Exploring curriculum options

Depending on their location, parents opting for an international school may have access to a range of curriculum options for their children. We look at the choices available for globally mobile families.

Tanglin Trust

Tanglin Trust School, Singapore

International Guide 18/19 video
The following article is from Relocate Global's Guide to International Education & Schools 2018/19 which is packed with expert tips and information for those relocating and the professionals supporting them. For co-branded or bespoke editions for your employees, contact Fiona Murchie on +44 (0)1892 891334 or email: fiona@relocatemagazine.com
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Looking back 20 years, you’d consider yourself lucky, as an English-speaking expatriate in a non-English-speaking country, if you could find an international school close to your workplace. This meant that, instead of attending a boarding school in another country, your child could be with you during your travels and attend a school where the language of learning was English.Today, the options are very different. English-medium international schools abound throughout the world. If you live in Dubai, you have a choice of more than 280 – and Dubai is not alone when it comes to providing multiple international-schooling options.Today there are almost 9000 international schools educating over 4.5 million students worldwide and the market looks set to continue to grow at a healthy rate. According to ISC Research, which provides data and intelligence on the international schools market, it is predicted that by 2021 student numbers will have increased by 40 per cent to 6.3 million.As a result, depending upon your location, you may have a range of education possibilities for your child. Choosing between them requires consideration of many factors, one of which should be the curriculum.

Curriculum: an important choice

Curriculum defines a school. People talk about IB World Schools, American or British international schools. The curriculum, in large part, sets international schools apart from each other, attracting staff as well as students, and defining, to some extent, the school ethos. For expatriate families who may be required to relocate every few years, the curriculum can be one of the few ways of providing a common thread for a child in an otherwise ever-changing school life.Globally mobile students benefit greatly from curriculum continuity when moving from one country to another, according to Mark London, head of marketing at ACS International Schools which teach both the American curriculum and IB. “Relocating families should look at the bigger picture and consider if another international move is likely in a few years’ time when choosing a curriculum,” he explains. “If so, following an internationally recognised education programme such as the IB is the sensible choice.”

Popular curriculum choices

The most common curriculum choices in international schools today are the National Curriculum of England, a US-oriented curriculum, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. Increasingly popular, too, are international curriculum options like the International Primary Curriculum and the International Middle Years Curriculum, which deliver the requirements of the National Curriculum of England in an internationally oriented way.The English national curriculum is the most popular curriculum choice in the world, followed by a US-oriented curriculum and the IB.The global accessibility of a curriculum can be a deciding factor for a relocating family when it comes to school selection. For example, although the Reggio Emilia learning approach ­– through which children seek knowledge through their own investigations – is highly valued by some, it is only available in a tiny percentage of English-medium international schools. If these schools are not located in areas the family may be moving to in the future, the Reggio Emilia approach may not be the best option for them.

National curriculum of England

British expatriates often select an international school that follows the English National Curriculum. With so many British schools overseas, it is relatively easy to find a suitable school when moving from country to country.“The British Curriculum is the most widely used in the world,” says Barnaby Sandow, principal of Jerudong International School in Brunei, which has the largest international school campus in the world and offers the British national curriculum in addition to the IB diploma at sixth form. “Internationally it’s the most successful and fastest growing curriculum in the world, so wherever you are, the most likely system you will have available is the British one.”Following England’s National Curriculum is also considered by many students and parents, of a range of nationalities, to be an effective route to university in the UK.“A levels are thought of as the gold standard qualification across the world and are still the main entry route for students to UK universities,” explains John Southworth, principal of MPW, an independent sixth form college group with schools in London, Birmingham and Cambridge. “A levels provide the essential depth of study required for entry into university especially for those students wanting to pursue career based courses.”In 2017, 92 per cent of graduates from schools that are members of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) went on to study at university. Of those, 52 per cent went to university in the UK.Colin Bell, CEO of COBIS, says, “At any stage during the educational journey, the continuity of quality education is of significant importance, especially for mobile students and families who find themselves moving from one location to another. For those students who are working towards transitioning to the UK for a university place, the continuity of curriculum is paramount, and never more so than in the competitive global race for top university places.”

An American curriculum

Families relocating from the US are likely to choose an international school offering an American curriculum, or with an American orientation.“The world’s top-tier universities are looking more at academic rigor and whole-student achievement than the nationality of a school’s curriculum,” says Dr Christopher Schuster, high school principal at Concordia International School Shanghai.“Our high school programme, which incorporates American curricular standards and focuses heavily on applied learning (learning by doing), is challenging and holistic, offering opportunities for students to develop their passions and apply their education in authentic, real-world situations. “Concordia graduates are accepted to universities around the world. These universities seek students who can use their knowledge and abilities within the complete college context. They want more from learners than high test scores; they want to see students do something with the learning they have achieved.”

The International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB caters for pupils aged from three to 19 and is taught in thousands of international schools in popular relocation destinations across the globe, including many independent and international schools and a small number of state schools in the UK.“The IB was founded in part to ensure that students of internationally mobile families could still work towards a shared, recognised qualification regardless of what city or country they found themselves in,” says a spokesperson for Shanghai Community International School which caters for students from ages two to 18 across three campuses. “Since that time, the number of IB programmes around the world has dramatically increased. The IB continuum framework provides consistency wherever you are moving.” 
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