This academic year will always be remembered by the 2020 graduating classes as the year their exams were cancelled. Whether A-levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB) dip­loma, across the world students have had to accept that their final grades have been assessed on a new kind of formula.

Many students felt hugely disappointed that they could not sit the exams that would have given them the final opportunity to demonstrate their know­ledge; instead teachers had to submit grades and internal assessments.

Around the globe, universities have declared that they accept these new conditions and will acknowledge the results offered by the examination boards; however, this is unchartered territory for both examining bodies and the universities. 

Nevertheless, our 18-year-olds must go through the same routine as other years, waiting anxiously for their results, hoping to get into the university or course of their choice. Verdala International School offers the IB diploma, which among other things, has the advantage that the results come out in early July.

This year, our results were representative of our inclusive school status. We can celebrate with pride those students who achieved over 36 points (out of 45), which is recognised worldwide as scores that open the doors to prominent universities.

For some schools, league tables are proudly distributed to show off their top scorers; however, I would maintain that a truly inclusive school recognises each individual’s success, not as a cohort or representative data.

When a student who started his academic journey with low self-esteem and lack of drive, with a prediction of “may just pass”, comes out with an IB diploma and a 6 (A) in their favourite subject, that is a win-win.

Equally pleasing is the student who struggled with organisation and deadlines, whose potential rose exponentially throughout their journey, who can now joyously sing and dance with a 28-point result that will enable admission to her course of choice.

IB diploma vs A-levels… is like comparing apples and oranges

Like other schools, at VIS we celebrate and salute the annual valedictorian and salutatorian, however, we are equally proud of every child’s learning journey and their personal achievements.

“Which is better” is the most frequent question asked by anyone contemplating the IB diploma vs A-levels. There is a misconception that one is harder than the other as, in many ways, it is like comparing apples and oranges. In the end, both are hard; both require O-levels (or the equivalent) to demonstrate a foundation of ability, and both have expectations of academic rigour.

IB diploma subject areas are interlinked through a connecting curriculum that highlights both global and local current affairs.IB diploma subject areas are interlinked through a connecting curriculum that highlights both global and local current affairs.

The IB diploma is an interconnected programme that aims to enhance the 16- to 18-year-old’s knowledge through inquiry and perspective. It fosters a student’s learning journey and the values that contribute to the adolescent’s development, such as reflection, balance, communication, and ethics.

In addition, IB students must undertake acts of community service, an aspect that makes them reflect on their local context.

A-levels, in contrast, can be seen as individual bubbles, still worthwhile on their own but not a collection of intertwined skills; you can take one, two, three or four, and work solidly in each bubble. There is no requirement to connect the dots; it is about the stepping stones towards an examination.

VIS runs the IB diploma programme precisely because it is holistic.

Subject areas do not stand alone but are interlinked through a connecting curriculum that highlights both global and local current affairs.

As our O-level students make their choices about what to do at sixth form, the most important aspect is that they are thinking about their pathway.

At VIS, we support the students in considering their options for university. They may go to Russia, the Netherlands, Singapore or the UK, among others.

But every year quite a few choose to go to the University of Malta where they are welcomed with open arms as critical thinkers and active communicators.

Indeed, our Head of School Award this year was presented to one of our Maltese students who aims to continue higher education at the University of Malta.

As an inclusive school, we are not academically selective, but we are values-selective, and while we know that the IB diploma does not suit all, it is our curriculum of choice because it requires motivation, open-mindedness and a willingness to be part of the stewardship of our planet and all its potential.

Totty Aris, head, Verdala International School, Pembroke

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