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  • Writer's pictureSarah Lustig

What is an international curriculum?

Updated: Nov 23, 2020


Hello and welcome to my new blog! For my first post, I thought I would start with an introduction to one of the areas I work in: international curricula. Publishers and editors who haven’t worked in the international market before might have a vague, nebulous idea of what an international curriculum is. They have a different name, but are they are really any different to UK curricula?

Just as with UK curricula, international curricula come in several forms. The key varieties are:

· A curriculum developed by a UK exam board, usually based on their UK curriculum.

· A curriculum for a particular market that we would call international, because it isn’t based in the UK.

· A curriculum developed by an international organisation with internationalism built into the curriculum’s structure.

A local curriculum with international appeal

Several UK exam boards have branched out into international qualifications, such as International GCSEs. In many cases, the international version of the qualification closely mirrors the UK qualification. The exam board often have clear ideas about how to approach a subject and they will apply them to any new version of a course. However, how much the courses diverge varies between exam boards and courses, so you can’t assume there will be similarities.

Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) was created in 1998 out of the UK-based examining body OCR, specifically for the purpose of awarding international qualifications. CAIE offers qualifications right from primary to secondary.

Edexcel doesn’t have a separate awarding body for international qualifications. However, they offer a full complement of qualifications in primary, secondary and vocational courses.

OxfordAQA is the newest exam board to this market. It was set up in 2015 as a joint venture between AQA and Oxford University Press. They offer International GCSEs and A levels in a wide range of subjects.

A market-based curriculum

In educational publishing, you might hear market-specific curricula referred to as international. It’s a bit of a misnomer, but international is a wide umbrella and we like to let as many courses as possible shelter under its canopy.

Education boards in some markets commission an exam board to create a curricula tailored to their country. Countries in the Middle East have often used this route and exam boards get into fierce bids trying to win these valuable contracts.

These curricula are also often based on their UK counterparts for two reasons. Firstly, it's much less time-consuming and more cost-effective for an exam board to adapt an existing curriculum than to develop an entirely new one. Secondly, there is sometimes prestige for other countries associated with having a curriculum based on a UK course. The UK education system is one of the most well respected in the world, despite what we're sometimes led to believe by the government. (Oh yes, I went there.)

A world curriculum

The most famous example of a curriculum developed for international schools is the International Baccalaureate. The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) was founded in 1968 in Switzerland. ‘Intercultural understanding’ is a key message of their mission statement and is embedded in the structure of their curriculum. At Diploma level, when students are aged 16 to 18, they must take at least one language.

Anyone who is familiar with the UK equivalent A level will immediately recognise the stark differences with our own curriculum. Students typically take just three A levels in the UK. IB Diploma students take six courses, as well as writing a 4000-word extended essay and completing a project based on 'creativity, activity, service'.

A fast-changing market

In short, an international curriculum might be a UK curriculum in a new dress, or it could be a completely different beast. But with new exam boards entering this market, international qualifications are a rapidly growing area of publishing. Publishers have been quick to respond to this new demand and there’s a wealth of resources already available to accompany these courses, some of which I have worked on recently.

Why not check out an international version of a UK curriculum you know well? It might be useful to familiarise yourself with some of the new courses coming on to the market, or perhaps to find out how competing publishers are meeting this new demand.


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