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The IB: Is its curriculum for you?

Is the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme suitable for your child? Is it better than doing the GCE ‘O’ or ‘A’ Levels? What can you expect?

These are some of the questions running through the minds of parents and students when it is time to decide what to do post-PSLE, or sometimes after Secondary 4.

A robust discussion has been ongoing in our KiasuParents forum about the subject, with people sharing thoughts or seeking answers about how the IB system works.

On a related forum topic, nelly commented: “Many people I know are wary of IB because they are still not familiar with it. And although many universities say they do accept IB, I am afraid there might be some prejudice since ‘A’ levels has been around for a longer time. Many consider ‘A’ levels a safer option but IB really does sound tempting.”

A more broad-based curriculum

So why is it an increasingly attractive option? Generally, many agree that the IB programme provides a more holistic education that develops creative and critical thinking.

SingaporeGirl, then a secondary school student who was considering the IB programme, posted her thoughts on another forum thread in 2011:

“I feel that the A-levels system is based a lot on the content knowledge so in that sense it feels rather similar to PSLE and the O Levels whereby if you practice and drill hard enough you will do fine. But I don’t think that it’s good to study this way because (you may not be) actually learning. It feels like you’re just spending two years doing a dozen of ten-year series’ so as to tackle a 2-hour paper. I don’t like that because our world is constantly changing and apparently, half the things you learn now won’t even be valid in 3 years time. But the IB focuses more on teaching you skills through like the various projects and stuff so in that way it feels like a better form of education.”

Similarly, another forum user, guaigirl24 said: “I’m leaning towards the IB being so-called better as I find it more meaningful than A-Levels.”

Madam M, a parent whom KiasuParents recently interviewed but declined to give her real name, told us that her son chose to do the IB because – after he was told he does not need to do ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels – he felt this programme might be able to interest and engage him more in education and learning, rather than just drill him for exams.

In January 2014, Madam M’s son started Secondary 1 in the Integrated Programme (IP) of an IB school. He decided to do the IB in the middle of his Primary 6 year. After applying through the school’s Direct School Admission (DSA) programme, he had to sit for the English, Math and General Ability Tests before eventually being offered a place in the IB school.

Both mother and son agree that the curriculum seems more broad-based and focused on research and project work, with communication, writing and presentation skills honed right from the start.

But is it for your child?

In her post on the Raffles Parents Association blog in 2010, former Raffles Institution Principal Mrs Lim Lai Cheng noted that “the GCE ‘A’ Level curriculum emphasises depth within each subject discipline while the IB is about breadth across a range of subjects.”   

On whom IB is suitable for, Mrs Lim said: “The IB pedagogy is characterised by much interaction in class; your child would also have to be strong in his or her language ability, and enjoy giving presentations and writing papers across a range of subject matters. The IB curriculum articulates well into university courses that are broad-based, along the lines of the liberal arts colleges.”

In the same forum thread posted by SingaporeGirl, pirozhki who had gone through IB advised: “I’d like to caution that IB is no walk in the park. The workload is quite demanding and you’ll sometimes find that your peers in the ‘A’ Level track would have more free time as compared to you, especially during Year 5.”

“For those who enjoy projects though, IB is certainly a fantastic option. A large portion of our grade (up to 50% for certain subjects) is based off a diverse range of projects ranging from essays to oral commentaries to lab reports. One component of IB which I particularly enjoyed was the Extended Essay, which basically allows you to explore any topic of your choice (within reasonable boundaries of course),” she continued.

Similarly, Guaigirl24 qualified her preference for IB by urging those interested in IB to “do some comparison with the A-Level programme to determine really if it’s a better fit for you”. She also cautioned that the workload and depth of thinking required may not be something everyone is able to cope with.

New challenges, rewarding education

Ultimately, parents who advocate the IB probably see advantages in it that they feel are lacking in the GCE system.

Madam M said: “As a parent, I hope that my child develops as a whole person and not just in terms of marks, grades and academics. I feel the IB programme allows for that breadth in character and skills development. I do not wish for him to be bogged down by endless drills for exams so much so he becomes jaded with the education system. I want him to broaden his mind, to be open to critical thinking and reasoning skills, to be a people-person and to relate to subjects with passion and interest. Through the IB, I sincerely hope he finds his niche and passion for an area, or areas he can further develop himself in.”


Related article:

International Baccalaureate… International, What?

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