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Over 8,000 English medium schools globally new institutions are founded every year. This presents a fantastic opportunity for both students and teachers.

The majority of these schools use the following curriculums:

  • Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

    • Cambridge Primary

    • Cambridge Secondary 1

    • Cambridge Secondary 2

    • Cambridge Advanced

  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

    • The IB Primary Years Program
    • The IB Middle Years Program
    • The IB Diploma Program
    • The IB Career-related Certificate
  • American Curriculum

    • Advanced Placement:
    • SAT preparation:

Degrees from all  programs are accepted by universities around the world. As most parents (not just in China) send their children to international schools in the hope that they will be able to gain admittance into a prestigious university upon completion, international schools tend to stick with either the IB or the CIE. 

The schools that do not follow these international curricula adopt other national curricula. For example, the American School in Shanghai follows the American curriculum, while the French Lycée Français International de Pékin uses the French national curriculum.

Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

One of the key differences between the IB and CIE is that the IB lays down a curriculum that needs to be followed by its schools in order to graduate, whereas the CIE simply administers tests that need to be passed. Although it has, of course, developed an extensive curriculum, it is up to individual schools how strictly they follow it. There are currently four different CIE programs and qualifications:

Cambridge Primary is an international education program typically for learners aged 5 to 11 years. Many schools use Cambridge Primary Checkpoint tests to assess learners’ development.

Cambridge Secondary 1 is typically for learners aged 11 to 14 years. Schools can use Cambridge Checkpoint tests to identify learners’ strengths and weaknesses in key curriculum areas.

Cambridge Secondary 2 is typically for learners aged 14 to 16 years. This stage includes Cambridge IGCSE* and Cambridge O Level*. Both are globally recognized qualifications.

Cambridge Advanced is typically for learners aged 16 to 19 years who need advanced study for university. This stage includes Cambridge Pre-U and Cambridge International AS and A Level qualifications*. 

  • IGCSE: The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (abbreviated as IGCSE) is an internationally used, specialized, English language curriculum. Its academic worth is comparable to many Secondary School curricula worldwide, such as England's GCSE, the American GED or High school diploma.
  • O Level: The O-level (Ordinary Level) is a British, as well as an internationally recognized, qualification that’s equivalent to the GED or High School diploma. 
  • A Level: AS and A-levels (Advanced Subsidiary & Advanced Level) are the traditional qualifications offered by schools and colleges in Britain for 16-19-year-olds. They’re highly valued by universities and employers and focus on academic subjects.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB was developed in Switzerland with the noble goal of “teaching for peace” and focuses on instilling intercultural understanding and respect. There are over 3,500 schools in 144 countries that have adopted the IB curriculum. 71 of these schools are based in China. Like the CIE, IB offers four educational programs for children aged 3-19.

The IB Primary Years Program: For students aged 3 to 12, focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside.

The IB Middle Years Program: For students aged 11 to 16, provides a framework of academic challenge that encourages students to embrace and understand the connections between traditional subjects and the real world, and become critical and reflective thinkers.

The IB Diploma Program: For students aged 16 to 19, is an academically challenging and balanced program of education with final examinations that prepares students for success at university and beyond.

The IB Career-related Certificate:For students aged 16 to 19, is the newest offering from the IB. The IBCC incorporates the vision and educational principles of the IB Programs into a unique offering specifically designed for students who wish to engage in career-related learning.

The American Curriculum in China

A growing number of schools in China have begun to follow the American curriculum. Since many Chinese parents want their children to enroll in U.S. universities, these American style high schools try to prepare the students for life in the U.S. Many of these schools either have campuses or exchange programs in the U.S., and students will be able to study anywhere from 1 semester to up to two academic years in the U.S. These schools typically offer the following courses:

The AP is a program used in the U.S. and Canada that offers college-level curriculum and examinations to high-school students. The program was developed by the College Board, the same institution that administers the SAT.  Because U.S. universities often grant placement or even credit to students who have high enough scores on AP examinations, American-style high schools in China try their best to make these courses available to their students. Successful completion of a number of AP classes is also a requirement for many European universities.

Although technically not a high-school course, many Chinese schools hire teachers to teach students how to get a high score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Since taking the SAT or its competitor, the ACT, is required for entry to most competitive U.S. universities, it is crucial students do well on the exam.


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Teaching Nomad is your connection to teaching in Asia & The Middle East! We are a western owned and operated teacher placement agency with offices in Denver & Shanghai. We take a lot of pride in connecting teachers with great teaching opportunities.


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