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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

IGCSE Or IB Program? Which Program Is Better?

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. – Benjamin Franklin

As our world becomes increasinigly more globalized, more and more Malaysian parents prefer to enrol their children in international schools. As a result, the demand for international schools continues to rise. It can be quite an overwhelming experience when it comes to choosing the right schools to suit their children's needs.

Having taught at an IB (International Baccalaureate) school, and now teaching at an IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) school, I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to explore these two internationally recognized programs.

Malaysian parents have shown a growing interest in choosing international schools over the “tuition free” national schools. They are willing to spend thousands of ringgit on school fees simply because English is used more widely in their teaching. In this globalized era, most parents believe English language can provide more benefits for their children at home and abroad.

Let’s compare these two popular programs.

The IGCSE program:

Cambridge Primary (5–11 years)

Cambridge Secondary 1 (11-14 years)

Cambridge Secondary 2 (14-16 years)

The IB program:

Primary Years Programme (PYP, 3-12 years)

Middle Years Programme (MYP, 11-16 years)

IB Diploma (16-19 years)

First of all, all international curriculums are subjected to be revised by a panel of experts every few years. New subjects may be added to the syllabus to keep up with the latest trends in education, while the content of traditional subjects is re-examined in order to build an even stronger foundation for students.

The 21st-century education experts simply can’t ignore the importance of fostering globally minded citizens. Exposing students to global issues will help them develop a broader worldview and appreciation of the international community.

International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is a UK based education program and is modelled after the British GCSE program. International Baccalaureate (IB) is founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968 by a group of university and secondary school teachers. It focuses on inquiry-based learning and provides a broad range of experiences to students.

Both IGCSE and IB grade 10 students take written examinations at the end of their courses before entering university. The two programs emphasis on developing critical thinking skills as well as problem-solving skills. Grade 9 students are given the flexibility to choose subjects that best meet their abilities and interests. Both programs adopt a holistic approach towards education.

IGCSE is a broad and balanced curriculum designed for students of all abilities. They are given a choice between core and extended curriculum. In general, IGCSE is designed for the more academically inclined students. It tends to focus more on knowledge gathering and leaning towards examination-based assessments.

On the other hand, IB stresses on improving global mindset competencies. It is an intense curriculum for both teachers and students. The program can be quite demanding as students are required to develop in-depth knowledge of the general subjects taught in class. All IB students must take part in humanitarian work. The grade 10 students will spend almost a year working on personal projects (PP). PP require in-depth analysis in research which can be quite challenging to some students.

IGCSE program has a more structured curriculum. The curriculum is pre-designed. Books and teaching instructions are provided clearly by the Cambridge University.

IB teachers focus on conceptual learning and are heavily involved in designing courses based on the six global contexts.

Compares to IB, IGCSE is often seen as a more affordable option. Perhaps this is why IGCSE is more popular among the Malaysian parents because of the clear structure it provides and the affordability. IB is often being viewed as an “elite” education program. Pursuing IB program can be costly as it is expensive to implement due to the use of modern technology to support student learning.

IB uses the scale of 1-7 to assess and report on a student’s performance. IGCSE has a letter-based grading system: A*, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and U (ungraded). Some universities required IB diploma students to score at least a 5 to be eligible to join their programs.

If you want value for your money, do your homework when choosing an international school for your child. Make time to study the school policy, vision and mission. Nothing compares to talking to parents who send their children to different international schools. Find out the strength of the schools of your choice. After all, the fees are not cheap.

Children spend an average of 5-7 hours at schools. Therefore, a good school plays an important role in shaping their worldview. Choosing the right program that suits your child’s need is important. However, it is more important to find a school where teachers are able to implement the program effectively to support student learning. You want to look for teachers who are very engaged and use feedback from students to evaluate and improve their teaching experience.

Speak to the teachers personally, find out their teaching methods, the school syllabus and other issues. Only teachers can give you the most detailed overview of student daily life and their expectations placed on the students. A teacher who is able to explain the syllabus well says a lot about the school and her ability to teach. A teacher who is willing to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of education is certainly a school’s greatest asset.

Some international schools prefer hiring teachers from different cultural background to promote diversity and multiculturalism to students. Others are keen to preserve their school cultural identity through an international education program. Regardless of the implementation of school philosophy, the objective of having an international program is to put global learning in practice. Educators need to better prepare students for today's global realities and challenge them to think and act both locally and globally.

So all my statements boil down to one single question: Which program is better? IGCSE or IB? As education continues to evolve, and the trends of education continue to change, comparing apples and oranges will never produce a fair result.

To sum up: A farmer who knows how to plant and grow apple trees will definitely harvest apples that taste good and are juicy, the same principle applies to the orange growers. In other words, it all boils down to the school's ability to manage and run internationally-recognized education program successfully,

Article published in Dreamic Educational Magazine, 2018.

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