What is the right curriculum for your child?

Choosing the most appropriate curriculum is a difficult decision. The first step is to make a comparison of what’s available.

Photo: AISM

There are many private and international school options in Malaysia and it can be daunting to determine which education system is the best fit for your child. To make it easier, this article provides a comparison of popular curriculums available in Malaysia – the International Baccalaureate (IB), A-levels and the Australian curriculum’s New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC). It’s important to note that there is not one single preferred international education system with each having its strengths; and exit qualifications should be chosen based on what suits the child best. 

A-levels are currently structured into two years – AS and A2. Students take four AS level subjects in Year 12 and three subjects at A2 level. There are no compulsory subjects and it’s an artefact of the English educational philosophy of creating specialists. The IB Diploma was an attempt to move away from this with six academic subjects studied over two years. The programme comprises theory of knowledge, extended essay, and creativity, action, and service unit. It is compulsory to study a native language, a second language, a science, and mathematics. The IB Diploma was never intended as a ‘one size fits all’ qualification but as a certification of completion for students who were excellent all-rounders. 

The Australian HSC is a nice compromise between the two systems. Students have the flexibility to choose at least 6 subjects (12 units) in Year 11 and then, 5 subjects (10 units) in Year 12. Students are encouraged to take a wide range of subjects including Pure Science, Mathematics, Geography, ICT, Legal studies, Business Studies, Economics, Photography, Visual Arts, Commerce, Drama, Music, Sports, French, Spanish, as well as Design and Technology. English is compulsory while Mathematics is not; however, most students study it as a requirement for their tertiary education. There are different levels of mathematics for students to choose from ranging from general to advanced.

The Senior School at Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) emphasises pathway planning and careers advice under the guidance of a Careers Coordinator at the school; and this helps students identify the courses to take for the career of their choice. The Australian system is aware that students at this age may be unsure of what to pursue in the future, which is why the breadth of subjects offered helps. 

Method of assessment 
Another key consideration when choosing an international education system is to consider what your child is expected to do.

In A-levels, grades are awarded based on examination performance. There is greater flexibility now on when these exams are taken, and while it’s possible in some cases to retake them, the bulk of knowledge and skills assessment is still based on exams. This benefits students who are perform well in exam conditions.

The IB Diploma has a small element of internal assessment, but generally, 80% is externally assessed, mostly through exams. It’s graded on a 45-point scale and a minimum of 24 points is required for an award of the diploma. 

The HSC is based on 50% school assessment (spread across Year 12) and 50% final examination. The downside of this is that students have to work hard all year long, but it rewards consistency and hard work. Students sit for their final exams confident that credit is given for the work done during the year, and not everything is dependent on that one exam. 

HSC marks for each course are divided into bands. Each band aligns with a description of a typical performance by a student within that mark range. They also receive an Australian Admissions Tertiary Rank (ATAR) based on their HSC results, which ranks each student against the performance of those studying HSC in Australia and throughout the world. This ATAR score is used for entrance into universities worldwide.

There is no simple answer to which curriculum is the best as each have their strengths and merits. The question shouldn’t be which is best, but rather, which suits my child? 

Ask yourself:

  • How does my child perform in exams?
  • What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What type of learning suits my child?
  • Is my child a specialist or an all-rounder?


Australian Curriculum at AISM
For the past 20 years AISM has been successfully delivering the Australian Curriculum from ELC up to Year 12. By providing a solid foundation in knowledge, understanding, skills and values; it recognises that children progress at different paces, have diverse learning inclinations and varied goals. The academic programme also focuses on intercultural understanding, ethic, critical and creative thinking, and digital skills. By providing a wide range of subject options in the senior years, students are able to maintain a broad focus leading to more university and career opportunities. The curriculum revolves around promoting equity and excellence, so as to develop academic excellence, confidence, creativity and good citizenship.

Discover the Australian Curriculum, a curriculum for the future 
Join the school's virtual talk during AISM's Open Days and find out more about what the Australian International School can do for your child. Speak to the Principal, Head of Schools and teachers and get a first-hand look at the school and community. 

Register now at www.aism.edu.my/admissions/virtual-open-week

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