously doubt that this is the right mindset to approach education. Rather, education should be a positive experience where learning is enriching. To echo the views of Dr Lee Tung Jean, who now helms the new Early Childhood Development Agency (Ecda), “kids learn best when they are having fun…some kids may learn better in regimented environments, others may learn better in free-flowing environments.”

Do bear in mind the following:

IB students do a broader range of subjects than typical A-level students, taking six subjects – three at standard level, three at higher level – which means they are less limited when it comes to choosing what to pursue at university level.
However, it is not the assessments of the core subjects but the additional components that stand out in the IB programme, and receive praise from students, teachers and universities. These include an extended essay of 4,000 words, and "creativity, action, service" (CAS), which requires students to participate in artistic, sporting and community pursuits throughout the study period. The latter element is intended to foster awareness of life outside the academic arena.

Another requirement which I personally feel that the IB student would gain immensely is Theory of Knowledge, a compulsory module which cuts across the chosen subjects and is designed to help the students think laterally about learning and to gain an appreciation of other cultural perspectives as well.

In general, however, the IB could be considered a good grounding for multi-disciplinary Arts subjects which involve elements of many different subjects at school. On the other hand, students who wish to specialise in a particular Science at higher institutions of learning may find that the concentration of three subjects at A-level provides them more with the focus necessary for an intense subject-specific degree.

Many schools here run the IB and A-levels concurrently. Some purists may argue that embarking on the IB is comparable to attempting five or six A-levels, and as a result, less competent and confident students might be put off. The norm-reference (as opposed to the criterion-reference of the A-levels) also acts as an educational compass to guide the triumvirate stakeholders of educators, parents and pupils on how performance is assessed.

How about Specialised Independent School ?