A Guide to The Education Programs on Offer in International Schools

When you relocate, choosing a school for your children can be one of the most challenging and complicated processes you will face. At the heart of your decision should be the need to select an educational establishment that offers a curriculum that is recognized throughout the world (including your home country), is readily transferable from country to country (especially if you anticipate relocating on a frequent basis) and suited to your child’s educational and personal needs. However, with the International Bacculate, International Primary Curriculum, Primary Years Programme, UK National Curriculum and others to choose from, how do you know where to start?

Our guide to the various educational programs that are on offer in expatriate international schools throughout the world aims to aid your decision by providing a comprehensive overview of the curriculums on offer and how they vary from one another.

Common Curriculum Options in International Schools

Primary Years

The two most common educational programs that are offered in international schools throughout the world are the International Primary Curriculum (IPC), the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the national curriculum of a given country. Each of these are designed to provide expatriate children with enquiry-based learning opportunities across different subjects and contexts, with the national curriculums tending to be the most prescriptive of the three.

International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

The IPC is very popular with international school teachers because it provides a structured approach to teaching and learning activities while also allowing educators to take a creative approach to devising educational tasks. A significant emphasis is placed on international learning and the IPC provides plenty of opportunities for international schools to collaborate with one another in order to enhance a global learning experience. The program includes a set of learning goals against which children are assessed as they progress through their education.

The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP)

The PYP, which is part of the international baccalaureate, is often described as a constructivist curriculum because it encourages children to actively participate in their own learning through a combination of independent and group tasks. While the PYP offers a framework of desired educational experiences for children to follow, it also provides teachers with plenty of scope to develop their own lesson plans and learning experiences. For this reason, the PYP should only be taught by highly experienced teachers who have the talent and experience needed to deal with the inherent lack of structure offered by the PYP.

National Curriculums

Some international schools follow the national curriculums of their home countries. For example, if your child attends a British overseas school they may study the National Curriculum of England, while a child at an American school will follow a version of the American curriculum. This can be very useful for families that have relocated on a short-term basis and how are expecting their children to resume education in their home country at some point as it means that the child will be gaining the same learning experiences as their peers at home and therefore will not experience any significant difficulties reassimilating upon their return.

However, one of the major problems associated with national curriculums is that they are not wholly relevant for children who are studying in an international setting because they lack the international focus provided by the IPC and PYP, which many expat children need to thrive abroad.

Middle Years

Historically, outside of the national curriculums of given nations, the middle years of education were relatively overlooked and there were very few curriculum options available for children aged between 11 and 14. However, more recently two globally recognized programs have been introduced for children at this age: the IB’s Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC).

IB’s Middle Years Programme (MYP)

The MYP is designed for students who are aged between 11 to 16 and aims to provide a learning framework that teachers can follow in order to encourage students to develop into creative and independent thinkers. The MYP places a significant emphasis on facilitating children to make a practical connection between the educational subjects they are taught in school and their application in the real world. The program takes the international setting within which it is taught into account by focusing on intercultural activities and encouraging children to apply their learning within a global context. It is particularly effective for children who have already completed the PYP, as it builds on their existing learning experiences while also preparing them for later studies in the form of the IB Diploma Programme or the IB Career-related Certificate (IBCC).

The International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC)

The International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) is an educational program that has been designed to meet the specific learning needs of children aged between 11 and 14. A growing number of international schools are introducing the IMYC as a means of providing for the learning needs of children while building a solid and reliable middle years curriculum. The end result is a program that is designed to teach predetermined subject material to children in a manner that is relevant to where they live while also being transferable should the child relocate at a later date.

The IMYC is an educational curriculum that is designed to meet the specific learning needs of children who are aged between 11 and 14 and is intended as a follow up to the International Primary Curriculum. This tailored program of study was developed through intensive research that involved teachers, children, parents, scientists and other experts. At the heart of the curriculum is the idea that children who are at an adolescent age undergo major changes in their thinking and brain activity that are unique to their stage of development and the learning experiences that are provided as part of the curriculum aim to take into consideration the specific needs that adolescent children have.

The curriculum is now in active use in at least 18 different countries throughout the world and notable international schools that follow the IMYC are the Harrow International Schools, Eton, the International School of Bremen in Germany, The School of Research Science in UAE, the British Schools of America, and Beacon Academy in Indonesia.

One of the disadvantages of the IMYC is that it is only available for children aged between 11 and 14, while the MYP is designed to cover children up until the age of 16. This means that children who study the IMYC will need to move onto the IGCSE when they reach the age of 14. For more information, see: http://www.greatlearning.com/imyc/

Secondary Years

A number of different options are available for children when they reach the secondary years of their international education.


The Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is the international version of the GCSE and it caters for children aged between 14 and 16 years old. The goal of the course is to prepare students for future academic success, including progression to IB Diploma and, as such, children who complete this course will be armed with the skills they need to advance to university studies. The program of study involves both practical and theoretical learning experiences and allows teachers to plan and deliver lessons that are within a regional context.

The qualification is recognized by businesses and academic institutions throughout the world.

Regardless of what curriculum you decide to pursue, always ensure that you thoroughly research the international schools on offer in your host location. Out expat destination guides contain comprehensive information about schools in popular expat cities throughout the world and contain everything you need to know about choosing a school, from fees and debentures through to class sizes and areas of expertise.

For more information on selecting international schools, see our free guide to how to choose a school when living overseas.

Author: ExpatInfoDesk