Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Pre-University Life in NCBIS - Part I

Sleepless nights and hot coffee - the staples of a pre-uni student

Right then, let's get back to business!

It's been a little more than a week since my last post, and I pledge myself to not let a week pass without having posted anything, no matter how short or long the post may be. I look at my blog with utmost self-pity seeing the gap of time between the Language and Culture Analysis and the 'apology' post because not having posted anything defeated the purpose of that post itself, but whatever, I'm just rambling on for no good reason now...

This one will be a short post; a little snippet of how my life is going in my new chapter in life - pre-university. Some might call it 'college' but technically in my case I am not studying in a college or uni yet, so I'm going to stick with 'Pre-U' or 'IB'. What's IB, you may ask? All will be explained below ~

Let the Study Games begin (and may the marks be ever in your favour)


Courtesy of iis.edu.my (The official site of IISM)

All thanks to God, I have survived a two-year roller-coaster IGCSE adventure in the International Islamic School in Malaysia (IISM). I am proud to say that I have exceeded my expectations and graduated with flying colours! I attained the highest results for the Cambridge IGCSEs in the school - I got A*s for all nine subjects I chose for my examinations, and was named the valedictorian of the year. I don't like to brag about my results to other people, nonetheless I am very thankful and overjoyed by this accomplishment and consider it the 'best thing I've ever achieved in my life so far'.

Just as soon as the pressures of exams have been lifted, I knew that the cycle of studying will begin all over again. Memories of sleepless nights and piles of homework and assignments due the next day would reappear as deja vu as soon as the holidays ended.

Soon enough I started this thing called 'IB' on the last day of August this year. IB is short for International Baccalaureate, a system which offers the IB Diploma for students who have completed and graduated secondary school. It's a little less well-known than A-Levels but it is gaining popularity as a choice for pre-uni education.

Courtesy of ibo.org (The IB's official webpage)

The IB Diploma Programme is a 2-year course in which students choose 6 subjects from 5 or 6 categories:

  • Group 1: Studies in language and literature (Usually English)
  • Group 2: Language acquisition (foreign language)
  • Group 3: Individuals and societies (humanities)
  • Group 4: Experimental sciences
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: The arts (this is optional - IB students may opt not to take subjects from this group)
Courtesy of NCBIS.net
The IB seems to focus a lot more on having a wide range of knowledge in different areas, just like how Cambridge IGCSEs offer the ICE Award for fulfilling different subject-groups. I don't think there is an equivalent for this in A-Levels - students usually take only 3 to 4 subjects and study them in a lot of detail!



The subjects I chose are: English A - Language and Literature, Arabic B, Geography, Economics, Biology and Mathematics. As you can see above, that is my daily lesson schedule for all of my subjects in school.

IB subjects are also taught in different levels of depth depending on what field you want to study later in university. There are options of Higher Level (HL) or Standard Level (SL). A typical IB student must take at least 3 subjects at HL and another 3 at SL. The difference between HL and SL in a subject is that topics would be taught in higher detail, more coursework marks will be assessed and exams would require more deeper levels of understanding and skills.

I had chosen English, Geography and Economics as my HL subjects and the rest being SL subjects.

In addition to this, all students must also study a subject called 'Theory of Knowledge', or TOK for short. TOK is like a philosophical study about knowledge, because all of it is about questioning the nature of knowledge its sources, validity and limitations in various areas of study. It's really complicated and crosses over with so many subjects such as English (in language), Sciences and even Religions (which is not even taught as a subject in my school!). I think it's really special because it's not something I would be taught if I had taken another pre-uni course.

In my view, TOK is an ideal opportunity for people to express their various opinions and beliefs and to scrutinise them in a mature way. However in reality, heated discussions about differing opinions in class often resulted in many impassioned voices being thrown around uncontrollably, strong emotions running feverishly high. I recalled a class debate about creationism versus evolution being turned into a verbal spat with fellow students accusing each other of blasphemy and sacrilege. Yes, it escalated that quickly.

For now, I am not feeling too overwhelmed with the number of subjects. I mean, I did have to study for 9 subjects in IGCSE, and I came out just fine. The most important thing now is that I enjoy what I study in school, which I do for most part, and that would help me motivate myself to achieve better grades.

For more information about the International Baccalaureate, please visit its website by clicking this link.

Why IB? (And why not A-Levels/Foundations/Matriculation/*insert any other pre-university course here*?)

I get asked this question countless times by pretty much everyone I know, even my friends from NCBIS who found it almost ridiculous that someone would come all the way here just for an IB Diploma. Below is a simplified summary of my justifications:

Benefits of IB over any other system I know:
  • The system of assessment is not just exam-based like A-Levels
  • Coursework over 2 years of study is counted as part of the total grade, just like in university
  • Many world-class top-ranked universities prefer it over A-Levels (depending on countries)
  • A lot of further research and self-study must be done by the students themselves rather than the teacher simply giving instructions and notes to copy in class
  • Diligent and hardworking IB students are more prepared for the workload of undergraduate studies than A-Level students on average
  • IB students would develop better critical thinking on sources of knowledge and their limitations, and is a useful skill to have in many fields of study
  • There is a huge focus on making the student internationally-aware of the ever-changing landscape of the world we live in
  • It is far more holistic than A-Levels since IB students study more subjects
  • Community, Action and Service (CAS) offers opportunities for students to develop experiential learning outside of the realm of academics
  • CAS help build awareness of the problems of the community and encourages students to take the initiative to make a difference
  • Apparently a good choice for 'over-achievers', e.g. valedictorians (e.g. you know who...)

How I Came to Know About NCBIS

I chose to pursue this IB Diploma not in Malaysia, but in Cairo, Egypt. I am now in Year 12 in New Cairo British International School, or NCBIS for short. It is my first year in this school and hopefully I will graduate in the summer of 2016, when I complete my IB course.

Before I moved to Egypt, my parents moved there along with my younger siblings who previously lived in Sakhalin, Russia. I was in Malaysia completing my IGCSE course when they moved there. All of my younger siblings were enrolled in NCBIS to continue their international education. The school is located in the same district we live in - the New Cairo area, the distance from my house is only 6 minutes by car. The proximity makes it a desirable choice over other international schools in Cairo.

I visited Egypt for holiday during my school's spring break when I was still in Year 11. I recently finished a half-year exam. I took a great deal of interest in this school, because it seems to be similar to my old school in Oman, the American British Academy. Both schools have the International Baccalaureate as their curricula, and the facilities offered are similar as well. After some thorough reading about the school and the IB from a few booklets, I decided to visit this school and arranged for a tour of the school's grounds.

Ms. Eby, the school's IB coordinator, greeted me and took me around the school for a look at all the facilities they have on offer. I was very impressed with the amount of facilities despite their limited area. The whole locality was very green and well-covered with natural shade.

On the day of the tour I told Ms. Eby about my desire to join IB in NCBIS. Obviously I brought some evidence of my school grades, so I sent gave her the photocopied results of my Year 11 mid-year exams. She was happy to find out that I had gotten A pluses for every subject listed there and said "we would be delighted to have you here," with a welcoming smile. I explained and confirmed my subject choices to her, which was almost the same as the subjects I currently take in school. The only difference was that I chose History HL as an IB subject, but at the start of the year I found out that the subject was cancelled due to lack of demand by prospective students. I ended up taking my backup option which was Economics but I found that to be a fascinating subject.

There are several reasons as to why I prefer not to continue my studies in Malaysia, and the main reason is that for me Malaysia had few viable options for pursuing the IB Diploma. IISM only offered A-Levels (a system which I tried my best to avoid due to its fully-exam-based nature) and the rest does not offer a truly international environment which I am already used to (like MARA College, a technically government school). I am aware that international schools in KL like Fairview does offer the IB Diploma, but it did not offer a hostel accommodation like IISM which would make it impossible for me to enroll anyway.

Since my parents are already living in Egypt and there is an international school of high standards almost right next-door, why would I put myself in such trouble to find a school millions of miles away from where my family lives?

Courtesy of NCBIS.net
My heart was set on making NCBIS my next stop in my journey in life. I had missed living as an expatriate after having lived in Malaysia for about two-and-a-half years in hostel. It felt monotonous to live in my own country for so long, and although I have many friends in Malaysia, I was craving for new experiences and travel in a far-away land. To me, Egypt is the right choice for me, and I will never regret this decision.

A summary of the benefits of NCBIS over any other institution:
  • It offers the IB Diploma Programme (that's actually the main reason why I moved here)
  • My parents are already living in Egypt
  • All of my siblings are students of NCBIS, and therefore make transport arrangements easier
  • I don't have to live on my own in a college, cutting costs for my parents
  • My school fees are still being covered by the company in which my father works in
  • It is one of the best international schools in Egypt, and has a high reputation for educational quality
  • Many people actually get really good grades there, so competition exists among students
  • It offers a wonderful selection of academic and athletic facilities at the disposal of the students (like the heated swimming pool!)
  • It is very technologically-oriented - every class has a smartboard and school laptops and computers can be borrowed and used whenever the students need them
  • Free Wi-Fi coverage all over the school! (Extremely important for students nowadays)
  • It has a diverse composition of students from all over the world, keeping true to its international reputation and a chance to make connections with people from various countries
  • Its canteen offers some very healthy choices of snacks and meals (unlike my previous school where everything is either laden with sugar or oil)
  • The school arrange trips for students every year to many different places in the world such as China, Switzerland and Cyprus. I myself will go to one of these trips this year, God-willing!
That's all folks for this week! If you like it, please comment down in the feedback section and share it on social media. Coming next week will be Part II - about how my first week went as a new student in NCBIS, the troubles and worries I had and how I resolved them.

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