The wide reach of IGCSEs

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BRIGHT KIDS -

BE­SIDES the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion and ex­am­i­na­tion sys­tem, the next most pop­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem avail­able in Malaysia is the IGCSE sys­tem. Th­ese Bri­tish ex­am­i­na­tions, the In­ter­na­tional Gen­eral Cer­tifi­cate of Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion, are the in­ter­na­tional ver­sion of the United King­dom’s na­tional Gen­eral Cer­tifi­cate of Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion (GCSEs).

The IGCSEs are of­fered by Cam­bridge In­ter­na­tional Ex­am­i­na­tions (CIE), which is part of the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge and is the world’s largest provider of in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes. It can be ex­trap­o­lated that the Cam­bridge IGCSE is the most pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in the world be­cause of the vast­ness of the Com­mon­wealth, but it is more than this that makes the pro­gramme so pop­u­lar.

In the last few years, the In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate (IB), another in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme, has been gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity around the world, but the IGCSE con­tin­ues to main­tain a good hold in Malaysia and is the most-of­fered in­ter­na­tional pro­gramme in the coun­try.

Dif­fer­ent ap­proaches

As part of its bid to be­come a re­gional ed­u­ca­tion hub, Malaysia has an abun­dance of in­ter­na­tional schools – cur­rently there are about 90 cam­puses through­out the coun­try – and only 12 of them do not of­fer the IGCSE pro­gramme. Why its con­tin­u­ing pop­u­lar­ity? Ba­si­cally, the Cam­bridge IGCSE pro­gramme re­mains so pop­u­lar in Malaysia is be­cause the sys­tem has been proven to be com­pre­hen­sive, holis­tic and a good in­di­ca­tor of aca­demic and think­ing skills.

One way this is achieved is through a cur­ricu­lum that al­lows stu­dents to choose from a va­ri­ety of learn­ing routes that will en­able them to ex­plore and de­velop a wide range of abil­i­ties and skills. This is per­haps the pro­gramme’s big­gest draw, and its main dif­fer­ence from the Malaysian na­tional cur­ricu­lum, which is com­par­a­tively lim­ited.

While the ma­jor­ity of na­tional schools stream SPM stu­dents into two dis­tinct cat­e­gories – sci­ence and arts – ac­cord­ing to CIE, the IGCSE cur­ricu­lum em­pha­sises build­ing breadth of knowl­edge and cross-cur­ric­u­lar per­spec­tives. This means that stu­dents are en­cour­aged to study a va­ri­ety of sub­jects and ex­plore con­nec­tions be­tween them.

The SPM pro­gramme does of­fer a va­ri­ety of sub­jects, from the usual arts and lit­er­a­ture, and sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics, to lan­guages, so­cial sciences, and vo­ca­tional and tech­ni­cal sub­jects. How­ever, the ma­jor­ity of schools of­fer only the con­ven­tional arts, lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics sub­jects, lim­it­ing the stu­dents’ choices in higher study and even­tu­ally ca­reer.

This is not to say that all in­ter­na­tional schools of­fer ev­ery IGCSE sub­ject avail­able – as with na­tional schools, the sub­jects of­fered de­pends on the schools’ ca­pac­ity and avail­abil­ity of qual­i­fied teach­ers. But stu­dents do have more choices in what they want to study, sub­jects that are of­fered are wider in scope, and teach­ing and learn­ing meth­ods are through dis­cus­sion, in­ter­ac­tion, un­der­stand­ing and ap­pli­ca­tion.

CIE lists the fol­low­ing as ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment and in­tended out­comes of the IGCSE pro­gramme: Sub­ject con­tent Ap­ply­ing knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing to new as well as un­fa­mil­iar sit­u­a­tions In­tel­lec­tual en­quiry Flex­i­bil­ity and re­spon­sive­ness to change

Work­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing in English In­flu­enc­ing out­comes Cul­tural aware­ness


For an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to be truly ef­fec­tive, it has to change with the times. Malaysia’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has re­mained fun­da­men­tally un­changed since the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence, but sys­tem­atic changes are cur­rently be­ing im­ple­mented in or­der to reach the goals set by the Malaysia Ed­u­ca­tion Blue­print 2013-2025.

Teach­ing and learn­ing is set to change to a less exam-ori­ented sys­tem, and test­ing will, ide­ally, be no longer just for the ob­jec­tive of achiev­ing high grades, but to en­sure un­der­stand­ing and ap­pli­ca­tion of knowl­edge. The new de-cen­tralised ex­am­i­na­tion sys­tem, which will slowly be put into place start­ing end of this year with the na­tional third form PMR ex­ams, is aimed at elim­i­nat­ing the need for con­tent re­call and in­stead en­sure stu­dents are trained to think crit­i­cally.

The very fact that the na­tional sys­tem is be­ing changed to ac­com­mo­date th­ese el­e­ments shows how im­por­tant they are to chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and fu­ture, as well as the fu­ture of the na­tion.

The GCSE, the UK na­tional sys­tem, will also be un­der­go­ing some changes from next year. Ac­cord­ing to the UK’s Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, the sys­tem is be­ing re­formed to of­fer more chal­leng­ing sub­ject con­tent and rig­or­ous as­sess­ment struc­tures in or­der to pro­vide proper prepa­ra­tion of the A-Lev­els ex­am­i­na­tion, the next step be­tween sec­ondary school and univer­sity.

No changes to the IGCSEs have been an­nounced, but ed­u­ca­tion­al­ists have ob­served that the GCSE re­forms may be an at­tempt to bring the sys­tem up to the higher stan­dards of the IGCSEs. The IGCSEs are a lin­ear ex­am­i­na­tion sys­tem – one big exam is taken at the end of the year, and there is no course­work, as com­pared to the mod­u­lar GCSEs, where a few ex­ams still of­fer mul­ti­ple choice ques­tions.

In fact, there is a cur­rent trend in the UK for lo­cal stu­dents to take some IGCSE ex­ams in­stead of GCSEs, and even of dou­ble en­tries – stu­dents tak­ing both ex­ams for a few sub­jects, prob­a­bly with the in­ten­tion ei­ther us­ing the higher grade or the per­ceived pres­tige of the IGCSE for col­lege or univer­sity en­try.

On the other side of the coin, there are ob­servers who com­ment that the IGCSEs are ac­tu­ally eas­ier than the GCSEs and so it is eas­ier for stu­dents to ob­tain higher scores.

Ei­ther way, there seems to be a be­gin­ning of a shift in fo­cus to­wards a more exam-ori­ented sys­tem with em­pha­sis on high scores. In­ter­est­ingly, this is the op­po­site of what is hap­pen­ing in Malaysia.

Look­ing in­wards and out­wards

In Malaysia, there are ar­gu­ments that a na­tional sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion turns out na­tion builders while an in­ter­na­tional cur­ricu­lum may not be ap­pro­pri­ate or rel­e­vant to the life of the stu­dent or to his coun­try.

But while the IGCSEs have an in­ter­na­tional out­look, the pro­gramme has been specif­i­cally de­vel­oped in each of the more than 120 coun­tries it is of­fered in to re­tain lo­cal rel­e­vance. The CIE states that the pro­gramme was cre­ated for an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent body and to avoid any cul­tural bias.

This essen­tially means that stu­dents grad­u­ate as global cit­i­zens with both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional un­der­stand­ing.

In Malaysia, giv­ing the sciences pri­or­ity over the arts in ed­u­ca­tion has been a na­tional pol­icy that has been in place since the 1970s. The ob­jec­tive of this is to pro­duce suf­fi­cient grad­u­ates for the sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engineering and math­e­mat­ics (STEM)-driven econ­omy that is part of Vi­sion 2020.

To any lay­man, the ob­serv­able re­sults of this pol­icy are a large per­cent­age of sci­ence-stream grad­u­ates, a ne­glect to­wards the de­vel­op­ment of the arts stream – which has per­haps led to a re­tar­da­tion in the growth of the Malaysian arts scene — and gen­er­a­tions of young peo­ple who were un­able to pur­sue their true in­ter­ests be­cause they were en­cour­aged or even forced, for var­i­ous rea­sons, to take up sciences in­stead of the arts.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Blue­print has out­lined steps to raise the per­cent­age of sci­ence grad­u­ates, in­clud­ing by rais­ing stu­dent in­ter­est through new learn­ing ap­proaches and an en­hanced cur­ricu­lum.

For Malaysians then, the IGCSEs may seem a more open and com­pre­hen­sive al­ter­na­tive to ed­u­ca­tion than the na­tional sys­tem.

As an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised qual­i­fi­ca­tion and an ex­am­i­na­tion sys­tem that feeds di­rectly into the A-Lev­els sys­tem, it cer­tainly is a good choice.

There is no doubt that Malaysia re­quires na­tion builders, but as the coun­try moves to­wards be­com­ing a de­vel­oped na­tion, it also needs peo­ple with the abil­ity to con­ceive and ac­tu­alise worlden­com­pass­ing ideas, no mat­ter their area of study.

Un­til the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is able to mould stu­dents into th­ese global lead­ers, it seems that in­ter­na­tional sys­tems such as the IGCSE will re­main at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tives.

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