A curriculum sets out the subjects and topics that should be covered across different age groups. It significantly influences the teaching and learning experiences for both educators and students, which is why it’s important to understand the different types of curriculums on offer.
Perhaps the two most popular programs used across institutions are the American and International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculums. But how do they differ, and is one better than the other? To find out, we need to look at what each program offers.
American curriculum offers a broad and balanced educational approach, including core English, Math, and Science standards. To earn an International Baccalaureate diploma, students study six subjects and have a “core” subject. Overall, IB allows a student more freedom and international recognition.
In this article, we’ll explore the similarities, differences, and benefits of each curriculum. Let’s get started.
What Is the American Curriculum?
The American curriculum, also known as the US curriculum, is based on Common Core state standards for six subjects. Students are mandated to learn English, Language Arts, Math, History, Geography, and Science.
Students of the American curriculum are supported by a wide range of co-curricular activities that give students more freedom to develop as unique individuals. The students often participate in extracurricular activities geared towards different aspects of health. For example, a student may be on the volleyball team while participating in a chess club.
The American curriculum promotes creativity, critical thinking, and social skills. The goal is for each student to discover the subjects in which he or she will excel at. Additionally, extracurricular activities often encourage students to discover their unique talents.
This curriculum is designed to provide a core method of learning that prepares students to enter various schools, including traditional colleges, universities, and trade schools. And even though the curriculum is defined as American Curriculum, the standards are accepted far beyond the United States.
The American curriculum is accepted in several countries throughout the world. This is one reason why this curriculum is in such high demand nowadays.
How the American Curriculum Works
While one would first imagine that the curriculum is centered around America, it is recognized by educational institutions all over the world, as you’ll soon see.
Whether students are planning to attend a university in the United States or another country, all of the credits earned through the American curriculum are transferable. This means that the student has significantly more freedom to branch out to other institutions and learn things that perhaps were not core staples in the American curriculum.
This curriculum is overall very strict in the way that students are taught. This is one difference between this and the IB curriculum. Each subject is laid out from beginning to end linearly.
It is considered significantly more rigorous and standards-based than the IB curriculum. The goal of this curriculum, however, is to educate a person on a broad basis, making it a fantastic option for those focused on using a wider range of skills in their career choice, such as a teacher.
And this tends to have an overwhelmingly positive response among parents, as the American curriculum is trusted by parents worldwide. Of course, plenty of well-respected education agencies accredit American schools internationally.
How the American Curriculum Is Broken Down
Typically, the American curriculum is broken down into three stages:
- Elementary School
- Middle School
- High School
Almost every parent in the United States is familiar with these stages. Typically, elementary school begins at age four and lasts until age eleven. At around age eleven, students enter middle school till they are about fourteen. Afterward, they move to high school until the age of eighteen or nineteen.
The American curriculum is also divided into specific grades, beginning in Kindergarten and ending in Grade 12. Usually, elementary school encompasses Kindergarten through Grade 5. Middle school typically only covers three grades – Grade 6, 7, and 8. Finally, high school covers Grades 9 through 12.
In American schools, the academic year is divided in half, which is divided into semesters. The first semester runs from the start of the school year, usually August or September, until January. The second semester usually runs from January until May or June, depending on when the school year starts in that area.
Students participating in the American curriculum go through about thirteen years of education, usually from Pre-Kindergarten. However, Pre-K isn’t required in all areas, so a student may only go through twelve years of education.
What Students Learn at Each School
Elementary school is designed for students to build a strong foundation. It is here that students first begin to build their identity. They discover their uniqueness and build upon naturally ingrained talents within them.
During elementary school, students also start to understand basic knowledge, critical thinking skills, and leadership ability. This is the point when students first learn problem-solving skills, social relationships, and how to work in a team. In addition, the students first encounter authority figures outside the realm of their immediate family.
Middle school further fosters the development of the student’s social skills, critical thinking, and content knowledge. During this time, the students often repeat many of the same skills they first learned in elementary school. However, the tasks are often significantly more complicated.
The primary goal of middle school is to transition the students out of childhood and into the world of being a young adult.
Once students enter high school, their expectations will increase, and they’ll begin adopting their philosophies on the world. High school focuses on the students completing a specified amount of credits based on their specific school’s requirements. The students must complete the required credits to obtain a high school diploma.
In the American curriculum, obtaining a diploma is the ultimate goal of the twelve (or thirteen) years of education. Afterward, students are typically encouraged to apply to various colleges where they’ll further their social skills, critical thinking, content knowledge, and so on.
Testing Required Under the American Curriculum
The American curriculum requires students to undergo various tests throughout the time they are being educated. Most major testing takes place in high school, usually in the last two years.
Major testing includes the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. These assessments measure the knowledge and skills students should have learned during their high school education. In addition, they prepare them for the skills that they need to enter a university.
Because many universities require specific credits and testing for acceptance, the American curriculum frequently offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses to students throughout their middle and high school years. AP courses typically include additional testing throughout the year.
Benefits of the American Curriculum
The primary benefit of the American curriculum is the extent to which it caters to a student’s individuality and uniqueness. Every elective caters to the students’ needs to express themselves creatively and pursue their specific interests apart from the main curriculum.
Another benefit of the American curriculum is the amount of structure it provides. You know what to expect with this curriculum since it rarely varies from the norm. Standards remain the same regardless of where in the country the student attends school.
Additionally, credits are transferable to nearly any higher education institution. This gives the student freedom to move wherever they want at any point in their education journey.
One final thing I want to mention concerning this curriculum is that it works to develop a child completely. Education is all-encompassing; it focuses on social development, educational advancement, physical health, and the students’ moral growth. The students leave high school with a relatively put-together picture of the world.
Let’s look at the IB curriculum now.
What Is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Curriculum?
More than 5,000 schools spanning over 140 countries offer this curriculum, but what is it? The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum is, as the name may have suggested, an internationally recognized school curriculum whose goal is to develop well-rounded and open-minded students.
The IB curriculum was first established in the 1960s. When it began, the aim was to establish internationally recognized standards for those leaving school. However, as time has passed, it has now developed into a program with grades ranging from Kindergarten through Grade 12.
Similar to the American curriculum, the IB curriculum offers three basic divisions, sometimes referred to as programs. Most popular, however, is the fourth division or program, which begins when the students are around seventeen years old. This is known as the IB Diploma Program (DP). We’ll be discussing this more in a few minutes.
There are six academic subject groups offered in the IB curriculum. These include Language Arts and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individual and Society Studies, Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts. In addition to these six academic subject groups, the students engage in three other components:
- Theory of Knowledge: This course encourages the students to reflect on what knowledge is.
- Extended Essay: This independent research project ends with the students writing a 4000-word paper.
- Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS): Students participate in various projects and extracurricular activities that reinforce creativity, action, and service themes.
Like the American curriculum, the IB curriculum is both rigorous and balanced. The primary goal of this process is to develop students that are prepared for all the challenges of university education. This includes social, emotional, and intellectual challenges.
With this in mind, the IB curriculum programs aim to develop high critical thinking and problem-solving skills in their students. It’s about more than just intellectual achievement. It’s about knowing the world around you, understanding how it works, and preparing to contribute meaningfully to society.
How the International Baccalaureate (IB) Curriculum Is Broken Down
The IB curriculum is broken down into three divisions or programs:
- The Primary Years Program (PYP)
- The Middle Years Program (MYP)
- The Diploma Program (DP)
The Primary Years Program (PYP)
The Primary Years Program (PYP) begins around age three or four. This program’s first grade is Kindergarten, which runs to Grade 5. The students in the PYP are between three and twelve years old.
During this time, the students primarily work to develop social and emotional well-being. The main focus during this time is to introduce them to a world outside their simple home life. In addition, the students are introduced to academics for the first time.
Most of the focus during this period concentrates on the following areas:
- Who You Are: This area encourages young students to discover what makes them. It is their first discovery of what they like and dislike.
- Where You Are in This Place and Time: This area helps students discover what they can contribute to society at this time in their lives.
- How You Express Yourself: This area encourages young students to embrace their inherent creativity. It gives them a reason to continue with education besides academics.
- How the World Works: This area teaches young people how society functions. It allows them to experience the “real world” for the first time.
- How You Organize Yourself: This area teaches the students how to obtain physical and mental organization. It includes organizing their thoughts and outside environment and learning to clear their mind.
- How to Share Your Planet: This area educates the students on cooperation. It teaches them that they aren’t alone in this world and that other people and creatures matter in the big picture.
The Middle Years Program (MYP)
The Middle Years Program (MYP) lasts for a total of five years. Unlike the American curriculum, which moves students into high school at Grade 9, IB curriculum students stay in the middle years until Grade 11, which begins the Diploma Program.
The MYP is where the students begin to actively engage in academics. During this time, they will study a broad curriculum of:
- Language and Literature: This subject area teaches students to develop an appreciation of all things language and literature. It develops skills in literary criticism and understanding multiple texts from other cultures and periods.
- Language Acquisition: This subject area focuses on the students expanding their horizons to obtain proficiency in a new language. Students have two options for learning their chosen language – Ab Initio for beginners and Language B courses for students with prior education in the language.
- Individuals and Societies: This subject area teaches students about the world around them and encourages them to interact with other people. They begin to develop an understanding of the history of society during this time.
- Sciences: This subject area teaches students scientific methods and encourages them to study vital concepts and theories. Students can choose between Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Design, Technology, and Health Sciences.
- Mathematics: This subject area encompasses quite a few Mathematics courses. Students can choose between the Analysis and Approaches Course, which allows them to explore Math on a deeper level, or the Applications and Interpretations Course, which helps them understand the relationship between Math and the real world.
- Physical Health: This subject area encourages students to explore their physical health through diet and exercise.
- Design (Arts): This subject area focuses on the balance between creativity and research and encourages students to tap into their latent art talents.
Afterward, students are also required to participate in a personal project at the end of the MYP.
The Diploma Program (DP)
The Diploma Program (DP) is a two-year program incorporating the students’ prior education with three new core programs, which we’ve already discussed.
During the DP Program, students must continue to take one class in Language Acquisition, Individual and Society Studies, Sciences, Mathematics, or Literature. Additionally, they must take a course in the Arts or a second course in the previous subjects.
Benefits of the IB Curriculum
The biggest benefit of the IB curriculum is the amount of freedom students experience while going through the education process. Unlike the American curriculum, which forces strict standards on the students, the IB curriculum allows students to choose from various courses while still adhering to a basic standard of education.
In addition, the IB curriculum encourages students to apply all the skills they learn throughout the educational process to real-world situations. The students spend a significant amount of time learning how society functions and how they fit into that framework.
A final benefit of the IB curriculum is that it takes a holistic view of education. It’s not only about the core competencies. Instead, the IB curriculum works to strongly enhance other softer skills such as problem-solving, empathy, and a view of the world that encompasses everyone and everything in it.
American vs. International Baccalaureate (IB): Which Is Better?
Both of these curriculums have their advantages and disadvantages. And both programs offer a substantial amount of education in the real world and academically.
For a more encompassing academic educational experience, the American curriculum is the best option. It is highly suitable for students who need or want an in-depth understanding of multiple subjects.
The IB curriculum, on the other hand, provides enormous opportunity for students to embrace more than just academics. Its focus on soft skills and intellectual development makes it a favorite for those who want to move forward into careers based on networking.
The best way to decide which is better for you is to examine your long-term goals. If the goal is to have more knowledge and structure, the American curriculum can’t be beaten. If your goal is to have more flexibility in education and better social skills development, the IB curriculum is the way to go.
Ultimately, both curriculums offer huge benefits. There is no “right way” to go. Both programs lead students forward and prepare them for university.
You have to examine your goals and make decisions from there. The main thing to remember is that the American curriculum is excellent for structure and broad knowledge, while the IB curriculum is fantastic for social development and more concentrated knowledge.
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- Crimson Education: The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme Explained
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