MYP vs GCSEs: The real story
Dubai - Where the two curricula differ, is in their character, and the character traits which they explicitly, or implicitly promote in students
It's fair to say that the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) is somewhat of an enigma to many people and not necessarily well-understood. Here, I will try to de-bunk some of the myths and to draw links and comparisons between the MYP and the more traditionally well-known GCSE.
Students in schools following the English National Curriculum (commonly referred to in Dubai as 'British' curriculum) follow a broad and balanced curriculum which tends, over the first three years of Secondary school, to include traditional subjects such as English, Maths, Sciences, Arts, Humanities, Languages etc. The same is true for the MYP, under which students study subjects from eight subject-groups: Language and Literature, Language Acquisition (usually a 'foreign' language), Arts, Sciences, Humanities (called Individuals and Societies in the MYP) Mathematics, Design and PE/PSHE (Physical and Health Education). In a good school, under either curriculum, students may be taking as many as 15 or 16 discrete subjects.
In English National Curriculum schools, students will generally narrow their subjects taken in Years 10 and 11 (Grades 9 and 10) to study for the publicly-examined GCSEs. The same is true for the MYP - students are able to narrow down their subject groupings to six, in order to focus more on the Arts, or Sciences, or Humanities etc. At the end of the two years of study, English National Curriculum students will typically take between eight and ten GCSE exams, the same is true for MYP, although the scoring is from one to seven (with seven being the highest score) as opposed to one to nine under the new GCSE grading system (previously G to A*).
Where the two curricula differ, is in their character, and the character traits which they explicitly, or implicitly promote in students. The IB has built its approach around the desire to engender 'international mindedness' in students: to develop "inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect". There is a clear and coherent philosophy running throughout the curriculum which encourages IB students to think flexibly and act effectively in any given national or international context - it therefore seems well-suited to students here in Dubai: perhaps the most multicultural city in the world.
The IB identifies ten attributes, which it believes students will need, both for further study, and for life after. In an excellent school, these qualities are often developed in students and there is no barrier to them being developed when studying GCSEs. However, the IB encourages students to think explicitly about being reflective, knowledgeable, caring, a risk-taker, able to think independently and able to ask pertinent questions etc. It is these qualities such as independent inquiry, risk-taking, and awareness of one's own cultural perspective which leading universities value and which mark IB students out from the crowd. Hence, at NLCS (UK), where approximately 40% of students go on Oxford and Cambridge each year, our success rate with IB students is even higher - with Oxbridge entrants representing 75% of the IB cohort this year.
Some have criticised the MYP for the flexibility it allows teachers so they can follow students' interests and that it is therefore too 'loose'. And in poorly run schools, this can be the case. However, whereas the rigid, content-driven exams at GCSE can push teachers at some schools towards 'spoon-feeding' students, the MYP, when taught well, rests on the same rigorous platform of content, but allows students to then develop that content knowledge further and stretches students far above the 'level' to which a GCSE might hold them.
It is this flexibility which the MYP offers schools, and students, which is perhaps its greatest strength; this allows schools to incorporate national requirements within the MYP (such as the teaching of Arabic in the UAE) and to deliver a rigorous content-rich curriculum (such as that of the English National Curriculum) 'within' the MYP framework. This not only allows MYP schools the ability to prepare students for re-entry to the UK system (either at A Level, GCSE or in younger years) but allows those students to be stretched far beyond the constraints of that curriculum to become truly independent, reflective learners who can operate effectively in any curriculum or school-system.
Students' development of conceptual understanding and of the ability to connect knowledge and concepts across their subjects is an enhancement which GCSEs cannot offer, and it is for that reason, among others, that we have chosen to offer the MYP at our 'branch' here in Dubai, opening in September this year.