Bahrain: What are the benefits of an American curriculum?


“Every curriculum and approach, whether it’s British, American, or Canadian, have their strengths.” – Dave McMaster

Gulf Insider speaks with Dave McMaster, Founding Director of the American School of Bahrain, about the American curriculum, the advantages of studying in a US accredited school, the IB Diploma, and how the students are being prepared for university and careers beyond.

ASB offers a standards-based American curriculum. Can you tell us briefly what this is?

An American-based standard curriculum is a research-based educational approach for a curriculum that looks at each area of academic studies. We use the common core standards for English and Math, the new generation’s Science standards, as well as standards for Physical Education, Health and Wellness, and Fine and Performing Arts.

As the students go through school, the teachers will look at if they’re meeting these standards. We use data driven assessments like the Measure of Academic Progress test, which measures their literacy and numeracy levels. If there’s a gap – which there’s been a lot lately, due to COVID – they can go back and assess how the student is doing against these standards.

Is ASB accredited by any US accrediting authority? What does it mean for the students?

ASB is in the process of accreditation with the Middle Schools Association of the United States and the  Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). We have completed the pre-authorization process and are currently in self-study. We are looking at full accreditation by July 2023.

We are also fully authorized by the International Baccalaureate (IB) Association. Our first cohort of graduates for the IB diploma will start in September 2022.

Parents should only consider schools that are either in the process of accreditation or are fully accredited.

What are the advantages of choosing an American curriculum school?

What we need to break down is not so much the curriculum itself, but the approach. I think the advantage of the American or pedagogical approach is that the students assume a lot more responsibility for their learning. In terms of teaching, we are looking much more at the teacher being a guide rather than doing a sermon or lecture up front. They will still teach and deliver curriculum, but it’s going to be much more in the hands of the students, so they have a say. This helps students gain confidence in learning.

A big part of it is developing of a love of learning, and you don’t gain a love of learning by somebody talking at you. When you walk into any of our classrooms, you would see students working collaboratively and never see them sitting in rows. You would see them participating in the discussion with their teachers and having an opinion, challenging popular and historical beliefs, and they gain confidence with that. This helps with their long-term learning. Therefore, when they get to Middle and High School where it’s much more challenging academically, their minds are completely open. They know that it’s okay to take a risk. The know that they’re not going to be told “no, that’s not right”. They’re going to be encouraged to take a risk and be told “no, that’s not right – let’s try that again”. They know it is safe to fail and try again before they get to the point where they are forming an opinion that might be different than even what the teacher thought.

I think the biggest difference in the approach of an American curriculum school is the ethos and atmosphere. You should be able to feel that when you walk into a school – it’s a buzz.

Sometimes people might say an American approach is a little more laissez-faire, but it’s not. There’s still structure, but you see students having a say in what happens in the school. They learn through doing instead of being told. We do assessments and have tests and quizzes, but as much more of a process-based  approach to learning. That makes it a lot more ingrained in students when they learn. They’re a lot more likely to be successful academically because they have confidence in the way they learn.

How does ASB prepare students for university entry and careers beyond?

Every single parent – even with a five-year-old – thinks: “where will my child be able to go to university if they attend this school?” So, the process at ASB starts very early and we ingrain the love of learning in the children from the early ages of 3-5. We ingrain in them the idea that they should be assuming responsibility for their learning.

We have academic and career counselors at the school to make sure our students are feeling safe and well. It’s a 12- to 13-year process and counselors will follow a student all the way through to Grade 12. For example, if I have a group of students as a counselor, I will follow that student and their family so I know just about everything I can until that student’s ready to apply to university.

In 2022, great students have the opportunity to go anywhere in the world. Even though we’re an American curriculum school, we will still have students going to British, Canadian, European, and any other universities because we prepare them for that from an early age. It doesn’t just start at Grade 12.

Does ASB offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme? Who can take this?

Yes. In fact, our first group of students who are our first cohort of IB are currently in Grade 10. They’re our oldest students and every single one of them has the opportunity to take the full IB diploma.

It’s a two-year program where they would take six different subjects in six areas. It’s the gold standard for curriculum around the world. Universities see it as the highest level of academic rigor.

Every ASB student has the opportunity to take the IB diploma. They also have the opportunity to take the ASB American diploma. Those who take the full IB diploma will get both when they graduate.

There’s been many research studies around the IB diploma and how IB students perform at university. Dr. Martha Piper from the University of British Columbia in the early 90s conducted a worldwide survey of IB students versus students in any other curriculum and it was extremely clear that those with the IB diploma not only performed better in university, they were more engaged, content with their university experience, and much more likely to finish their degree in 4-5 years. They were also much more likely to pursue a postgraduate degree. Over the last 20-30 years, universities around the world have been offering IB students scholarships and benefits. This proves that you’re on much higher ground with an IB diploma.

One of the challenges is the breadth of it. You have to take math, science, English, a second language, humanities, and art classes all the way through Grade 12. That gives you higher opportunities and the advantage of applying to a variety of programs when you graduate.

There’s a common misconception that the US curriculum is less challenging than others. What would you say to this?

I would say it’s not true. Every curriculum and approach whether it’s British, American, Canadian, etc., have their strengths and weaknesses. I think one of the real advantages of the American approach and curriculum is its liberal arts approach and considering all areas being important until the end of grade 12, it is very challenging. The core standards that students have to meet are at a very high level of expectation.

For more information on ASB, visit their website or call +973 1721 1800.

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