What is IB? Experts explain the International Baccalaureate in Singapore

We unravel the International Baccalaureate mysteries of the IB, PYP, MYP, DP and CP programmes in Singapore with some help from the experts...

We’ll be honest, all the acronyms and information surrounding the different curriculums at schools in Singapore does baffle us. Which is why we’ve made it our mission to decipher one of the most popular programmes of all: International Baccalaureate, otherwise known as IB. We’ve been taking a look, with some advice from some of the international schools in the IB-know, at unravelling the differences between your PYP and MYP, with a bit of DP thrown in for good measure. If all this means nothing to you, you need to read on…

International Baccalaureate in Singapore
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an international educational foundation created in 1968 in Switzerland (cheese, chocs, watches and a cool schooling system – the Swiss definitely know what they’re doing) for students aged three to 19 years, and has been in Singapore’s classrooms since 1977. The programme – comprising the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), IB Middle Years Programme (MYP), IB Diploma Programme (DP) and the IB Career-related Programme (CP)– is currently available (with one or more parts of the programme) in 34 schools across Singapore. And for those wondering what exactly the term ‘IB’ refers to?  It’s used in reference to any of the four programmes, or the diploma or certificates attained at the end of the course. Schools in Singapore must be authorised by the International Baccalaureate organisation itself (based in Geneva) to be able to offer IB programmes and to be classed as an IB World School. The IB learner profile (you’ll hear that mentioned a LOT if your child is already part of the programme) will be applied no matter where you are in the world, is relevant to all four programmes, and intends to create keen busy-minded students who are:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

With Singapore being such a transient place for many families, and often here on a short-term basis, the IB offers a solution for internationally mobile families to ensure their small learners can fit in educationally anywhere around the globe.  And anyway, who wouldn’t want a child who is inquisitive, knowledgeable, forward-thinking, communicative (especially you, teenager), principled, brave, balanced and reflective?

IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) – Ages three to 12 years
This programme – available in 19 schools in Singapore – is aimed at your tiny to medium-sized kids who will be prepped by the MYP to become active, caring lifelong learners who respect their own learning journey, and are able to emphasise and participate in the world around them. The programme ticks off a big checklist of values that help every child develop to their maximum potential, and your chosen IB World School will have a curriculum in place that encompasses six ‘transdisciplinary themes’, all aimed at encouraging students to question:

  • Who we are
  • Where we are in place and time
  • How we express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How we organise ourselves
  • Sharing the planet

These themes will be at the heart of the core subjects taught: language, social studies, mathematics, arts, science and physical education. Your child will be assessed throughout the programme with feedback given regularly to both students and parents. So no resting on your laurels, kiddos!

IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) – Ages 11 to 16 years
The learning game is ramped up when it comes to the MYP programme (currently offered at eight schools in Singapore) and students will be expected to make practical connections between their own studies, and the real world (a tough ask of some teenagers, for sure!). It’s designed as an inclusive programme to encourage students, regardless of interests and academic ability, to join in, grow and succeed. Pupils will follow eight subject groups comprised of language A (English or mother tongue), language B (a learned language or English as an Additional Language), mathematics, science,  humanities (history, geography, economics and global issues), technology (information and design), the arts (visual art, music and drama) and physical education. Global contexts across all subjects will be applied to include:

  • Identities and relationships
  • Personal and cultural identity
  • Orientations in space and time
  • Scientific and technical innovation
  • Fairness and development
  • Globalisation and sustainability

In the final year of the programme, MYP eAssessment provides IB-validated grades based on examinations and course work in each subject studied. To obtain the IB MYP Certificate, your child will need to score at least 28 points (the maximum is 56 points), with a grade of 3 or higher in each of the eight eAssessments (grades are assigned from 1-7 for each subject). Students will also receive IB MYP course results for each component completed.

IB Diploma Programme (DP) – Ages 16 to 19 years
Once your not-so-little-anymore kid gets to college age, there are two higher education routes that young adults can go for if they want to continue their IB journey. The DP (not to be confused with a Dependant’s Pass!) was created to suit students who have an excellent understanding, breadth and depth of a wide range of academic subjects and who possess physical, intellectual, emotional and ethical qualities: all of which the earlier PYP and MYP programmes will have bestowed on the learner. DP students will study six subjects (three at higher level, and three at standard level) and be assessed continuously for the duration of the programme. In addition they will be expected to complete a two-year course called Theory of Knowledge (TOK), produce an Extended Essay (EE) and must also engage in Creativity, Action and Service (CAS). Don’t worry, we can explain:

  • TOK: An essay of 1200-1600 words written on a given title (from a choice of ten), followed by a 10-minute presentation in class.
  • EE: An original independent research project in which the student must produce a 3500-4000 word piece on any chosen subject and title.
  • CAS: The student must complete at least 150 hours over an 18 month period engaging in a form of creativity, taking part in a sport or other physical action, and doing a social service.

The DP is recognised as one of the toughest school-leaving qualifications in the world, but as such, students graduating with an IB Diploma are able to continue their education at universities all around the world, often with advanced credit when it comes to placement. Currently, 24 schools in Singapore offer this programme.

IB Career-related Programme (CP) – Ages 16 to 19 years
This one may be a little trickier to enrol your teenager in, as just one school in Singapore (SOTA) currently offers the IB Career-related Programme (CP). Not as academically heavy as its DP counterpart, the framework of this programme incorporates the fundamental vision and educational principles of the IB into a course specifically developed for kids who want to study a more hands-on, career-focused learning path. CP students will follow a study programme that genuinely interests them while still focusing on transferable and lifelong skills. A vocational AND academic programme, so to speak. Students will be expected to undertake:

  • A personal and professional skills course (the development of skills needed to successfully navigate higher education, the workplace and society)
  • The study of an additional language
  • A reflective project (an in-depth body of work produced over a minimum of 40 hours)
  • Service learning (the practical application of knowledge and skills towards meeting an identified community need)

The IB Diploma elements of the IBCP are assessed through written examinations and marked externally, while the IBCP core components (listed above) are examined and marked by the school, in order for your child to receive the CP Certificate. The maximum possible score is 30, with grades awarded as follows:

  • 26-30: A
  • 21-25: B
  • 16-20: C
  • 10-15:  D
  • 0-9: E

Any student receiving an E grade will not be awarded the CP Certificate.

IB explained by those in the know
Still feeling a tad baffled (confession: one of our own has been studying the IB programme for the past ten years, and we’re still not entirely sure of what it’s all about)? We spoke to principals from several IB World Schools to break it down for us noobs:

Richard Henry, Head of School, GEMS World Academy (Singapore)

GEMS World Academy Singapore meet the principal Richard Henry HoneyKids Asia

In a nutshell, what is an IB education and who does it suit best?
An IB education enables students to define who they are, where they come from, their place in the world and how they can make a difference. The holistic framework is broad and balanced, transdisciplinary and inquiry-driven. It provides students with life skills to succeed at school, university and beyond. An IB education builds critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills within a context of cultural awareness and international mindedness.

Within an IB education, the focus of teaching and learning is on concepts and skills underpinned by a student-led, inquiry-driven approach. This ensures that students at different stages of development and with different learning abilities can grow academically, personally, socially and emotionally. Thus, an IB education is best suited for all children.

As a parent unfamiliar with the IB curriculum, why should I choose IB over other options?
An IB education is holistic in nature. That means it ensures development of the whole child. An IB education ensures that children develop skills and attributes which enable them to be adaptable and successful members of a global community. There is research to show that students who complete the Primary and Middle Years IB programmes are more successful than those that just do the Diploma programme in High school.

As I heard recently, there are very few international curriculums. A Levels prepares students for the UK, AP prepares students for the USA, but the IB prepares students for anywhere in the world as well as preparing them for life.

Pritika Chandiramani, Vice Principal and PYP Coordinator, EtonHouse International School (Broadrick)

Can you tell us how the Primary Years Programme works at EtonHouse?
At EtonHouse, there are frequent collaborative planning meetings for every year level. Teachers come together from all the different subject areas to discuss learning goals, how the different subjects can integrate, and the best strategies for meeting individual student needs. After each unit, the teachers reflect on what was good and improvement areas. If something fell short somehow, the team of teachers look at what the issue was, and how they can re-design the learning experiences.
What are the benefits to children studying the PYP syllabus when it comes to their future learning journeys?
IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) students enjoy learner-centered teaching, with an inquiry-based transdisciplinary curriculum model. This means that teaching and learning are designed around what children need, and how they learn best. 

Additionally, an IB World School makes life easier for students who may have to change schools during their PYP years – they can move easily into any of the 1465 IB World Schools offering the Primary Years Programme around the world. All PYP schools follow the same curriculum model.

And last but not least, a benefit of being an IB World School is the strong support we receive as part of a global educational organisation dedicated to improving education. The IB provides a treasure trove of resources, such as workshops, training materials, discussion forums, online libraries and access to high-level experts in very specialised areas of education. 

Katherine Ross, MYP Coordinator, Canadian International School

For parents considering MYP for secondary students, how does this differ from curriculums that might be more widely studied in their home countries?
The MYP is often considered a value-added program, as we focus on all the similar content objectives of other curriculae (international or country-specific) but we put a strong emphasis on building the skills necessary to be successful beyond the classroom, including communication, thinking (critical and creative) and social skills. The MYP is a concept-driven model, looking to build students’ knowledge of the whys and the hows, not just the what. This helps them apply their thinking skills to new problems and situations, making connections to their learning but applying them in new ways and negotiating their understandings. Obviously, this is incredibly important in a rapidly-changing world.

What are the main benefits of MYP for internationally educated students? 
We want students to be making connections between what they are learning in the classroom and their lives outside of the school building, to make the learning real and lasting. For internationally educated students, this may be connecting to some of their experiences in different countries, communities or languages. The fact that MYP is a framework supports students who may not have a traditional learning pathway, as it provides them with the ability to adapt quickly and apply their learning skills to any new opportunity or school system they face. We teach them all of the learning skills they need to be successful, which should allow them to quickly integrate into any new school community, whether it be IB or not.

Pippa Haley, High School Vice Principal of Curriculum, UWCSEA Dover

What are the advantages for students following the IBDP syllabus, as opposed to graduating with alternative high school qualifications?
The IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) provides an internationally recognised pathway to higher education at all levels. It is respected by schools and universities throughout the world, including world-renowned universities. It is designed and monitored by educationalists with the aim of encouraging international awareness. (In fact, the UWC movement has been involved in the development of the programme from its inception.) One of its greatest strengths is its independence from politically motivated interference by any national government.

The required combination of six subjects and the IB Core requirements is a deliberate compromise between the preference for specialisation in some countries and the breadth often preferred in others. The intent is that students learn how to learn, how to analyse, and how to reach considered conclusions about human beings, our social interactions, our languages and literature, and the scientific forces of our global environment. UWCSEA began offering IB Diploma exclusively from 1982 and now has one of the largest graduating cohorts in the world.

We hear that the IBDP can be quite intense, so is there a certain student profile that the syllabus is best suited to?
An academically and personally challenging two-year pre-university course, the IBDP is designed to provide students of different linguistic, cultural and educational backgrounds with the intellectual, social and critical perspectives necessary in the adult world that lies ahead. Students undertaking the IB Diploma need to be prepared for this two-year challenge which requires the intellectual curiosity, motivation and self-discipline to cope with the demands of a programme that requires such a balance of breadth and depth.

So: to IB or not to IB? That’s now up to you!

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