Choosing A School: A Look At The International Baccalaureate (IB) Curriculum

There are currently around 200 private schools in Dubai, and around two thirds of those offer either the American, British or International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula.

Deciding on a curriculum is one of the most important decisions you will make when choosing a school for you child, whether you are looking for a new school, or even if you’re looking to change schools.  

So what are the options, benefits and qualifications pupils can expect from these three different curricula?

In this short series of articles, Connector looks at what stands out among the different curricula to help parents decide what fits best for their child. We also ask members of senior leadership teams what they think ae the key benefits of the curriculum their school offers.

This article looks at International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

Curriculum Overview

The IB has three key programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP), which are designed to build on each other as a spiralling framework. Mirroring a student’s human developmental stages, while ensuring key themes, shared language and skills, are built upon in each stage.


Students are awarded the IB Diploma, working towards a maximum of 45 points.

How Work Is Graded

Each subject is graded from one to seven, while a further three points are available for the CAS (creativity, action, service) element, for a maximum of 45 points.

What The Senior Leadership Think Are The Key Benefits Of Their Own Schools Curriculum

Rania Hussein, Deputy Head at Swiss International School Dubai, tells us that one of the benefits of International Baccalaureate (IB) is it offers 21st Century Skills. "I read a story recently on a blog post about a pot roast. A woman made a pot roast for a dinner party she was hosting, and upon serving it, her friends exclaimed about how delicious it was. Her friend asked her for the recipe, and as she wrote it down, the friend asked (quizzically) why she cuts both ends of the roast off before putting it in the pan. The host explained that she wasn’t sure but this was how her mother had taught her to make it. While on the phone with her mother the following day, she asked her why she cut both ends of the roast before cooking it and her mum replied that this was how she’d learnt the recipe from her grandmother. Determined to find out the reason, the host called her grandmother and asked why she cut both ends of the roast off before cooking it. After some consideration, her grandmother replied that pans, at the time, were too small to fit the entire thing and that they had to cut the ends off as a consequence. Parallels can be drawn between this story and traditional curriculums. Ones designed to fit 19th or at best 20th century skills. They revolve around rote learning and memorisation rather than critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving. The IB programme inherently revolves around teaching students, who research shows will likely change jobs five to seven times in their adult life, skills that are both relevant and transferable. The IB programme is the best curriculum out there because it teaches critical thinking, self-directed learning and active listening and reading skills. All ingredients necessary for 21st century success.

Another key benefit according to Rania Hussein is that students become 'The Whole Learner' and learn many skills that they can take into the world. "As an IB student, I remember being very cynical of my ‘Core’ studies."explains Rania Hussein, "I was unconvinced by CAS in particular which I did not see as important as my other six subjects. Nonetheless, I had to engage in it, so I signed up to an activity that included supporting disabled children with their horseback riding lessons. This CAS activity later became one of the most life altering and important experiences of my life. As a teenager, I admit that my worldview was extremely narrow, and my exposure was very limited. This experience, and many others that I quickly became involved in, helped me contextualize a lot of what I was learning in classes. It taught me the joy of helping others and the need for me as an individual to be involved. Seeing how happy the children were on horses for an hour every Thursday, defined not only my decision to become a teacher, but made a better person in general. The IB Core, across all four programmes, is instrumental in shaping the whole student and developing compassionate global citizens that care about our shared planet." 

Urs Jungo, IB Diploma Co-ordinator at Swiss International School Dubai, highlights that a key benefit of is the Development of Critical Thinking Skills. "Given the ever-increasing complexity of the world around us, it is essential that, from an early age onwards, students should learn to identify different perspectives on a learning topic or a debatable issue under discussion, in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the possible reasons why human beings act the way they do. Through systematic analysis and evaluation of knowledge issues, students are encouraged to generate new or alternative ways to consider potential solutions for problems at an individual, community and/or global level. Within the context of the IB Learner Profile, this benefit is linked to the ‘Thinker’, ‘Open-minded’ and ‘Reflective’ attributes."

Graeme Scott, Director at Fairgreen International School, explains it from both an educators perspective as well as from a parent. "As a parent of two IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) graduates, I have seen how well prepared they were for university.  Why was this?  I believe the IBDP teaches young people how to self-manage and prioritise.  Yes, there are times when things can feel overwhelming, but good IB schools combine academic rigour with the teaching of self-management and self-regulation skills, so that students can improve their time management and prioritising skills.  They are more reflective about their own learning and develop strategies through their Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge courses (two mandatory components of the Diploma Programme) that help them to understand how they learn best and how to apply this learning to situations for which they are not prepared.  If they choose to go to university, where they will be without the security of teachers who are always accessible within the same building, these skills are invaluable."

Graeme Scott continues, "The IB 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."  This mission is brought to life in all IB schools through the Learner Profile.  This is a set of characteristics or attributes that we seek to develop and grow in all IB students.  IB learners strive to be: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.  These research-supported traits are fundamental in preparing children for life as a student and a lifelong learner.  The real power of the Learner Profile is that we start developing these in our very youngest children.  The Learner Profile is the same for a 4 year old as it is for a high school senior.  The consistency of message and common goals, right through a child's schooling, means that students, teachers and parents can work together to develop truly phenomenal young people who are equipped to face life's challenges with positivity, energy and determination."

"In today's global society," adds Graeme Scott, "we are witnessing a disturbing movement towards nationalism, with racism increasingly prevalent across many forms of social media.  The focus on International Mindedness in all four IB programmes encourages students to celebrate their own culture whilst developing a deep understanding for others, leading to greater empathy and the welcoming of difference and diversity.  Multilingualism and international engagement are also elements of the IB which help to develop caring, global citizens.  Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the importance of global collaboration and collective creativity, both key attributes that the IB promotes and supports."

Kosta Lekanides, is Deputy Head Teacher Secondary, Chair of the UAE Association of IB Schools of Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) and he tells us that the key 3 benefits to students of International Baccalaureate (IB) are:

Self-Directed Learning: The IB programmes allow students to bring their own interests into the formal workings of an academic programme, be it through the research questions they are required to formulate for their coursework in all subjects or their extra-curricular interests which they can build on as part of their CAS requirements.  

Critical Thinking: A strong undercurrent permeating all IB subjects is the need to critically analyse and reconsider knowledge in all its myriad forms. Students are required and challenged to consider the strengths and limitations of knowledge, the degrees of certainty and reliability that one method offers over another, the reasons for the existence of certain paradigms of thought and, most importantly, how knowledge is constructed in the first place.  

Breadth: The very fact students are required to complete studies in a wide range of knowledge fields (languages, mathematics, science, humanities and the arts) means they end up with a broader baseline of knowledge from which to both navigate and appreciate the wider world around them. It doesn’t hurt also when considering university option as there’s more flexibility of choice should a student change direction post-18. 

Choosing A School: A Look At The British Curriculum

Choosing A School: A Look At The American Curriculum


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