The Value of an International School Education

23 July 2019, Wenna Parks

The varied options of educational curricula available among international schools have never been greater, and the number of students aged between 3 and 18 enrolled in international schools in Thailand, as well as around the globe, continues to grow. There are many reasons why an international school education appeals to families, especially as the world becomes more globalised and complex, with enmeshed economies and technologies.

To participate inthis global “citizenship”, students must learn to work with others, whether they are local, national or international; understand diversity; and be open to the innovation and versatility that stems from inter-cultural and international experiences. International schools offer the skills and knowledge that lead down this path, providing students for life beyond their school years in an ever-expanding community that transcends national borders. For transient expat families, such schooling also makes moving from one country to another much more seamless.

Among Bangkok’s international schools, there are several main educational programmes available, namely, the American/Advanced Placement (AP); British/A Level;and International Baccalaureate (IB). All are internationally recognised as qualifications to major universities anywhere in the world. Individual national curricula, such as Singaporean, Australian, Canadian, French and German systems, are also available within the city in fewer numbers but with equal benefit and value.

Schools include both non-profit and private schools run by independent organisations and global education groups. Regardless, the structure of each curriculum determines the progression and development of learning, from early years to pre-university levels.In many cases across Bangkok, schools are offering a combination of curricula, mostly at the latter end of the educational journey, widening the choice further.

Coupled with an international outlook, focus on local culture/values, and experiences related to the outside world, such schools are balancing academics with performing arts, creative arts, music, STEM education and sports, offering students a comprehensive learning pathway. We explore each of the major curricula and their attributes in greater detail below.

American Curriculum

The common themes of enquiry-based learning and student-centred learning and planning underpin the American curriculum. A typical American international school starts with entry to Kindergarten at age 5 (or a nursery programme for younger children), usually with an age cut-off in the fall, around August to September. Students study through to Grade 12; upon completion, they earn a High School Diploma, which is accepted criteria for entrance by American universities and colleges as well as institutions of higher learning across the world.

This education system encompasses core subject matter standards and learning indicators recognised by one of six education accreditation departments in the US, including the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). To gain accreditation, the school’s curriculum must be in line with the standards determined by the organisation. This course of study is bolstered by a wide range of co-curricular and after school activities, from music to sports, volunteering in the community and more, with the goal of equipping students with the skills they need for the 21stcentury.

Standardised tests are used as evidence of learning for students enrolled in American international schools around the world. Many universities internationally require students to take the SAT or ACT for consideration during the university admissions process.

High school students may enrol in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which are offered by several schools in Bangkok. A programme created by the College Board over 60 years ago, AP courses offer college-level curricula and examinations to high school students in a wide variety of content areas. The benefits are to challenge students in a rigorous curriculum, strengthen their university applications, and offer the flexibility for students to select a variety of courses or focus on a specific subject in greater depth. Many American and international colleges and universities (including in the UK and Canada) may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the AP examinations.

British Curriculum 

A British education is based on the English or British National Curriculum. In Britain, it is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 16, with clear provision made for students, based on their ages, in specific developmental Key Stages. A defined curriculum accompanies each Key Stage, with clear assessments and examinations to monitor and track each child’s progress. Each Key Stage encompasses core subjects, including English, mathematics, science and information technology, as well as foundation subjects in the humanities, creative and performing arts, modern languages and physical education.

Students study the International version of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) over the two years of Key Stage 4, from the age of 14 to 16. This includes core and elective subjects. Upon completion of Key Stage 4, students sit for the IGCSE examinations, a formal assessment of the child’s attainment of his or her compulsory education. Students planning to attend university continue onto Key Stage 5 to complete two years of advanced courses, comprised of A Level courses and/or the IB in Years 12 and 13.

Established over 50 years ago, the A Level programme has been the primary qualification for further education in the United Kingdom, a tried and tested model, often referred to as the “Gold Standard” by global universities. An A Level programme offers depth and breadth through a challenging and academic learning path. Typically, students choose three or four subjects in their first year of study [Y12 in the UK curriculum] before narrowing to three in the second year [Y13]. Students focus on subjects where their abilities, passions and strengths lie.

It is also worth noting that other curricula from Commonwealth nations, such as the Singaporean curriculum, offer their students the IGCSE and A Levels in addition to their own combination of core and elective subjects. Core subjects include English, Chinese, mathematics, combined humanities and science. Like other systems, these ensure that students experience a broad-based and balanced education while the electives cater to a range of interests and abilities.

IB Programmes and IB World Schools                                    

The IB system is becoming a prevalent choice internationally, with the hope that IB students, in the words of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), will becomeactive, compassionate lifelong learnerswho “help to build a better world through intercultural understanding and respect”. There are three IB programmes for students aged 3 to18 years, including theIB Primary Years Programme or PYP (ages 3 to 11); the IB Middle Years Programme or MYP (ages 11 to 16); and the IB Diploma Programme (ages 16 to 18) or IB Career Path (16 to 19).

IB World Schools may offer one, two or all three IB programmes. For example, an IB World School may provide primary or secondary education according to a national curriculum (American, British, etc.) but only offer the IB Diploma for its pre-university students. Some international schools may also offer IB courses alongside A Levels and AP classes.

The IB programme promotes hands-on learning through all of its stages, from the early years to secondary school. For older students, projects help tie into different subjects and encourage students to explore their own interests. Also, other components of the curriculum include Theory of Knowledge (TOK), designed to encourage secondary students to reflect on the acquisition of knowledge; an extended essay; and creativity, action and service (CAS), which affords the opportunity to learn from experience by engaging in real tasks.

Along with cognitive development, IB programmes address students’ role in local and global communities.Study of a foreign language is required to complete the course. Secondary school students may choose to pursue the full IB Diploma, individual IB courses, or a combination of IB and regular courses offered by the school. Each course of study can be chosen purely down to the academic goals of the individual student. Like the AP, taking IB courses is a means of challenging students while adding credentials and enhancing the quality of learning to their overall academic portfolio.

When considering the various curricula, first consider the abilities, needs and potential university plans of the individual student in order to create maximum benefit. The combination of curricula certainly offers more varied learning – and a challenging education to those wishing to take that path. On a broader level, the high academic standards and co-curricular activities offered by international schools enrich students with a global outlook and skill set that well prepare them for the future.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in BKK Kids’ International School Guide 2019. For a free digital copy of the guide, which lists the international school options in Bangkok from nursery to secondary levels, please download it here.