Keeping it simple

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2012, 12:00am


AP Advanced Placement Programme. AP courses are offered by many schools following American curricula to allow top students to earn university credits and help them secure places on competitive degree programmes. The programme, involving 30 courses, is run by The College Board in the United States.

ACT A standardised test used to assess candidates for admission to American universities that is an alternative to the SAT (see below). It is split into four sections: English, maths, reading and science. An optional written paper is also offered. Each section is scored on a scale of one to 36 and candidates also receive a composite score, which is the average of their four test scores.

CIS Council of International Schools. The global offshoot of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), which provides accreditation, among other services.

DSS Direct Subsidy Scheme. Under the scheme, schools receive government subsidies per student similar to those for aided schools. But direct subsidy schools can also charge fees and enjoy greater independence and flexibility in terms of management, curriculum and admissions. For schools transferring to the scheme, direct subsidy status is phased in from Primary One or Secondary One, which is why some schools still offer both direct subsidy and aided classes.

ESL English as a Second Language. Programmes designed to help non-native English speakers learn the language more quickly. Also known as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and English as an Additional Language (EAL). Many schools charge separately for books, stationery and other services, as well as non-refundable registration fees. Many require parents to buy debentures, usually refundable, to secure their children's places. These are designed to help cover capital costs. Some let parents pay annual, non-refundable, capital levies instead.

ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Examinations and managed in more than 100 countries by the British Council and IDP Education, Australia. It is required for study in Australia and is widely used as an entrance qualification for tertiary education elsewhere. In Hong Kong, it is used as a language test for graduating university students.

GCE General Certificate of Education. An internationally recognised qualification offered by five British examination boards and approved by Britain's Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority. GCE A-levels are broadly equivalent to Hong Kong A-levels. Since 2000 they have been divided into two parts - the AS-level, taken after the first year of senior secondary education, and the A2, after the second and final year. A new A* grade was introduced in 2010.

GCSE General Certificate of Secondary Education. British public exams for 14- to 16-year-olds, run by the same exam boards as GCE A-levels. Broadly equivalent to the now defunct Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, although grading for both GCSEs and GCE A-levels is more generous than for the Hong Kong exams. An international version, the IGCSE, has syllabuses adapted for students outside Britain. Students normally take eight to 10 subjects, with English, maths and sciences compulsory, at the end of Key Stage Four (see below under National Curriculum of England and Wales). Advanced classes may take some subjects earlier.

HKDSE Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. The diploma follows three years of senior secondary education. Students have to take four core subjects, Chinese, English, maths and liberal studies, and choose two or three electives from among academic, applied learning and alternative language options. They are also offered 'other learning experiences' that include moral and civic education, community service, physical and aesthetic education and work experience. The first group of Secondary Six students sat the exams in 2012 alongside the last group of Secondary Seven students taking HK A-levels. From now on, students from public schools will enter university after Secondary Six.

IBO International Baccalaureate Organisation. The IBO - which is based in Geneva but has its curriculum centre in Cardiff, Wales, and regional headquarters in Singapore - was founded in the 1960s to develop a curriculum for international schools. It now offers three International Baccalaureate programmes, the IB Diploma, Middle Years and Primary Years, which promote broad, inquiry-based learning with a strong global perspective.

IB Diploma A pre-university programme for 16- to 19-year-olds and a popular, although rigorous, alternative to A-levels. Students study six subjects, three at standard level and three at higher. These must include their first language, a second language and one subject from each of four curriculum areas: individuals and society; experimental sciences; maths and computer sciences; and the arts. All students have to complete the more philosophical theory of knowledge course and the creativity, action and service programme. They must also write a 4,000-word extended essay on a research topic.

IB MYP IB Middle Years Programme. For students aged 11 to 16 who study a wide range of subjects taught through five core principles: approaches to learning; health and social education; environment; community and service; and homo faber (man's impact on the environment). They must also complete a personal project in the final year.

IB PYP IB Primary Years Programme. For children aged three to 12. The most flexible of the IB programmes, it covers traditional subjects but with an inquiry-based, cross-curricular approach, organised around six key themes that run across six subject areas: language; maths; social studies; arts; science and personal, social and physical education.

ICT Information and Communications Technology. Most schools emphasise that students will learn and use computer skills both in ICT classes and across the curriculum.

IELTS International English Language Testing System. Language assessment method developed by University of Cambridge.

Montessori Method An approach to teaching developed by Italian educationalist Maria Montessori (1870-1952) that focuses on developing children's natural curiosity through self-directed learning. Manipulable learning equipment is used to enable children to learn through their different senses. Montessori also advocated that children should be taught in multi-age classrooms so they could learn from each other. There are now thousands of Montessori schools around the world, from pre-school to secondary levels. The schools may be accredited by the Montessori Centre International or recognised by the Association Montessori Internationale ( and However, as the Montessori name is not patented, schools can use the term in their title without having any accreditation.

NAIS National Association of Independent Schools. Organisation representing about 1,400 independent schools in the US and overseas. Chinese International School is a member.

NCCTD National Centre for School Curriculum and Textbook Development. An organisation affiliated to the central government's Ministry of Education that is starting to accredit international schools on the mainland. It has been preparing for this job by working with overseas agencies.

National Curriculum of England and Wales Used by many international schools and preschools, covering education from age five to 16 and divided into four 'key stages' plus a foundation stage that covers preschool education. Students may be tested at the end of each key stage. During key stages one and two, primary schools teach the core subjects of English, maths and science, plus history, geography, art and design, ICT, music, design and technology, and PE. Stress is placed on reading, writing and maths through the British government's literacy and numeracy strategies. These provide schools with study programmes and materials for daily literacy and numeracy hours, designed to ensure a rigorous focus on these basic skills. The first three years of secondary school - age 11 to 14 - are covered by key stage three, while key stage four covers the preparation period for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams from age 14 to 16 (see GCSE entry). During key stage three, students follow all the primary subjects plus citizenship and a modern foreign language.

PIS Private Independent Schools. Since 1999, these schools have received government land and capital grants for construction, but are otherwise financially independent. Up to 70 per cent of their students must be permanent residents. They are free to choose their own curricula and admission policies.

SATs British Standard Assessment Tasks. Tests in English and maths to assess pupils' achievements in the National Curriculum of England and Wales, taken at the end of key stage two at age 11. SATs are currently under review by the British government. Although the tests are not obligatory for schools following this curriculum outside Britain, some schools in Hong Kong do set them.

SAT A standardised test called the SAT Reasoning Test (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test or Scholastic Assessment Test) used to assess candidates for admission to American universities. It is split into three sections: critical reading, maths and writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. Some independent schools and many tutorial schools in Hong Kong prepare students for the SAT.

TOEFL Test of English as a Foreign Language. Assesses students' abilities in written and spoken English. It is often used as an entrance requirement for international students applying to American universities.

WASC Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Accredits state and private schools, colleges and universities in the United States. Several international schools in Hong Kong use its services for quality assurance. Hong Kong International School and American International School are examples of WASC-accredited schools.