One of the great benefits of living in Beijing today is the unprecedented access to international curricula and high school certificate options. Parents and students can select among a variety of teaching philosophies, from Italy’s Montessori method to the UK’s A-Levels. However, with such ample choice comes the challenge: How do you pick the right one? To help determine which might be the best fit for you and your child, we asked some of Beijing’s international schools what makes these educational philosophies special.
Montessori: The International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB)
Tell us about the Montessori pedagogy.
Montessori education is all about intelligent thinking, independence, solid self-esteem, strong problem solving and social skills.
What is the core curriculum?
The core curricula at the International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB) cover not only the areas that one finds offered in the IB’s Primary Years Programme (PYP), but also those covered by the current British educational system and much more.
Can children from your Montessori program adapt easily to other pedagogies?
Over the early part of our 20-year history, the vast majority of our children who stayed in Beijing have gone on to the International School of Beijing (ISB). Other popular schools for our students include Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing), Harrow, Dulwich and the British School of Beijing (BSB). We have seen a large number of our pupils transfer to some of England’s most prestigious "public" (private) schools, which require standalone entrance examinations.
How is student progress measured?
Our students’ progress is carefully and meticulously assessed through daily observation, record keeping and reporting, regular parent conferences, and internal standardized testing. Daily observation and record keeping are hallmarks of Montessori philosophy.
• A method applied to early education (preschool through to kindergarten), Montessori focuses on "the child’s true normal nature" and self-directed learning.
• The method lends itself to interpretation, with no standard practical application or philosophy.
• Montessori uses a range of classroom materials and activities designed specifically to stimulate the child. Dr. Maria Montessori, pioneer of the Montessori philosophy, considered using such diverse learning materials (not to be confused with toys) as "work," not play. Learning materials are usually organized into five basic categories: practical life, sensorial, math, language, and culture.
• Teachers provide instruction, or "lessons," to help students learn how to use the materials; however, children are expected to figure the lesson out for themselves.
• It’s commonly argued that true Montessori was based so strongly on the doctor’s own personality that it cannot be replicated in modern classrooms.
International Baccalaureate: Western Academy of Beijing (WAB)
What is special about IB programs?
IB programs and diplomas are recognized and respected around the world. They are known for encouraging students to be active in creativeand service-oriented arenas, while also instilling an importance of personal reflection and academic rigor.
What are the requirements?
Grade 9 and 10 students follow the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP), and study eight courses over two years. In addition, all students are expected to participate in the community service program and in Grade 10, complete a personal project in accordance with IBMYP standards. Sample portfolios of student work are submitted to the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), which monitors work to ensure assessment strategies and student achievementare in accordance with IBO expectations.
In Grade 11 & 12, students choose from a range of International Baccalaureate Degree Programme (IDBP) courses. The IB program offers a comprehensive two-year international curriculum that enables students to fulfill the requirements of their national or state educational systems. Students successfully completing the IB Diploma Programme will receive both a WAB Diploma and a Diploma from the International Baccalaureate Organization.
Students must complete a total of six courses in each year of the two-year program; three to four higher-level courses requiring a minimumof 240 hours of study and two to three standard level courses requiring a minimum of 150 hours of study. IB Diploma students must also complete a mandatory course called Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an extended essay (4,000 words maximum) and meet the CAS (creativity,action, service) requirement.
Which countries accept the IB for standard university entrance?
The IB Diploma Programme is well known and widely respected. The IB diploma is recognized in 75 countries at over 2000 universities.
What is the scoring system?
Achievement is reported using a 1 to 7 scale. Achievement levels are awarded for each criteria in every subject. In addition, an overall grade is awarded for each subject using a 1 to 7 scale, representing achievement assessments from "very poor" to "excellent."
Diplomas for Diploma Programme students (Grades 11/12) are awarded to students that earn at least 24 points (a "satisfactory" average across their six courses), subject to minimum performance requirements.
• There is no chance of grade inflation because the IB is a criterion-referenced assessment, not norm-referenced (comparing students against their peers). If all students get all the answers right, they’re all awarded 7, the top grade in a subject.
• The IB works with 3,103 schools across 140 countries to offer the three IB programmes to approximately 888,000 students.
• The IB is a non-profit foundation registered in Switzerland.
• There are 55 IB World Schools in China.
• IB is divided into three programs: Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP). Not all schools offer all programs.
• According to Paul Teulon, head of student recruitment for Oxford Universities, Oxford received approximately 1,000 IB applicants out of a total of 17,000 applicants competing for 3,200 places. Just over 200 IB applicants were awarded an offer.
A-Levels: The British School of Beijing (BSB)
What separates A-Levels from other high school certificates?A-Levels allow students who have a good idea of their strengths to really focus on them. For a student who loves the arts, having to take mathematics classes might be a hindrance to their study. Conversely a gifted scientist might find studying French a real chore. By studying four A-Level subjects studied in great depth (versus six subjects and three additional requirements for IB), students are given the freedom to choose. Neither is "better" than the other, but both are quite different.
What is required of students who do A-Levels?
Good academic standing at age 16 and an affinity for the course of study.
Which countries accept A-Levels for standard university entrance?
For the UK, A-Levels are the national qualification. For Canada, the US, Europe and Australia, the process of admission to university is very well-rehearsed. In some Latin American countries, a verification stamp is needed from the ministry but this is a process handled by the school.
Can you explain the scoring system?
Grade A* (A star) is the highest and scoring goes down to E, a passing grade. The A* grade was introduced recently to allow universities to differentiate between very able candidates.
Explain the examination process for A-Levels.
Exams are held once a year and the scoring varies by subject. Art, for example, has a focus on coursework requirements. In some subjects, students have choices and can opt for more exam-based or more coursework-based assessments. Exams can be retaken.
• The A* grade was introduced in September 2008. It’s awarded to candidates who achieve an A in their overall A-level, with a score of at least 90% on their A2 module.
• To get an A, a student must be in the top 10 percent of all students taking the A-Levels.
• A-level examinations are administered through a series of external examination boards: AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC, CIE and CCEA.
• A-level students often apply to universities before they have taken their final exams, so British universities consider predicted A-level results when deciding whether applicants should be offered places. Acceptance is based on students actually achieving their predicted score.
• According to the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), just 45% of predicted grades are accurate, 47% are over-predictions and 9% are under-predictions.
• Students are required to take four subjects at AS-level and then take three at A2 level, but some students continue with their fourth subject. Three is the standard number of A-levels required for university entrance.
The SAT: International School of Beijing (ISB)
What separates the SATs from other high school certificates?The SATs are a group of independent standardized tests sponsored by the College Board and administered by the Educational Testing Service. There are two types of SATs: 1) one group of three tests that provide a score in critical reading, mathematics, and writing; 2) another group of subject tests that measure student achievement in subject areas such as biology, physics, French, English literature, and so forth.
Explain the examination process.
The test is over three hours long and consists of three parts: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. All of the tests are multiple-choice, but the latter also has a brief section in which students must craft a handwritten essay. Each section of the test is scored on a 200 to 800 scale, making the maximum possible score 2400 (3 x 800). The tests are administered and scored by an external entity, which then sends official test scores to certain universities and colleges, at the request of individual students, as part of the university or college application package.
Which countries accept the SATs for standard university entrance?
The SATs are used by many – but not all – American universities and colleges to help assess the readiness of students for post-secondary work. Some universities outside of the US also ask for SAT scores as one criterion with which to evaluate candidates who have not completed the full IB Diploma Programme. Most American universities use a wide range of measures to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for a particular school. SAT scores alone do not determine university/college admissions.
• The SAT is owned, published and developed by the College Board, which is a non-profit organization in the US. The test is held over three hours and 45 minutes.
• The College Entrance Examination Board administered the first standardized exam in the US in 1901.
• To sit the test, international students (those outside the US) must pay a fee of USD 75. For Subject tests, the fee is USD 49.
• In 2005, the SAT test was revised and a new written essay (to be completed in 25 minutes) was introduced. In his analysis of the new essay requirement, MIT Writing Director Les Perelman found a high correlation between longer essays and higher scores, regardless of whether the longer essays contained factual errors.
• Most of the SATs are multiple-choice, with the exception of the written essay and the grid-in math responses.
Reggio Emilia: House of Knowledge (HoK)*
What separates the Reggio Emilia approach from other curricula?Where the Reggio approach excels is in its ability to teach children how to acquire knowledge. Teachers work through careful observation to see what children are interested in and what their curiosities are. When questions arrive from these curiosities, a teacher does not give answers as you would in a conventional school; instead, they prompt kids with questions that will allow students to arrive at their own answers. When it comes to learning, the Reggio philosophy remembers that the journey is always more important than the destination.
What is the core curriculum?
Reggio Emilia educators like HoK firmly believe in strengthening children’s academic skills, but we also believe the thing of greatest importance is to experience one’s surroundings via all the senses. To draw an example from our daily life at HoK, we can look at a "numbers" unit. Other educational approaches, such as Montessori, may utilize spindle boxes to help children learn to count. At HoK, the Reggio Emilia side of our philosophy takes this further and we ask the kids to become the numbers, thus incorporating the language of drama into the lesson.
*While HoK is one of the most Reggio-oriented schools in Beijing, it does incorporate other methodologies into its curriculum.
Can children from Reggio Emilia schools adapt easily to other pedagogy?
Absolutely. Even if a child is stepping into a new curriculum or previously unknown academic subjects, a Reggio kindergarten will have equipped them with the competencies to pursue and acquire knowledge. Students will use deductive reasoning, feel confident to ask others for help, or utilize any number of other methods to get the information they need.
How is a student’s progress measured?
The main method of assessment for Reggio is through observation. With these observations, a technical assessment is mainly done through use of three things: a portfolio map, academic assessment, and fundamental competencies assessment.
What skills does the Reggio Emilia pedagogy aim to promote?Reggio seeks to promote fundamental competencies for lifelong learning. More important than learning facts is the processing of learning to learn.
Reggio Emilia Facts:
• Started by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II.
• Focused on child-led early education, predominantly in preschool and kindergarten.
• It is generally acknowledged that when you limit a child’s avenues of expression you limit their ability to learn. Visual arts are therefore a large part of the approach.
• The classroom or physical environment is often referred to as "The Third Teacher" and plays an important role in the education process.
This approach strongly encourages parental support and involvement both inside and outside of the classroom.
• Long-term teacher involvement with the child is very important. Teachers track children’s progress and interests by collecting data over long periods of time. This includes photographs, notes, videos, artworks, and conversations.
• "Confusion" is encouraged as part of the learning process. However, this can result in teachers and children starting projects with no clear end or children being allowed to make mistakes without correction by the teacher.