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.