Monday, June 7, 2010

Ask Mrs Lim - May 2010

1. What is the difference between GCE “A” Level and IB? Which is better for my child?

Simply put, the GCE "A" Level curriculum emphasises depth within each subject discipline while the IB is about breadth across a range of subjects. 

In the Singapore GCE "A" Level system, admission to local universities depends on the university admission score (UAS), which is calibrated based on the following subjects: three H2 subjects and one H1 subject (one of which must be a contrasting subject), General Paper, and Project Work. Students must also obtain at least a D7 in Mother Tongue; the Mother Tongue grade can be used in the calculation of the UAS if its inclusion helps to increase the score. For admission to overseas universities, students should have good grades in at least three of the H2 subjects. Students can also differentiate themselves in terms of academic rigour and depth of understanding in a particular subject area by offering an H3 subject in the discipline that they wish to pursue at tertiary level.

For the International Baccalaureate (IB), students take three subjects at Standard level and three at Higher level. Students also have to meet requirements for three other components - Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity, Action & Service (CAS), and an Extended Essay (EE).  If you fail any of these subjects or components, you fail the whole examination. Each of the 6 subjects carry a maximum of 7 points; another 3 points are available depending upon the marks gained for TOK and EE. The maximum number of points is 45. Most overseas universities will consider admitting IB students with 39 points and above, but admission into the university will still be based on personal statements, recommendations and other criteria.

As to which is better for your child, my take is that for students who like to delve deep into subject areas, be it science, mathematics, history, economics or literature, the "A" level is a better route as it allows the child to go as far as he or she wants to. For example, the H3 subjects provide students with a variety of learning opportunities to pursue areas in which they have interest and exceptional aptitude. This includes exploring advanced content, and attending research attachments to the various science research institutes, as well as to local and international universities. Those who prefer working on their own and pursuing their own research area – especially in mathematics and the sciences – will therefore find the "A" level curriculum more suited to their needs. 

On the other hand, as most subjects in the IB have a 20% school-based component assessed by the teachers within the school, your child is provided less time to delve deeply into a subject, as curriculum time is spread more broadly across the different subjects. This also means that your child’s grade depends not on a final examination, but on the consistent work that he or she would have to produce throughout the year.Such school-based assessment components include presentations and independent papers. To this end, the IB pedagogy is characterised by much interaction in class; your child would also have to be strong in his or her language ability, and enjoy giving presentations and writing papers across a range of subject matters. The IB curriculum articulates well into university courses that are broad-based, along the lines of the liberal arts colleges.

In my recent interaction with top US colleges (such as Princeton and University of Pennsylvania) and UK universities (such as Oxford, Cambridge and the London Universities), they still put a premium on academic rigour and prefer students to exhibit depth within subject areas. Scholarship boards also highlight the need for intellectual rigour, content mastery, and a strong grasp of subject matter within and outside of the syllabus.

My advice to parents choosing between the two is to think about the personality of your child as well as his or her learning style. Think also about his or her future plans for university and career, and work backwards. If your child is unable to keep up with the consistent work needed for continual assessment because of commitments that take him or her out of classes or school, the IB may not be a good idea. However, if your child has an interest in many disciplines and prefers not to focus only on a few areas, and has a strong command of the English Language as well, then the IB will be an interesting option for him or her.

2. Is RI going to offer IB soon? If not, why?

RI will continue to offer the GCE "A" Level because of its academic rigour. We have considered offering a small group of our students who prefer a broad-based curriculum an alternative, such as the IB. Whether we are able to do this depends on the Ministry of Education. As of now, there is no indication when we are able to do this.

Friday, January 29, 2010

January: Every Rafflesian a Lifelong Reader

A good friend who has two children was recently lamenting to me that they do not like reading and because of that they are not scoring good enough marks for English. So he tried to take them to bookshops and libraries and stipulated a few hours of reading each day. He reported that they did not take to this regimentation very enthusiastically.

I asked if he himself enjoyed reading himself and was often found with a magazine or a book. He confessed that he was a couch potato and preferred to watch movies and television. Therein lies the crux of the issue. Children who read tend to pick up the habit from their parents. If there are reading materials strewn about the house, or if parents recommend interesting books for their children to read from young, the habit will catch on very naturally.

Prof Tommy Koh once shared at a breakfast talk that the cultured person is one who has read history and literature, and he recommended very highly some of the literacy classics of Southeast Asia, such as the Ramayana and the Analects. He said that every time he travels, his wife would pack two books in his luggage and he had the happy excuse of staying in his hotel room to read in the evenings, rather than spend the evening wondering what to do with himself.

I have a list of 2009 books I would like to recommend for adult readers and a separate list for younger boys. (Please see below.)

As we herald in a new year, my wish is for every Rafflesian to be a lifelong reader. No one can be lonely when they continually bask in the warmth of a good book and no one can be dogmatic or narrow-minded if they are constantly exposed to ideas and perspectives from different people.

A Dozen Good Reads for Boys 


A History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Little History of the World by E H Grombich

Undercover Economist by Tim Harford

1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies

The Pig that Wants to be Eaten (and 99 Other Thought Experiments) by Julian Baggini

The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything by
Robert Frank


The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Narnia Chronicles by C S Lewis

The Hobbit by J R Tolkien

The Waterworks by El Doctorow

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Heartland by Daren Shiau

My Top 10 Books for Adults in 2009

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson

How the Mighty Fall And Why Some Companies Never Give In by Tim Collins

The Flipside: Finding the Hidden Opportunities in Life by Adam J Jackson

The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger Martin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas by Richard Ogle

Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement by William Duggan

Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently by Gregory Berns

Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson