Teaching at an International School – Choosing the curriculum

Mar 25, 2014

Here at Teaching Nomad, we receive many applications every day from many professional teachers who seek to teach at an international school in China. They’re often confused, however, by the many different curricula utilized across the country, and so we figured we’d give you a basic breakdown of the most widely used curriculums. Just remember that in order to teach at an international school in China you will need a valid teaching license.

Most international schools in China use the CIE, IB, or AP-curriculum. Schools will require teachers to be familiar with the curriculum of the school they’re applying to, so check what curriculum the school you’re applying to is using.

The majority of these schools use the following curriculums:

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. The CIE has a lot of characteristics of the British National Curriculum, and students at CIE international schools are required to take the British O and A level tests. While the CIE refers to all the entire education between the ages of 3 and 19 at international schools, the IGCSE  (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) refers to the Secondary School part at CIE schools. The 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.

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 curricilum is what many teachers think of when they hear “international school”, and for good reason; the IB is unlike any national curriculum. Rather than building on an existing national curriculm, it was speficialy designed for international education. The IB therefore offers unique subjects not available elsewhere, like Theory of Knowledge (TOK). IB diplomas are recognized by schools and universities all around the world.


The American Curriculum in China

A growing number of (international) 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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