International Baccalaureate (IB) vs Cambridge International Examinations(CIE)- The better system?

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  • Do you think your child is being pushed too hard in the current system of education? Are you moving countries and want to explore what curriculum would suit your child best? Does it bother you that your neighbor’s child gets more homework? Ever wondered what the different school systems offer? If you’ve found yourself in any of these situations, read this and make an informed decision.

    What’s their story?

    The International Baccalaureate (IB) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968 as a non-profit educational foundation by a group of talented, forward-thinking teachers. It now offers four programmes for students aged 3 to 19. Currently, IB is being offered in 3747 schools across 139 different countries.

    Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) is the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5 to 19 year olds. The University of Cambridge formed the ‘Local Examinations Syndicate’, over 150 years ago. In 1858, 370 students across 7 cities took exams. Today this has risen to more than 8 million candidates a year in 160 countries.

     How do the two curriculum’s differ?

     IB Diploma Programme requires completion of courses in 6 subject areas (that are: English, Foreign Language, History, Math Science and an elective subject).Three of these courses are to be taken at the ‘Higher Level’ (240 teaching hours) and three are to be taken at the ‘Standard Level’ (150 teaching hours). This takes into account that every child does not excel at all subjects equally and therefore allows them to take ‘Higher Level’ subjects in which they are either interested in or excel at the most. It’s important for parents to know that the primary difference between ‘Higher’ and ‘Standard’ Level is in the quantity of instructional time and in no way compromises the quality of instruction. Students can study and take examinations, in English, French or Spanish.

    CIE offers a variety of programmes and qualifications‘Cambridge Secondary’ caters to students aged between 14 and 16, whereas, ‘Cambridge Advanced’ caters to 16-19 year olds. The details of the two systems are as follows:

      Main Focus Suited For Offers Assessment
    1. Cambridge IGCSE
    Curriculum offers learners a variety of routes for learners Students, whose first language is not English Over 70 subjects including 30 languages Takes place at the end of the course and can include written, oral, coursework and practical assessment
    1. Cambridge O Level (GCE)
    Curriculum enables teaching to be placed in a localized context and provides learners with excellent preparation for academic progression to Cambridge Advanced as well as other progression routes An international audience as it  is sensitive to the needs of different countries and for learners whose first language may not be English Over 40 subjects  that can be taken in any combination Assessment takes place at the end of the course and includes written, oral and practical examinations.
    1. Cambridge International AS and A Level
    To prepare learners for university study Students who are looking for flexibility and wish to  specialize in a particular subject area or study a range of subjects A choice of 55 subjects and schools can offer them in almost any combination A Level is typically a two-year course, and AS Level is typically one year[1]
    1. Cambridge Pre- U
    Promoting deep understanding through subject specialization, that is appropriate for progression to higher education For students who want to develop knowledge and skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and most importantly independent learning Cambridge Pre-U is available in 25 Principal Subjects. Each of these subjects  is a two-year programme of study with exams at the end[2]

    Which system is better for your child?

    The IB system’s method of choosing subjects is more constraining in comparison with the Cambridge system. Both systems allow retaking subjects to improve grades in November and June. Additionally both systems allow, retaking part of the entire subject enabling students to focus on what they messed up earlier. The Cambridge system allows students to choose subjects in which they are interested and therefore likely to do well. Whereas, the IB Programme expects students to do subjects that they may not necessarily be good at or comfortable with. The IB program has testing throughout the year (a combination of internal and external testing throughout the year, whereas, in the Cambridge system, testing is conducted at the end of the year. This results in student’s cramming information just before the exams and still manages to get good grades. The routine testing throughout the IB programme enables students to develop regular studying habits and grant them more leeway to improve their grade because of more assessments.  Qualification awarded by both systems is globally accepted and recognized. The Cambridge System has been around for longer but the IB system is gaining popularity in a number of regions.

    Both systems of education aim to develop a strong academic foundation in order to prepare students for university. As a parent, we must assess and accept our child’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, studying habits and personality and help them find their own in whichever system is better suited for them to excel.

    [1] Some subjects can be started as a Cambridge International AS Level and extended to a Cambridge International A Level.

    [2] Short Courses (typically one-year programmes) are also available in some subjects.

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