20th October 2020
A-Levels V IB in a Covid-19 world
By Patricia Moores

This week, Pat Moores, Director of UK Education Guide, writes about the comparative benefits of A-levels and the International Baccalaureate (IB).
A-Levels V IB in a Covid-19 world

It’s an age old debate, but at UK Education Guide we have noticed increased interest in the IB diploma very recently.

First a brief recap on the differences between the two qualifications:

The IB Diploma is a two-year, six-subjects course with an inner core specifically designed to develop leadership, critical thinking and research skills. During the IB Diploma, three subjects are taught at higher level and three subjects are taught at standard level.

A-Levels focus usually on three core subjects that are all studied to the same high level of proficiency. This allows pupils to specialise taking all three sciences if they wish or focus on a mix of humanities and arts courses.

So what has changed, why might the IB be growing in popularity? Perhaps the uncertainty of a post Covid-19 world is encouraging more young people to keep their options very much open whilst the world settles into a ‘new normal’? There is so much economic uncertainty that pupils may feel it is better to select a broader range of subjects for longer?

Also, the IB allows pupils to start a new language from scratch. As potentially more families delay entry into the UK education system due to economic and financial uncertainty alongside safety concerns, it is possible more pupils will come into the UK education system without having had the prior opportunity to study a second language and the IB gives this option. As Chris Townsend, Headmaster of Felsted School points out: “Taking a second language (in addition to English or a native language) can be at ‘ab initio’ (beginner) level – the IB’s global philosophy puts a value on the learning of language, which can only be a good thing.”

Some IB schools also argue that the variety in the curriculum, the extended essay and CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) aspect help to build really strong independent study skills and a global outlook. In a tightening economy due to the pandemic this could also become more important. Westbourne School highlights a survey of university admissions officers conducted by THE in 2017 that reported 97 per cent rated the IB as developing a ‘’global outlook” either “well or very well”, whilst only seven per cent said the same about A-levels.

The IB was also top for “encouraging independent inquiry” with 94 per cent of the admissions officers saying that it did this “well or very well”, while only 49 per cent of officers gave the A-levels a similar rating.

However, in the same survey, A-levels were considered to offer better “in-depth subject expertise” with 94 per cent stating that they developed this “well or very well”, compared to 56 per cent for the IB. Additionally, as Chris Townsend points out, “completing the Extended Project Qualification alongside A-Levels allows pupils to develop self-motivation & autonomy”.

Gareth Collier , Principal of Cardiff Sixth Form College also argues that, “There is a place for both A-Levels and the IB in preparing students for university and the world of work. Different approaches will suit different students. The success of each system in the aftermath of Covid-19, and any continuing restrictions in place, will be determined by the ability of skilled teachers to adapt their delivery to take advantage of new technology and the exciting developments in this field, relevant to education.”

It is clear both qualifications have many merits and the pandemic doesn’t fundamentally change that. The answer as to which is ‘preferable’, as always, rests with the individual student. As Alasdair Summers, Vice Principal at St Clare’s Oxford , says, “Which one is best? Frankly, it depends! If you are a motivated learner with a high level of self-discipline and genuine strengths and interests in a small range of closely-related subjects, then A-levels make a lot of sense. You can concentrate on your best subjects and can develop an impressive depth of knowledge in them. However, if you don’t have a tight area of focus, or are good at a range of subjects, or even just don’t know what you want to do at age 16, then the IB keeps more doors open for longer.”

One thing Covid-19 has definitely changed, though, is the method of delivery of both qualifications and this has made a huge impact and arguably brought the two qualifications closer together, due to the move to online teaching. As Gareth Collier explains:

“Remote/online learning and its increased use has provided opportunities for teachers of both A-Levels and the IB Diploma. The key to success has been the adaptation of teaching and learning to maximise these opportunities. The CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) section of the IB has needed to adapt to opportunities in quarantine and separation, whilst the delivery of depth in A-Level curricula has needed to embrace and encourage interactivity between students to avoid increased isolation and a silo mentality.”

The move online has certainly created the need for more independent study for pupils studying both the IB and A-Levels and this will have created more resourceful and resilient learners.

Even before Covid-19, Burning Glass data highlighted that one third of skills listed in job postings are soft skills and even in highly technical roles such as IT a quarter of all skills required are soft skills, such as resourcefulness, resilience & critical reasoning (Source: Burning Glass technologies-the Human Factor). As Caroline Nixon , Director of BAISIS and International Director of Boarding Schools’ Association says; “Changes to the world post-Covid are likely to highlight what has almost become a cliché in education – namely that most jobs in tomorrow’s world have not yet been invented. Therefore, the role of education has become even more focused on developing thinking skills as well as to accrue knowledge.”

So, the question which qualification is best, may never be answered? However, the move online has certainly meant that both A-Level and IB studies have required greater autonomy and self-guided learning, developing the vital soft skills that may well prove essential to all students who wish to succeed in the post Covid 19 jobs market.

Article published here-https://studytravel.network/magazine/news/2/27780

Other externally published articles on similar subject https://studytravel.network/magazine/news/2/25824

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