Testing times

The challenge of educating an expanding global population is one that international education programmes are meeting head on

Planet Earth is a pretty big place, and young people today want to explore it, seeking international careers and global experiences. Social media and advancing technology make it easier for them to achieve this in the virtual world – but the challenge for educators is to equip children with the skills, qualifications and confidence to, quite literally, go wherever they want in life.

International education programmes aim to achieve exactly this, and their popularity is growing. Thailand is a case in point. In 1993, the country had just 40 international schools, compared with 166 by June 2016. The country’s Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC) now hopes to create a hub for international education. “We expect that more students from Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam will study at our international and English programme schools,” says OPEC’s the Secretary-General, Chanwit Tubsuphan.


International qualifications

A number of different schemes cater for these and other globally minded students. Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), for example, is the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for five- to 19-year-olds. These successful programmes are currently available in over 10,000 schools across more than 160 countries, offering international GCSEs and A levels as well as other school exams.

Edexcel, on the other hand, offers a mix of international qualifications, both academic and vocational, to suit students from a diverse range of backgrounds and learning styles. Indeed, more than 5,400 international centres spanning an impressive 92 countries worldwide deliver the organisation’s well-respected exams.

Then there’s the International Baccalaureate (IB), which offers programmes for three- to 19-year-olds. “We believe in the holistic nature of education, so alongside rigorous academics, we provide social, emotional and physical education,” explains Judith Fabian, Chief Academic Officer at the IB organisation. Its programmes are broad, with language study at the heart. And the IB is popular in both the private and state sectors and among children from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Of its 3,500-plus schools in 144 countries, the US is the largest provider, followed by Canada, the UK, Australia, India, Mexico and China. “The IB is followed by some very prestigious private schools,” says Fabian. “But the Diploma Programme for students aged 16 to 19 is really successful in enabling children from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain admission to good universities.” In the US, more than 90 per cent of IB schools are state-funded, and, as Fabian adds, “the Diploma Programme is currently being rolled out in about 500 state schools in Ecuador, as well as a number in Malaysia and in Japan”.

But why are international programmes so popular? As well as offering globally respected templates, many function independently of governments and national curricula, which renders them less subject to fluctuations. “The IB introduces change very slowly and in consultation with teachers,” Fabian explains. “There’s also an international community of our teachers and schools who share ideas and best practice.”


Language options

Although language may appear to be a potential stumbling block for children who join an international programme, it isn’t. Many schools – including those in Argentina, Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey – deliver CIE programmes as part of a bilingual education, using CIE curricular and frameworks for their English-language teaching, alongside the national system.

The IB, meanwhile, is taught and assessed in English, French or Spanish, with some exams offered in German and Japanese, and its primary- and middle-years frameworks are also available in other languages, such as Turkish. “The thing is, when it comes to the diploma, most of our schools want to work in English,” Judith notes. “In China, we’ve asked if they want it in Mandarin – but they consistently say no.”

So, while children increasingly engage in borderless virtual communities, education systems are enabling them to expand their understanding of the world and, moreover, teaching them high-quality, internationally respected qualifications. All of which should help to make that big, wide world more accessible.