The significant differences in educational experience worldwide can be partly attributed to the specific curriculum each school or district is using. These curricula typically reflect societal values and the needs of students in each unique location. That said, there are several curricula that are in use worldwide. It is safe to say that there is no absolute best program but some can offer distinct advantages over the other curriculums for some students. The following is an evaluation, from a Grade 10 IB student’s perspective, of three of the largest and best known international systems; International Baccalaureate (IB), International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) (as well as A levels) and Advanced Placement (AP).

IB

The International Baccalaureate, commonly known as the IB, is a non-profit organization that was founded, and is still headquartered, in Switzerland. The IB focuses on broader subjects than some other curricula and has a large variety of courses from Global Politics to Philosophy.

In schools, the IB Programmes begin in kindergarten and finish at grade twelve. The Primary Years Programme (PYP) is Kindergarten to Grade 5, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) runs from Grade 6 to Grade 10 and the Diploma Programme (DP), the final two years of IB, are Grades 11 and 12. Schools can offer any combination of the programmes and must participate in an accreditation cycle to constantly evolve, develop and improve their programming. 

There is also an additional program that can be introduced in a student’s final years called the Career Related Programme which fuses students’ own professional interests with their academic subjects, preparing them with skills that are necessary for their career pathways. 

Students also participate in many projects that allow them to dive into their professional or personal interests; the most significant are the culminating experiences of the three programmes. Grade 5 students complete the PYP Exhibition, where they research a global issue or concept before presenting their findings and engaging in an activity to support their findings. Grade 10 students complete the MYP Personal Project, where the topic and success criteria are largely student-determined. Finally, students complete the Extended Essay in the DP, where each student writes an independent and self directed 4000 word paper.

IB is often considered to be more difficult than other curriculums due to the graduation requirements. Students must complete 6 subjects with at least 3 higher level classes – these are classes that explore more advanced concepts and further prepare students for University subjects.  DP students also have to complete the IB Creativity, Activity and Service program, commonly known as CAS. CAS is a component of the DP which is not formally assessed but required for the student to complete the diploma. Students participate in activities in each of the three areas and undergo a final project demonstrating learning and personal growth through the experience.

In contrast to the MYP grading system which assigns students scores from 1 to 8 based solely on their academic achievement, the DP final score (a sum of all the DP courses and experiences) considers many factors in addition to classes such as higher level courses, exams, CAS, Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay. Students must earn 24 points to pass; a student can earn a maximum score of 45 points.

IGCSE & A Levels

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is the international version of the UK’s General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). With over 70 subjects for students in year 10 and 11 to choose from, the curriculum focuses on subject specialization and goes into greater depth in certain subjects than IB’s Diploma Programme. This puts the focus on academics in comparison to the IB which also addresses critical thinking skills and global awareness. 

In contrast to the IB, which offers consecutive courses for elementary and secondary students, IGCSE and A levels are both two year programs designed for students age 14 and up. IGCSE runs from year 10 to year 11 and A levels from year 12 to year 13. A levels are the equivalent of the DP, though the most distinct difference is students need to choose three to four subjects in A levels whereas IB DP students need to choose at least 6 with 3 higher levels. The grading system of IGCSE and A levels are essentially the same as they both utilise a letter grading system though IGCSE uses A to G while A levels use A to E.

The International Certificate in Education (ICE) can be issued by the Cambridge examination board to students who pass seven subjects within the groups of Language Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Sciences, Mathematics, Creative and Vocational subjects (Computer Science, Arts, Business Management etc). The award is issued in three categories:

  • Pass is earned by achieving a grade G or better in seven subjects. 
  • Merit is earned by achieving a grade C or above in five subjects and F or above in two. 
  • Distinction, the highest ICE award, is earned when a student achieves a grade A or better in five subjects and C or better in two.

AP

The AP, short for Advanced Placement, is an American highschool curriculum and therefore most widespread throughout the US. It is used in nearly 14,000 schools worldwide and prepares students to tackle college level school work in highschool. 

It uses a 5 point scale for assessments and tests. A score of 3 signifies being qualified and 5 represents being extremely well qualified. In contrast to the other curriculums which have cohesive structures, AP is focused on building a student’s subject knowledge and competency. 

There are 38 available courses which are grouped into seven categories; Arts, English, History and Social Sciences, Math and Computer Science, Sciences, World Language and Culture. Even though AP is easily accessible and recognised within the US, it can be hard to find an AP school overseas, therefore it is more viable for citizens in the US as it is more common and cost effective.

Do Universities have preferences?

According to AISB college counselor Josiah Laposky, there are different pathways for different graduates from different curriculums. Ultimately, acceptance can be dependent on both the student’s community contributions and academic performance. Universities often set benchmark scores in several curricula to easily compare students, regardless of their high school diploma. 

There is no one true way to measure, compare or rank the different curricula as each prepares students for certain fields and success is highly dependent on the student’s own motivation and achievements. 

Disclaimer: This article was written by an IB MYP student seeking information about alternative, comparable curricula. While the IB section is larger than the others, this can be attributed to the information about the PYP, MYP, and additional graduation requirements (CAS, etc) that are not present in the other curricula.