COULD A-LEVELS BE THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR YOUR CHILD?
A levels or IB? This will be the question for many international parents living in or moving to Geneva and having to choose the best path for their child’s future. Students can choose between a number of curriculum options in the final school years, from A-levels, the IB diploma, or if they have a sufficient level of French, the French Baccalaureate or the Swiss Maturité.
While the IB diploma (International Baccalaureate) has become the most common choice for expat families in this area in recent years, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better for your child.
We speak to Tim Meunier, head of Geneva English School (GES) in Versoix about why his school offers an A-level diploma programme; common misconceptions about A-levels and why this path could be right choice for your child.
WHAT ARE A-LEVELS?
The A-Level, or “Advanced Level” programme is the two-year course designed to follow the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) aimed at students aged 16-18. Originally from the UK, it is a firm part of the British curriculum and leads to an internationally recognised ‘Level 3’ (pre-university) qualification.
A-Levels are recognised and respected by universities around the globe. Students with A-Levels gain places at leading universities worldwide.
‘MISCONCEPTIONS’ ABOUT A-LEVELS
“As Geneva is the birthplace of the International Baccalaureate, it is understandable that the programme is popular in Europe and there may be a perception that A-levels are more UK-focused and may limit your child to study in universities in the UK, but this is far from the reality. A-levels provide the same ticket to international universities as the IB diploma,” says Mr Meunier.
In the UK schooling system A-levels are the norm, he says, and this includes the UK’s most prestigious and academic schools. Pupils from these schools go on to study at universities in the UK, at Ivy League universities in the US, Canada and increasingly in Europe.
The Council of British International Schools (COBIS), which represents nearly 300 schools in 80 countries around the world – all offer the A-level diploma and all send pupils to global universities.
What this means, says Mr Meunier, is that your decision about whether your child should follow A-levels or IB should be based purely on which is better suited for your child – and A-levels may have definite advantages for many types of students.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A-LEVELS AND IB?
One of the main differences is in the way that subjects are chosen. For the IB Diploma, students have to choose one subject from 6 subject groups meaning that every student’s curriculum will include Mathematics, at least one Science and at least one additional language and therefore ‘forcing’ breadth of subjects. A Levels have no specific subject requirements, so students have the opportunity to choose any combination of 3-4 core subjects they wish to take.
In addition to the six subject groups, the IB Diploma also contains the three ‘core elements’ of: theory of knowledge; extended essay; and ‘creativity, activity, service’. In an A Level course, breadth of educational experience is ensured via complementary courses (examined or unexamined) taken alongside the main subjects.
SO, DOESN’T THAT MEAN A-LEVELS ARE MUCH NARROWER THAN IB?
Not according to Mr Meunier, and certainly not at GES. Alongside chosen A-level subjects – students will continue with complementary studies in languages, mathematics or science. They will also follow courses in areas such as critical thinking, philosophy and global studies. In addition, they will choose an area in which to carry out an individual project leading to a variety of possible outputs.
SO, WHY COULD A-LEVELS BE THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR YOUR CHILD?
If your child has particular interests or talents, A-levels offer more flexibility and choice, says Mr Meunier.
For example, a student who aspires to pursue medicine at University can tailor their curriculum to include all Sciences (Physics, Biology and Chemistry), a choice not possible within the framework of the IB diploma.
A-level students also have more time to dedicate to their core subjects of choice, leading to greater in-depth knowledge and critical understanding of these subjects, says Mr Meunier.
In addition, there is a focus on equipping students with skills in critical thinking, analyzing ideas and presenting opinions and arguments which are important tools for future university studies. And while there are additional compulsory courses, there is still time for students to pursue other interests such as music or sports, allowing for a more balanced student.
The flexibility in choosing subjects may well lead to more focused and more motivated students, which can ultimately result in higher grades and better preparation in subjects they are keen to follow at university.
WHO ARE A-LEVELS BEST FOR?
Every student, really, says Mr Meunier, a post-16 curriculum based on A Levels is sufficiently flexible to be able to cater for the needs of a very wide range of students:
- All-rounders who are keen to maintain a broad and balanced curriculum and to keep all doors open can study any combination of four subjects in depth whilst also pursuing other courses, activities and interests.
- Those who have particular strengths and talents, or who already know their likely career path, can tailor their choices accordingly, without restriction.
- Others for whom a more individual or less demanding schedule is more suitable, can also make appropriate, guided choices, whilst maintaining a fulfilling and coherent overall programme.
In conclusion, this is why Mr Meunier, believes A-levels is the right choice for many international students:
“An A-levels programme affords individuals the flexibility to choose courses that suit their skills, talents and interests, while also allowing the time to supplement their studies with elements that go beyond the confines of exams, adding contrast, depth and breadth. The GES A-level diploma programme includes critical theory, an extended individual project, involvement in the community and enrichment via a plethora of societies and clubs. It will prepare students for life in a rapidly changing global environment and give them a rich appreciation of our complex, interconnected world.”