Changes ahead for science curriculum

Cayman’s high school students interested in science will benefit from a wider range of options in their studies in the future.

The main objective is to remove a so-called Iron Curtain, which now exists between strong students and their classmates.

‘What is happening is that we are moving from IGCSE Physics, Biology and Chemistry to the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance Science GCSE, which is part of a new comprehensive science programme,’ said Chief Education Officer Shirley Wahler.

IGCSE is an exam offered through CIE, one of the several recognised examination boards in England, and the AQA is another exam board, one of the biggest.

Ms Wahler said the reason for the change is that AQA Science allows students to earn passes in the separate sciences if they choose that level of specialization, but equally allows students to earn passes in either single credit or double credit Science as an integrated subject if they don’t want or need a high level of specialization.

‘In American terms, imagine that IGCSE Physics, Biology and Chemistry are Honors subjects, and that you want a middle ground for the average student as well as catering for the most academic,’ said Ms Wahler.

AQA Science lets students earn module credits toward their qualifications, allowing more students to earn exam passes and more flexibility in both teaching and learning.

‘In other words, it’s a great match for our transformation of education with the focus on meeting the needs of individuals, not just catering to the highly academic or to any other particular group at the expense of the majority of students,’ said Ms Wahler.

‘We believe that, properly implemented, the new Science framework will allow more students to achieve greater success in the sciences, helping to improve an area which has long been of concern.’

Ms Wahler said the changes offer a great opportunity to address a common misconception that the GCSE awards arising from the AQA exams are absolutely equivalent with the IGCSE awards.

‘In technical terms, they are both Level 2 awards – the nearest American equivalent being one high school credit,’ said Mrs. Wahler.

‘However, the AQA Science qualifications are much, much more accessible because you earn your award by collecting modules rather than studying for two years and then sitting one very high-stakes exam.’

The double/single credit option refers to how much of the subject is completed.

‘Double science means you’ve done twice as much science and you get the equivalent of two credits of science rather than one,’ said Mrs. Wahler.

‘What we are doing is eliminating the Iron Curtain between the good students and the poor students.’

She said that until now, they took completely different programmes so that there was no opportunity for a mislabelled student to achieve at the higher level.

‘With all students on the same spectrum of learning in science, everyone starts off with a chance to be successful and they can all go as far as their ability, interest and application take them. You know the passion we have for ensuring opportunity, and this is a critical part of that aspiration,’ she said.

How it works

On the AQA framework, the gradations of awards might work like this:

Struggling student: 2 years of study, a single award in science =1 pass in science

Average student: 2 years of study with a double option (i.e. they spend more time in science classes), a double award in science = 2 passes in science

Strong student: 2 years of study with a double option (i.e. they spend more time in science classes), biology, physics and chemistry awards = 3 passes in science

‘It varies, of course, and each university sets its own policies, but the standard equivalence is that 5 passes at GCSE/IGCSE/CXC (General or Technical) with grades of C/III or better equals US high school graduation with a college prep emphasis. Most US universities also want to see the SAT score,’ said Ms Wahler.

In the British world, students do not normally enter university (typically 3 years for the BA/BS) until they have gone on from GCSE level to complete at least 2 and usually 3 A levels, an additional 2 years of study from age 16 to 18.