Dubai: Having taught in British curriculum and International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, it is important to acknowledge that both are globally recognised and eligible qualifications for entry to higher education although I do believe individual students may suit one curriculum more than the other.
International surveys (OECD and Unicef) suggest that the UK comes out relatively well in terms of young people’s experience at school, but much worse with regard to their experience of ‘growing up’ in general.
This probably reflects the relatively poor economic and social conditions in which many children are brought up.
This is in contrast to the IB system where the focus on the whole child is evident throughout the four programmes.
Children who go through the IB from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) to the Diploma Programme (DP) have a much more worldly approach to life.
International awareness from an international curriculum is one reason why parents would choose this kind of curriculum especially if the family is one that relocates to international countries as part of the demands of their job.
How have our children managed?
Mark: We have two very different children. The British curriculum gave both of our children an excellent start to their education, embedding the basic skills required to be successful learners.
Since moving to an IB school we have noticed the focus shift to a more student-focused learning environment where inquiry is the big ingredient. Both of our children have become much better communicators and inquirers.
If anything, the basic skills (literacy and numeracy) learnt early in their primary education have become less of a focus. As a traditionalist, we have worked alongside the school to ensure these skills are not forgotten.
The beauty of the IB is that you can move your child at any time to another IB school and slot in exactly without missing any work, the benefits for the child are clear, it is one less worry for them when adapting to changes in circumstances, be it moving house or country.
A question well worth asking is, “Where do you expect to be in three to four years?”. Parents who continually move around the world may be better suited to educating their child in the IB system because the child will transfer easier into any school.
Kristen: One difficulty I have found adjusting from the British curriculum to the IB system is the differences in requirements for my subject, Design and Technology.
In the UK, there was a heavier focus on the coursework, with a large percentage of the marks being awarded for the written and practical project students made and a smaller, although important element, on the written examination at the end of the course. I could set a theme for the project, for example lighting, and each student would design and make a light to solve defined problem.
Here in Dubai, the IB requirements are different with equal weighting being put onto each section of work within the written and practical elements and no examination. The struggle here is that the IB does not want each student making the same product. They require open project themes where each student can take their interpretation of the project in their own direction through detailed and critical research of a problem and subsequent designs and a practical solution.
Unlike the British curriculum, the IB does not permit models or prototypes to be made as a solution, instead they need real life solutions to tangible problems students have identified. This can be incredibly difficult to manage as a teacher as I can have students using wood, metal, textiles or even food as material in one class.
This being said, it does allow each student to take ownership of their project and produce an outcome that is personal to them and not a product similar to others in the class.
I feel the challenge for me is adapting to the transient society of Dubai. I have students arriving in the school where I teach in all grades, with no prior knowledge of technology and some who arrive with extensive knowledge having been taught in the British curriculum.
Making sure all students are taught the skills needed and to allow them to be so free with their designs and product outcome is difficult to balance.
I find it rare for a student to begin the IB curriculum and to complete the whole MYP (Middle Years Programme) and DP programmes therefore we are losing those students who have developed these skills before they can use them to their fullest.
This is mainly down to the transient society and not to the withdrawal of students from the curriculum.
Mark Bishop is head of physical training, and Kristen, head of technology, at Greenfields Community School, Dubai