To IB or not to IB

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We do not have a required high school (or college) curriculum, but we do make recommendations. We expect freshman applicants to have engaged in a rigorous curriculum and chosen from among the most demanding courses available in their secondary school Stanford admissions

Stanford admissions website

Aligned with Dubai’s promise of plenty , on August 23rd, 2015 , Gulf News stated that Dubai would have 27 new private schools by September 2016. By 2017, there would be approximately 196 private schools with a capacity to teach more than 341,000 students, an increase from the 169 schools according to a 2014-15 KHDA report.

With each school vowing its allegiance to a “never seen in Dubai before” activity list and residents swearing at a “never seen in a lifetime” fee list, parents are flummoxed as to which school will serve as the best launch pad for their children’s future. Even more baffling than the schools is the curriculum deluge in the ocean of education. How to make sense of the A levels, IB, AP, ICSE wordplay?

It was not always so chaotic .The Americans picked the American curriculum with its AP offerings , the Indians, wanting continuity in the curriculum if relocated to India, preferred Indian schools and the British were happy with their A levels. IB appealed to the expats living and working abroad.

But word went out that the colleges of the world had picked a favourite child . The Swiss born IB Diploma became the cynosure of many conversations. The IBDP is taken in the last two years of secondary school. Juniors and seniors who earn the IB diploma must take six courses typically 3 at higher level and 3 at a standard level. In addition, the DP has three core requirements:

The extended essay – students conduct independent research through an in-depth study of a question relating to one of the subjects they are studying.

Theory of knowledge – a course designed to encourage each student to reflect on the nature of knowledge by critically examining different ways of knowing.

Creativity, action, service – requires that students actively learn from hands-on experience beyond the classroom.

The IB program is now seen as the educational gold-standard around the world. As an Educational Consultant , I am often asked “Do colleges in the UK or US prefer a certain curriculum over another?” “Will an IB education help my child get into a more selective college?”

It is not true that colleges prefer students from one curriculum over the other. US and UK Colleges recruit students from all over the world and they evaluate the student in the context of the curriculum offered at that school. The beauty of the IB diploma is that it mimics the rigour of college life.

Colleges are assured that an IB student comes well prepared to handle the challenges of college. The IBDP with its diversity and mélange of academic and non -academic requirements and civic responsibility woven into its curriculum, stands out .

However, the IB Diploma does not score in terms of flexibility of subjects and is not for everyone. Hence the answer to IB or not to IB lies with your child. Is he the kind of student who has an omnivorous intellectual appetite and enjoys indulging in a buffet of subjects ranging from languages to mathematics ? Or is he a picky eater, who for instance, adores his maths but abhors the languages.

The IB with its 6 subject groups is less flexible than A-levels that lets students specialize and focus on three of four subject areas that they are likely to pursue at university. It is not just the difference between 4 and 6 but more the mandatory language and mathematics component of the IB that is not for everyone.

Good schools nested in A levels also offer opportunities for a student to grow in other areas. The extended essay has become a characteristic of the A level programme and TOK is often addressed through critical studies. A school’s extracurricular usually addresses similar activities to the CAS, particularly if awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, are offered.

The American education philosophy has always been holistic in nature concentrating on the growth of the individual. Though the experience of the IB TOK class and the guided research class for Extended Essay are unduplicated in the AP, The students can show their prowess in subjects of their interests by taking AP courses. Here again, there is greater flexibility as the student chooses the AP classes as opposed to picking from predetermined subject groups. The American curriculum encourages students to pursue extra curricular and community service related projects.Niti-Kewalramani

Which curriculum should your child pursue should be a matter of student preference, interest, and learning style. Focus should be on a curriculum that is sensitive to the needs of the student so as not to undermine his or her
confidence . Another important factor is that of timing. Any change should be well planned to give the student enough lead time to accustom to the challenges of the new curriculum .

“In the end, the choice of the curriculum is about the fit ” – it’s amazing how this line works for so many things including a pair of jeans.

Niti Kewalramani is the Founder and CEO of The Education Advisory – a premium boutique education advisory offering strategic advice and assistance to students exploring higher education options.

You can contact Niti on