The American Curriculum is the third most popular with international schools in Malaysia, and prepares students for tertiary education at
universities in the United States.
Comprising guidelines that govern the education systems of different states, the American curriculum has gradually shifted its focus away from examinations and currently places a greater emphasis on project work, experiential learning, out-ofclassroom activities and exposure to unconventional subjects.
Unlike the British National Curriculum that is sectioned into key stages – each of which concludes with examinations – the American system encourages continual learning of all subjects, through all grades from elementary school till the students graduate high school. Instead of termly examinations, the preferred form of testing is through frequent assignments and quizzes. While the British system leads to the GCSE and A Level programmes which streamline subjects as students head towards university, students of the American curriculum are provided more opportunities to continue studying all subjects without streaming or specialisation before starting their tertiary education.
The variety of syllabi that exist concurrently across the US have been partially streamlined by the Common Core, which outlines the knowledge a student should have at the end of each school grade, with regards to fundamental subjects like mathematics, science and English. However, not all states in the US implement this. Although it was first adopted by 41 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity, a few states have controversially dropped this practice in favour of their own methodologies.
Curriculums are defined and implemented by each local government in the US, as each state has its own department of education and financial model. In some states, education is compulsory till the age of 16, while in others this mandate is implemented until the child turns 18.
The American system remains the third most popular curriculum across all international schools in Malaysia, after the British National Curriculum and the International Baccalaureate. Up to three-quarters of American international school students aren’t American, but have chosen or were enrolled in this system partly because of its dynamic nature. Many parents pick this elementary, middle and high school system as it prepares their children for college in the US. American international schools implement varied curriculums but must adhere to one state’s educational practices and be accredited by that respective region’s governing body.
The fundamental differences between the US and UK education systems begin at the preschool level. In the US, children usually start kindergarten at the age of five, while children in the UK tend to start a year younger.This means Grade 1 in the US is equivalent to Year 2 in the UK.
While students of the British curriculum leave the system to apply to university or join the working world after A Levels or GCSEs, students of the American system graduate at the end of high school. At this point, students will possess a set of assessments that qualify them for either college or employment. Some high schools, but not all, issue high school diplomas if a student achieves good grades at the end of Grade 12. A high school graduate will also possess a Grade Point Average (GPA), which is an average score obtained from tests, exams, assignments, projects, reports, class attendance and participation. Students also sit for a Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, which is used for college admissions.
An increasingly popular international education system, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) commences when a student is approximately 16 years old. Typically lasting three years, this programme is designed to prime students for university life and the working world.
Sparking empathy and inquisitiveness are hallmarks of the IBDP, which necessitates and trains independent thought and research. Held at the tail end of the International Baccalaureate’s continuum of international education, which spans ages 3 to 19, the diploma programme is noted for its academic and personal emphasis.
The curriculum comprises six subject groups and the programme core. Students choose one subject each from five groups – sciences; mathematics; language and literature; language acquisition; and individuals and societies – and either an art subject from the sixth group or a second subject from the first five groups.They learn at least two languages and are exposed to a myriad of different cultures.
Diploma subjects are taken at either a higher level (HL) or standard level (SL) course, which differ in scope.Three or four subjects are taken at higher level (totalling 240 teaching hours), while the other subjects are taken at standard level (totalling 150 teaching hours).
The Diploma Programme core comprises the extended essay, theory of knowledge and creativity, action, service (CAS).The extended essay requires students to engage in independent questioning and research of a specific subject, which they examine through the lens of at least two Diploma Programme subjects. Alongside the extended essay, the theory of knowledge cultivates one’s approach to learning, and CAS nurtures an appreciation for the community and giving back.
Besides school assessment tasks that are either initially marked by teachers and then moderated by external moderators or sent directly to external examiners, the IBDP also involves written examinations held at the end of the programme that are marked by external IB examiners. Students are awarded a grade ranging from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) for each subject they take. For theory of knowledge and the extended essay, they can be awarded up to three additional points for these combined results, and students who gain at least 24 points receive a diploma certification, provided all other prerequisites like participation and CAS are fulfilled.The highest possible mark is 45 points.
The International Baccalaureate states that its mission is ‘to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect’. As such, the organisation maintains strong ties with all partner schools, governments and international organisations in a bid to cultivate challenging curriculums for students of all backgrounds.
Beyond the emphasis of intellect and learning, the IBDP also places significant focus on the physical, emotional and ethical development of students. Armed with an international outlook, interpersonal skills and effective attitudes, these well-rounded students are taught compassion and to celebrate all points of view.
The IBDP is fast becoming the programme of choice for the last years of secondary school. Its unique system has proven to yield graduates who manage their time well and adapt quickly to heavy workloads, and students who undertake the IBDP in Malaysia are known for scoring well above the world average.