American Curriculum vs. IB: How to Decide Which One is Right for Your Child

Sep 2,2023

When you’re moving countries with your family, choosing a school for your children is an important task on your to-do list. To help you narrow down your options, it helps to compare the different curricula available. Two key choices offered by GEMS Education are the International Baccalaureate (IB) schools and American curriculum schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE.

Here, we compare the American curriculum vs the IB curriculum, and explore their similarities and differences so that you can make an informed decision.

What do the IB and American curricula have in common?

There are many outstanding schools in Dubai and the UAE offering the American or IB curriculum. While these two curricula have some significant differences that we’ll explore later, they also have plenty in common that makes both a brilliant choice for most children.

  • Broad - Both curricula are broad and balanced. Your child will get a great education in maths, language arts, the sciences, additional languages, geography, history and all the main school subjects. They will get an opportunity to explore many different areas of learning and find their academic interests with either the IB or the American curriculum.
  • Preparatory - Both are designed to prepare students for college and university, and a career beyond. These curricula encourage reflective learning skills, self-awareness, critical thinking and collaboration. They both foster good communication skills and an inquiring mind, all necessary skills for life after school.
  • Highly regarded - With either, students will graduate from school with a highly regarded, internationally accepted qualification. Both IB and the American curriculum enable students to move on to colleges and universities around the world and impress potential employers.

Next, we’ll explore each curriculum in detail and discover how they differ.

The American curriculum as taught by international schools

In the USA, there are Common Core standards that schools must adhere to. These set out what a student should know and be able to do by the end of each grade in maths and language arts. These standards will also be adopted by international schools teaching a US curriculum.

In addition, each US state has its own standards for additional subjects and most international schools tend to adopt one of these. For example, GEMS Dubai American Academy teaches the Connecticut subject-specific state standards.

American curriculum schools also adopt the American education system’s unique values. This is characterised by:

  • A student-centred curriculum
  • A heavy emphasis on co-curricular activities (i.e., sport, music, chess, debating, etc.)
  • Enquiry-based teaching methods that ask students to research and answer big, important questions

Final testing and qualifications

Students attending American curriculum schools usually leave with a high school diploma. However, there are additional tests to take, particularly if a child wants to attend a US college or university for higher education. Most students will therefore take the ACT or SAT, which are skills-based tests designed to show their suitability for university-level education. They are a must for US colleges but may also be required or useful elsewhere.

Students aiming for advanced education beyond school should also take AP classes. AP stands for Advanced Placement and these classes teach at a higher academic level. Through AP classes, students experience additional testing but gain credits that will help them achieve a university or college place.

The International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB curriculum is taught by many international schools and is popular with parents, students and teachers. It was created to ensure that expat families could gain a broad, balanced and outward-looking curriculum wherever they happened to be.

The IB is so well-regarded that it is taught by more than 5,000 schools across more than 150 countries. It is not exclusively for expat families, either – many families are choosing IB over their local curriculum where it is available.

Characteristics of the IB curriculum include:

  • The aim to nurture students to be globally minded, independent, and forward-thinking young people
  • A very broad theme-based curriculum for additional subjects beyond the core of English, maths, science and physical education
  • A particular emphasis on language acquisition
  • Excellent teaching practice that develops lifelong-learning skills and habits

The school leavers qualification in IB schools is the IB Diploma. It is an internationally recognised qualification and enables many students to reach some of the world’s best universities.

To complete the IB Diploma Programme, students must take five core classes in maths, language arts, science, language acquisition, and individual and societies. They also need to take an arts class or a second class from one of the five core subject areas. To graduate from the programme, they will need to prepare an extended essay, take Theory of Knowledge classes, and take part in a project that demonstrates creativity, activity or service.

The diversity of classes experienced through IB makes it one of the most interesting, challenging and rewarding curricula available to 16-19-year-olds.

The Differences

The key differences between IB and the American curriculum can be summarised as follows.

  • Testing - To complete their education, students undertaking IB must follow a different assessment regimen than those on the American curriculum pathway. The IB involves more project work whereas the American curriculum places more emphasis on testing.
  • Curriculum - The IB aims to foster holistic, cross-curricular skills such as critical thinking and communication. The American curriculum places more emphasis on proficiency in individual subjects.
  • Outlook - The American curriculum was designed to be studied by American students and is therefore focused on the USA. The IB is more international in outlook and was designed to be studied by pupils all over the world.

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American curriculum or IB: Which is best?

Both the IB and American curricula are challenging and rewarding, and offer high standards and an excellent qualification that is widely accepted by the world’s leading universities. Both are also excellent preparation for college and life beyond school. It is very difficult to argue which is better, the American curriculum or IB.

It would be helpful to define the goals of your child’s education at this stage, visit some schools offering these curricula, and take it from there. Only you can decide what is best for your child.

To learn more about American curriculum vs IB schools in Dubai and the UAE, why not look at GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi, which teaches both these curricula? For more information about IB schools in Dubai and surrounding areas, take a look at GEMS World Academy Dubai, GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi, and GEMS Modern Academy Dubai.

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