The Differences Explained Of School Curricula

Choosing a curriculum is never a big deal when you have only have one or two options, however this is not the case in Dubai. With almost every world renowned curriculum available, making a simple decision is a tough job for parents. In this feature, we look at the three most popular curricula, the British, American and International Baccalaureate, and have identified the characteristics of each, with the help of the experts, to give parents an understanding of each curriculum to best suit their child.

International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate offers three educational programmes, the IB Diploma Programme, the IB Middle Years Programme and the IB Primary Years Programme all aimed at different age groups.

International Baccalaureate programmes focus on providing students with the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, and actions that youngsters need to equip them for successful, educated lives - both presently and for the future.

Students do not take subject based classes separately, but as part of a multidisciplinary unit. While the Primary Years Programme has seen great success, the Middle Years Programme is still developing, however, the Diploma Programme is well established, and very thorough and research based.

Connector asked education experts from schools in Dubai that offer IB, on what benefits your child will gain if you choose this curriculum for them.

Cognitive learning

“From the youngest primary student to the 18 year old graduate, IB students are caring and responsible citizens who have been taught to confidently express ideas and opinions and to propose solutions that can make a difference. This empathy, ability to make connections and study of how the world works makes them the natural leaders of the future“, said Andrew Mitchell, Head of Primary, Green Field Community School. Focus on life-long learning  “IB students are taught ‘how to learn’ using communication, research, self-management, collaboration and critical thinking skills so that they become life-long-learners not just people who, once upon a time, passed an exam”, adds Andrew Mitchell of Green Field Community School. Strong emphasis on inquiry
Daniel Lewis, Principal at North London Collegiate School Dubai said, “There is a strong emphasis on inquiry - and thus the IB has a reputation for producing students who are independent in the way that they study, and even in the way that they think, allowing them to ‘stand out from the crowd’ when applying to institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, or Ivy League US colleges.”

Good for family on the move

“A worldwide recognised curriculum, the International Baccalaureate is a program that helps the child become a global citizen. The IB is centralised in Geneva and each school is accredited by their accreditation team to be a truly IB school, as well as an in-country accreditation team, usually. This curriculum is especially good for a family that is on the move often as it translates very well around the world and is recognised internationally”, said Maggie Baxter, Consultant, Gabbitas Middle East.

Diligent study programme

“IB Curriculum consists of three programmes, the PYP (Primary Years Programme, the MYP (Middle Years Programme) and the DP (Diploma Programme). The DP is a very rigorous, academically and research wise, fabulous for studious, disciplined students. The IB diploma is recognised at all major universities around the world.” commented Maggie Baxter of Gabbitas Middle East.

“The rigorous DP curriculum’s teaching approach focusses on three major learning processes, namely, Theory of Knowledge (TOK), which examines types, nature, and limitations of different ways of learning and different areas of knowledge, an Extended Essay, which requires an in-depth study of a particular topic within a subject, providing students with the opportunity to hone their research skills, and Creativity, Action and Service (CAS), which complements the theoretical aspect of the curriculum by inculcating healthy skills and traits like creativity and proactiveness". said Ramesh Mudgal the Principal of Global Indian International School Dubai.

British Curriculum

The British curriculum has a more formal structure which ensures that children develop their potential across a vast amount of areas. The main areas that the British curriculum focus on are what are considered ‘core’ subjects in the form of English, Mathematics and Science. The subjects offered are tailored to the age groups of the students as well as their own individual capabilities.

There are a high number of schools in Dubai offering the British curriculum and Connector asked experts from some of these schools what parents can expect for their child.

Coherent course of study

“It provides a coherent course of study supported by a wealth of focused, tried and tested materials. It is one of (if not the) most popular models within international education. At GCSE (16 years of age) and A Level (18) it provides a common examination system across the subject range which carries global authority and recognition amongst universities and employers”, said Peter Hill the Principal of Jebel Ali School.

Strong focus on literacy and numeracy and the sciences

“The British curriculum is very structured, it is broken down into 6 stages starting with the Foundation years through Key Stage 1-4 and ending with the Post 16 years. There are a number of statutory areas that are set out for all schools to follow and these tend to be subject orientated with a strong focus on literacy and numeracy and the sciences”, said Fiona McKenzie, Director at Gabbitas Middle East.

Track childrens' progress through the system

Fiona McKenzie of Gabbitas Middle East further added, “There are regular testing points to make sure children are achieving their potential and GCSE’s and A Levels are widely regarded as the gold standard in external exams. This means that it is easy to track children through the system and to ensure progress and also that each child is introduced to the essential knowledge they need to be well rounded citizens in an age appropriate way.”


Fiona Cottam the Principal and Chief Academic Officer at Hartland International School said, “As a result of its “Gold Standard”, British education has achieved an enviable and much deserved worldwide reputation for quality. It is recognised and respected around the world and is transferable as a formal qualification, ensuring that students can move not just seamlessly from country to country, but can also progress to the most reputable universities across the continents thus making it a truly international curriculum of choice.”

Holistic development

Sasha Crabb, Principal of Victory Heights Primary School told us "This curriculum marry initiative strategies and use a range of methods such as drama, art and music to hook attention and make learning contextual often with real life problem to solve. Great British schools entwine purposeful learning technologies and steer away from worksheets and textbooks. The age expectations for each core subject - English, Maths, and Science, ensure that teachers can track, support and extend individuals. Children are encouraged to develop confidence, independence and problem solving skills and explore environments and holistic opportunities what makes them emotionally intelligent and excel in their passions”, 

American Curriculum

The American curriculum differs from the British curriculum in that is has one main focus rather than multiple core subjects. The American curriculum's major focus is on developing a practical learning approach which helps to focus on the student’s individual needs and developing their abilities. This guides students towards their own potential.

The American curriculum offers some key advantages that make it a preferred choice by some parents. Connector spoke to some experts to find out what these advantages are.

A well-rounded subject knowledge

“While the American curriculum tends not to be as rigorous as the British curriculum in Maths and English in the early years, students will still have a well-rounded subject knowledge appropriate for their stage of development. With the adaptability of the American curriculum to different states and frameworks it can easily incorporate inquiry-based, hands-on learning and a plethora of educational opportunities. Furthermore, American schools tend to have strong extracurricular and sports programs to supplement their world renowned curricula. In order for American graduates to go to UK universities they will have to sit the UCAS exam”, said Maggie Baxter of Gabbitas Middle East. 

Constructivist approach towards learning:

“Children learn more and enjoy learning more when they are actively involved, rather than being passive listeners. Constructivism concentrates on learning how to think and understand. Constructivism gives students ownership of what they learn based on students’ questions and exploration. Students learn to question and to apply their natural curiosity to the world. This approach helps students learn how to articulate their ideas clearly, collaborate on projects and negotiate with others”, said Bridget Justen, Principal of Al-Mizhar American Academy.

Individualised educational plan

"Each student has an Individualised Educational Plan (IEP) that is unique to them and is based on international standards. This plan encompasses all the main academic subjects as well as a social/emotional trajectory. With this IEP students design their weekly schedule on what they are going to work on and document proof positive of their academic accomplishments”, said Johnathan Maxwell Letcher the Principal of American School of Creative Science Al Barsha.

Critical thinking

Johnathan Maxwell Letcher of American School of Creative Science Al Barsha. further added, “We recognise that knowledge is easily attainable. If you have a computer and WiFi, anyone can obtain any amount of knowledge in less than a second. So our goal is not to have students absorb information but to critically analyse knowledge under the umbrella of a moral compass. Our focus is to ensure each student understands that with knowledge comes responsibility. We do this with a focus on virtues and values that surrounds each student with an understanding of their responsibility to be civil and socially justice oriented citizens”. 

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