Meeting the needs of 160 countries

It’s an exciting time to be in international education – the growth of the worldwide middle class and its desire to get children into top performing universities around the world means that, here at Cambridge International Examinations, we’re expecting year on year growth both in numbers of schools and candidates for our International GSCSEs and International A Levels. But it’s not enough to look at the numbers - the educational experience must be a quality one – and it has to adapt to each country and nation’s needs. One example would be our introduction of a special March examination session for India. It looks like a small change but it enables students in India to take the exam at a time when 'home' universities require certificates – and it requires a reasonable amount of effort from us to make it happen.

You’d better be prepared to listen to teachers, students and parents!

So how do we design qualifications to meet the needs of 160 unique countries?

1) Skills focus:

Today’s learners need to be well equipped for a world that is changing, both technologically and economically, at an extraordinary pace. This change means that schools have to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented and for problems that we don’t yet know will arise.

So we need to ensure curriculum and assessment develops skills to meet such challenges.

1. Our approach to syllabus design embeds the development of transferable skills within distinct subject contexts.

2. Designing programmes and syllabuses that stretch, challenge and inspire students of all abilities. They help students develop an informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning.

3. We use assessment techniques which develop these skills, including group projects, research projects, presentations and reflective learning

For example Cambridge Global Perspectives is a cross curricular, skills-based subject that encourages students to think critically about a range of global issues from a local, national and global perspective. It places academic study in a practical, real-world context and includes group work, seminars, and opportunities to work with other students around the world.

2) Appropriate content has to be appropriate:

This manifests itself in:

Syllabus design – Avoid a UK-centric approach. In newly reformed GCSEs, English Literature set texts must be written by British authors. It would be inappropriate for us to follow that model. So in addition to British born writers Cambridge IGCSE has set texts from authors from Nigeria, India and America.

Question design – mindful that English may be a candidate’s second or third language. We are testing their understanding of Chemistry, not their understanding (or misunderstanding) of the preamble to a Chemistry question.

3) Practical considerations

In designing for an international audience one also has to be mindful of practical considerations. Recent developments in this area:

• Date of examination results

    o We already offer a May/June and Oct/November series to account for the academic year in norther and southern hemisphere countries.

    o Last year we introduced, for India, a March examination series. In doing so it:

                            - Ensures exams are held within school calendar
                            - Ensures results are issued in time to meet deadlines for Indian universities

    o Also, we have shortened the window between November examinations and January results. Results earlier in January benefits students looking for places in universities in Southern Africa.

• In addition, to maintain the security reputation of our qualifications we introduced time-zone question papers. Countries in specific time zones have their candidates under exam conditions at the same time. It guards against a student in say, New Zealand, coming out of an examination and sharing its contents on Facebook before candidates in UK or USA have taken the examination!

So a combination of practical considerations, skills based approach to syllabus design and regular reviews of appropriateness of content, all need to be part of the mix in ensuring successful development of international qualifications.

Peter Monteath
Regional Director, UK and Ireland, Cambridge International Examinations

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