The 26th Hong Kong International Education and Careers Expo

Gliding Education is pleased to participate in the 26th Hong Kong International Education and Careers Expo, at Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Center, on 6-7 July 2019. We enjoyed discussing with parents and students on their plans to study overseas, and look forward to work closely with them on the next steps. Special thanks to our partners Glion Institute of Higher Education, Oxbridge Futures, and the organizer, CMA Exhibition Services Ltd.

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GCE A-Levels vs IB

The International Baccalaureate (IB) popularity is beyond doubt. Flexible selection of subjects, well-thought-out curriculum, standard of teaching stuff, recognition of top universities, and adoption by leading private schools etc, all add to confidence in this qualification.

ESF schools switched from GCE A Level to IB in 2004, as part of the effort to move away from UK system to a more “international” system. Most international schools offer IB Diploma, the level before university education, with a few exceptions of British international schools still staying with GCE A Level. Some leading boarding schools in UK are offering both GCE A Level and IB, to cater for the different needs of students.

So what are the key differences between IB vs GCE A Level? The key lies in early specialization (GCE A Level), and emphasis on essay type of assessment (IB).

In the traditional UK education system, students are expected to specialize after Year 9 (at the age of 14), to choose between arts and science streams, broadly speaking as more schools are flexible today, to take the O-Level (IGCSE, and historically HKCEE). Naturally, the O-Level education forms the basics of A-Level. Due to early specialization, it is generally accepted that the GCE A-Level syllabus is one of the highest standards. It is not uncommon for GCE A-Level students to find some courses in the first year of university programs at similar levels.

Some educators believe it may be a bit too early for specialization at the age of 15, and there is demand from students to keep options open. Hence the market demand for a more flexible and broader curriculum. Moreover, instead of one-off examination (very typical UK system), there is a case for continuous assessment, essay/project type of assessment, and involvement outside classroom. This is where the IB system differentiates itself – extended essay (4000 words), Theory of Knowledge (1600 words) and CAS hours (Creative, Activity and Service, 50 hours each).

So which system is better? The answer is it depends on the aspirations of students. If the student identifies his/her particular interests at an early stage, GCE A-Level would be a good choice. However, for those with broader interests, IB will give them a better taste of a range of subjects, before diving into a particular one at university.

Thoughts on Internships

For those choosing the major to study at university, one of the key considerations is how “academic” or “career-oriented” the subject should be, taking into account all the career options available after graduation.

In fact the career options appear much earlier than graduation. It is basically determined during the first one or two internships, and students are expected to apply for summer jobs several months after entering the university. Probably not many students are prepared for that!

From the perspective of most recruiters, relevant experience matters more than academic qualification, partly because of the way hiring managers are looking for candidates. The first internship is particularly hard to come by, and for most students it seems almost random. Then the random internship will be priced in during the application for the next internship and so forth.

Some universities have better internship programmes in certain industries, depending on the connection with the key players. However this might not be fully reflected in normal university rankings, which take a heavier weighting on research papers.

Therefore, the key is for students to think one more step ahead – how do they plan to present themselves in front of employers of their preference? How well are the university programs going to equip them once they are enrolled? These are important questions most student overlook.