Charting Your Course: Understanding Beijing’s most popular education systems (Part 1 of 2)

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Advanced Placement Program (AP)

The AP (Advanced Placement) program is a system of course work administered by the College Board – the same organization that administers the SAT, a standardized college admissions test in the US. The AP program is a high school curriculum that offers standardized courses that are considered to be the equivalent of an undergraduate university course. An AP exam is taken at the end of the course. Based on this exam score, students (once they’re accepted) can earn university credit, giving them time to take higher-level courses, pursue a double major, or study abroad.

Who does it target?

AP courses are generally taken by Grade 11-12 students (16-18 years old).

How is it applied?

The College Board offers a total of 34 AP subjects. Some of the most popular courses include AP US History, AP English Literature, and AP Calculus AB. AP students receive two grades: one for AP coursework and another for the AP exam. AP tests are taken in May and graded on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest). A computer scores the multiple-choice section, while AP readers grade the free response and essay components. Though it varies from institution to institution, most universities require that students obtain a minimum grade of 3 or 4 to qualify for college credit. The tests are graded by The College Board, but students also have access to third-party test verification services for extra integrity.

Why should parents consider it?

High achievers are usually recommended for the AP program by their teachers. Because AP classes are so rigorous, students should only take as many as they can comfortably handle. It’s a way for them to challenge themselves and show prospective colleges that they are serious about academics.


Where is it offered?

Beijing 21st Century International School
International School of Beijing (ISB)
St. Paul American School (SPAS)
Tsinghua International School (THIS)
The Learning Center (TLC): Tutoring only


How well does this education system prepare students for the real world?

This is a chance for high school students to get a glimpse into university work, and most universities in the US will look at a student’s final exam score from AP courses as part of the selection process. Outside the US, universities in over 60 countries recognize AP exam scores for admission or college credit.

SAT and ACT

The SAT Reasoning Test (commonly known as the SAT), like the AP program and examinations, is administered by The College Board, an educational association based in the US. It is a standardized test, used in college admissions to American universities. Most students take the SAT in their junior or senior year of high school. The ACT is another standardized test for university admissions. Administered by ACT, Inc., it was created in 1959 as a competitor to the SAT. In 2009, 45 percent of American high school students took the ACT test.

It was formerly assumed that all universities in the US would base their selections to a certain extent on SAT scores. It should be noted, however, that current trends in education have shifted regarding the importance of both these tests. The National Centre for Fair and Open Testing in the US recently reported that 850 higher-education institutions in the US, including top-ranking universities, currently do not require SAT or ACT scores to admit students.  


Famous alumni:

There are thousands of websites reporting the SAT scores of famous people like Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates (1590) and Paul Allen (a perfect 1600), horror writer Stephen King (1300), and former president George W. Bush (1206). These scores reflect the old SAT system, which carried a maximum possible grade of 1600.

Who does it target?

The ACT, and the SAT are generally taken by Grade 11-12 students (16-18 years old).


How is it applied?

The SAT test lasts over three hours and is divided into three sections: Critical Reading, Writing, and Math. Each section is made up of multiple choice questions, but the writing portion also requires students to compose a short essay. As of 2005, the SAT became known as the SAT Reasoning Test and the maximum possible score was changed to 2400 (800 per section).

The ACT lasts four hours and includes four parts: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. The optional ACT writing test adds 30 minutes to the exam time. Scored out of a maximum 36 points, ACT questions are generally considered to be easier than the SAT’s, but the relatively limited time allotted to each section evens out the overall level of difficulty.

Why should parents consider it?

While not all American colleges require the SAT and ACT exam scores, a vast majority do require at least one of them, so taking them is a good idea for students that are interested in attending a university in the US.


Where is it offered?

Beijing BISS International School (BISS): SAT test center
Beijing City International School (BCIS): Offers SAT prep
Beijing Shuren-Ribet Private School (BSRPS): ACT/SAT test center
International School of Beijing (ISB): SAT/ACT test center
The Learning Center (TLC): Offers SAT prep
St. Paul American School (SPAS): Offers SAT prep


How well does this education system prepare students for the real world?

Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT assess how well students analyze and problem-solve – skills that they are expected to acquire in high school. Most universities in the US will still look at SAT/ACT scores as part of the selection process. Some universities outside of the US will also consider SAT scores when assessing applicants.

“At BISS, we are providing our students with a 21st century education. We are educating them for their future, not for our past.”
– Dr. Ettie Zilber, head of Beijing BISS International School


English National Curriculum

The English National Curriculum was developed by the British government for standard use in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is used in over 30,000 schools in the UK and overseas. This education system is characterized by a broad, well-rounded education that narrows in focus by the time students reach Year 11.  

Famous alumni:

David Cameron (UK prime minister), Kazuo Ishiguro (novelist), Emma Watson (actress)  

Who does it target?

The English National Curriculum targets students 3-18 years of age. They are divided into Key Stages that cover both primary and secondary school:
Key Stage 0: Ages 3-5 (also known as Early Years)
Key Stage 1: Ages 5-7 (Year 1-2)
Key Stage 2: Ages 7-11 (Year 3-6)
Key Stage 3: Ages 11-14 (Year 7-9)
Key Stage 4: Ages 14-16 (Year 10-11)
Key Stage 5: Ages 16-18 (Year 12-13)  

How is it applied?

Primary school students are assessed at the end of Key Stages 1 to 3 on a scale of 1 to 8 according to National Curriculum standards. These evaluations are based on both tests and teacher assessments, and are commonly known as “SATs” or Standard Assessment Tasks (not to be confused with the American SAT).

At the end of Year 11, students can sit up to ten subjects at a series of national exams known as the GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education).

During Key Stage 5, students take the GCE Advanced Level exams, commonly known as A-levels. A-levels are a graduated system composed of AS levels (taken at the end of Year 12) and A2 levels (taken at the end of Year 13). Students cannot move on to A2 levels if they fail their AS exams. Universities in the UK will usually ask for at least three A-levels, with some requiring a fourth AS subject.

Why should parents consider it?

A-levels give students the freedom to choose their areas of study and focus on their strengths. For example, an honor student who is working towards a scholarship in biology might not want to devote much time to the arts.

Where is it offered?
 
Beijing New Talent Academy (BJNTA): Hybrid system with Chinese National Curriculum
The British School of Beijing (BSB): Complete curriculum
Dulwich College Beijing: Up to Year 9
Harrow International School Beijing: Complete curriculum
MOMA Kids International Kindergarten: Early education program with elements of the English National Curriculum
Prestige Education Center (PEC): Weekend school based on English National Curriculum
Windsor Bilingual Kindergarten: Elements of English National Curriculum and Chinese system
Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing): Up to Year 11  

How well does this education system prepare students for the real world?

The British education system is well-recognized and accepted all over the world. A-levels are the standard qualification for universities in the UK, and help students focus on preferred subjects before applying to university. In addition, A-levels are generally accepted in the US and Europe, as well as former Commonwealth countries like Australia and India.

“British education is distinguished by its ability to adapt to a changing world while retaining strong continuity of focus. British qualifications are international qualifications that are recognized worldwide; all universities accept A-levels as an entry qualification. The A-level system takes account of students’ individual aptitude, remains flexible enough to accommodate a variety of courses, has an emphasis on critical thinking, and aims to give students leadership opportunities in every sphere of life. Also integrating charitable and community service, the British curriculum is diverse and designed to meet the needs of the individual [through]creative classrooms, motivated students and great learning opportunities.”
– Dr. John Moore, NPQH, head of Upper School, Harrow International School Beijing


International Baccalaureate (IB)

Formerly known as the IBO, the International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It was founded in 1968 and is administered by a board of governors and six permanent committees that handle policy and best governance practices.
 
The IB is divided into three programs that can be applied individually or as a whole: the Primary Years Programme or PYP (ages 3-12), the Middle Years Programme or MYP (ages 11-16), and the Diploma Programme or IBDP (ages 16-19). Institutions that are authorized to offer one or more of these programs are known as IB World Schools. According to the IB’s official website, there are over 976,000 students studying at 3,295 IB World Schools in 141 countries around the world.  

Famous alumni:

Julie Payette (astronaut), Gael García Bernal (actor), Karen Mok (actress and singer)  

Who does it target?

As a whole, the IB’s programs target students 3-19 years of age.  


How is it applied?

All of the IB’s programs share the following traits:
They require study across a broad range of subjects.
They emphasize language learning.
They encourage interdisciplinary learning.
They include a community service requirement.

Each of the IB’s programs has its own curriculum, but IBDP is the best-known. Over two years, students study six subjects drawn from the following subject groups: the arts, experimental sciences, language acquisition, studies in language and literature, individuals and society, and mathematics and computer science. Normally, half of these subjects are higher-level courses (240 teaching hours) and the other half are standard-level courses (150 teaching hours).

Other hallmarks of the IBDP include Theory of Knowledge (TOK), CAS, and the extended essay. TOK is a compulsory course that focuses on critical thinking and the nature of knowledge. CAS stands for “Creativity, Action, and Service,” reflecting the belief that students should pursue activities outside the classroom. The extended essay is a 4,000-word paper designed to prepare students for undergraduate work.

IBDP students are graded on a scale from 1 to 7 (7 being the highest). They can also gain up to three extra points for their combined results on TOK and the extended essay, bringing the maximum total grade to 45 points. The IB diploma is awarded to students who obtain at least 24 points and satisfy their requirements in CAS. In general, about 80 percent of students obtain the diploma after being examined; fewer than 1 percent achieve a perfect score.  

Why should parents consider it?

The IB has a 43-year history of high-quality, international education. Its programs are accepted at universities around the world. IB World Schools go through a rigorous authorization and evaluation process and IB teachers participate in a variety of professional development events. The IB has a distinct focus on international education, making it one of the most popular choices for expat families in Beijing.   

Where is it offered?

Beijing BISS International School: Full IB program
Beijing City International School (BCIS): Full IB program
Beijing Huijia Private School: Full IB program
Beijing No. 55 High School: MYP and IBDP
Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA): MYP, IBDP
Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB): IBDP
Dulwich College Beijing (DCB): IBDP
International School of Beijing (ISB): IBDP
The Learning Center (TLC): Tutoring only
Western Academy of Beijing (WAB): Full IB program
Yew Chung International School (YCIS Beijing): IBDP


How well does this education system prepare students for the real world?

The IB diploma is accepted by over 2,000 universities in 75 countries. In addition, the IB programs provide students with an international skill set, including knowledge of a second language, advanced critical thinking skills, dedication to community service, and the ability to appreciate different cultures.

“At the International School of Beijing, we focus on learning that will provide students with skills they need to meet future challenges and opportunities. Our curriculum structure Learning21@ISB is a simple yet comprehensive Pre-K to 12 framework that layers a strong sense of purpose and vision on top of an excellent academic program. We explicitly and comprehensively help students develop creativity and innovation; collaboration and communication; inquiry, critical thinking and problem solving; global thinking; and leadership and responsibility. We believe that L21 will kindle and sustain the type of learning that can take our students into the future with confidence.”
– Greg Curtis, director of curriculum, International School of Beijing

“The International Baccalaureate Programme empowers young people to develop the skills and abilities to become the leaders and caregivers of tomorrow’s world. Through a programme of inquiry, students are required to ‘go deeper’ with their learning, fully understanding the content as it applies to the world around them! The aim of all IB programmes is to develop students who become internationally minded citizens who employ creativity, innovation, problem-solving, collaboration, caring, open-minded and multiple linguistic skills.”
– Douglas K. Prescott, head of Canadian International School of Beijing

To read the second part of the feature, click here.

Photos courtesy of ISB, BISS and YCIS Beijing

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