Education Explained: International curriculum options

In this article in the 'Education Explained' series, we take a look at the international curriculum options for the children of relocating familes in the growing number of international schools across the globe.

In this article in the ‘Education Explained’ series, we take a look at the international curriculum options for the children of relocating families in the growing number of international schools across the globe.According to international schools' research organisation ISC Research, the international education sector has seen phenomenal growth in the last ten years. ISC Research predicts that numbers will double again in another ten years to reach six million students, and that the number of international schools will increase from 6,000 to 10,000. While the variety of schools for families relocating across the globe is on the increase, what exactly are the options available, and why would parents choose one learning programme over another?

Considerations will differ during each stage of schooling, and each decision will come with its own set of criteria. "There are, typically, four reasons families and students choose one curriculum over another," says Craig Johnson, superintendent of the American School of Bombay. "The first usually depends on what curriculum the family or student may be transitioning from. The second commonly is in preparation for where the family or student may be moving to next. "Both of these reasons relate to making smooth transitions. The third reason often has to do with the type of education the parents have received and their knowledge of the current educational landscape. The last variable that impacts this decision is the educational availability in the city or country they will be relocating to."

English National Curriculum

Many families relocating from the UK will naturally look to an international school that follows the English National Curriculum. Choosing this option comes with the added advantage of being able to review inspection reports that have been approved by the Department for Education for some British schools overseas, similar to those carried out by Ofsted in England.

A British education has become hugely popular across the globe, and, according to ISC Research, there are more than 2,000 schools outside Britain teaching parts of the English National Curriculum that would typically prepare students for GCSE and A-level examinations.

According to the Council of British International Schools, "Choosing a British international school not only gives students the benefit of a British education, it is also eminently transferable. The structure and consistency of the National Curriculum allows students to move easily, if necessary, between British schools in various countries, including the UK, and facilitates an easy progression to university in the UK or elsewhere in the world."

Following a curriculum similar to that back home will have obvious advantages, and, as Ashrafa Mohmed, assistant headteacher at Doha English Speaking School, Qatar, which follows the National Curriculum for England and Wales, explains, "It instils confidence and reassurance in parents that their child is receiving formal education and meeting the UK statutory requirements. The school's setting is very much like a school in the UK. These factors would enable the child to integrate back easily if they had to leave."

The American Programme

In the same way, families relocating from the USA are likely to choose an American programme, says Robin Appleby, superintendent of Dubai American Academy.

"Our families choose the American curriculum for a number of reasons. Those coming abroad from the US generally choose an American curriculum, as the teaching methodology, curriculum content, and co-curricular programmes are familiar to them."

But, importantly, families are also increasingly taking into account the future higher-education options for their children. "It basically comes down to where the students intend to study after their high-school graduation," says Deidree R Diño, director of admissions at the American International School, Vienna.

"Students may not know which degree they will be taking but have some idea of where they would want to do their university or college studies. Students who are bent on going to an American university will likely want the US Diploma, and those who want to have more options do the full International Baccalaureate Diploma."

International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate is considered an excellent choice for entry into higher education. A recent report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that students in the UK studying the IB Diploma Programme were more likely to achieve a first-class honours award at degree level.

However, for many relocating families, looking forward to entry into higher education will not be the only consideration. Many, especially those that are likely to make further moves, will be keen to make the international transfer as smooth as possible for their children.Says Mark London, of ACS International Schools, which has offered the IB for over 30 years, "The IB is the only truly internationally transferable qualification to an international community which needs an education system capable of underpinning globally mobile lifestyles."

Alongside the diploma, there are also the lesser-known IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP), both of which set out to offer the same principles of learning and international recognition.

International Middle Years Curriculum

For many years, the PYP and MYP appear to have gone unrivalled in their approach to learning–an approach that is believed by many to be underpinned by encouraging pupils to think for themselves and put the enjoyment of learning at the heart of what they do. However, this year several international schools, including schools from the World Class Learning Group, a group of schools which established themselves in response to the growing needs of the relocating family, have embarked on the newly-launched International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) for 11- to 14-year-olds.

At the American International School of Rotterdam, secondary principal Alison Lipp describes her motivation for change. "Our school does offer the IB Diploma for our grades 11 and 12, but we felt that the IMYC was a better fit for us as a small school than the MYP for the years leading up to the IB [Diploma]."

"The children have already grown. The IMYC is definitely engaging them more, itís been a big confidence-builder for many of them, and itís helping them all to want to solve problems and take ownership of their learning."

International GCSE

The International GCSE (iGCSE), which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010, has become well established on the international education scene and is an internationally recognised qualification for 14- to 16-year-olds, taught in over 2,600 schools worldwide.

Like the IMYC and MYP, it is intended to have a broad approach to learning, and it is considered by some to be more rigorous than the traditional qualification for 14- to 16-year-olds following the English National Curriculum, the GSCE.

Denry Machin, head of secondary at Harrow International School, Thailand, believes that, in the competitive world of international qualifications and exams, the iGCSE offers a very broad range of subjects and specifications written with international students in mind.

Ultimately, of course, the decision will rest on whether the curriculum, the teaching, and the delivery of the whole school package are right for the relocating child.

As Craig Johnson concludes, "Children are resilient, and educational systems, at their core, have more in common than meets the eye. All countries have quality schools. It is the transferring between these quality schools that most families should be concerned with."