What are schools bringing into their curriculum with Cambridge International? We set out three important things we want students to develop – deep subject knowledge, conceptual understanding and higher order thinking skills. Our Cambridge Pathway is a clear framework for progression from one stage to the next.
Cambridge programmes combine an emphasis on mastering subjects in depth, at the same time as developing skills for study and work in the future. We believe in the intrinsic value of studying a subject in depth. In the words of Andreas Schleicher (2017), Director for Education and Skills, OECD: ‘In top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous – that is, provides a high level of cognitive demand. It’s also more focused – with a few things that are taught well and in great depth and in a way that is coherent.’ Deep subject knowledge is important in order to develop the ability to solve problems, to apply understanding to new situations and to enable learners to progress to the next stage. It is especially important at Cambridge International A Level because most learners aspire to go to university, where deep subject understanding is so vital.
Regular consultation with leading higher education institutions (including Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge) has informed our work to make sure our syllabuses for 16 to 19 year olds encourage learners to develop their conceptual understanding: a firm grasp of the subject’s key concepts (see Meyer and Land 2003) and developing the skills they need to succeed at university. We see key concepts as essential ideas that help learners develop a deep understanding of their subject and make links between different aspects. Key concepts can often transform a student’s grasp of their subject, and open up new ways of thinking about, understanding or interpreting the important things to be learned. Good teaching and learning incorporate and reinforce a subject’s key concepts to help learners gain: greater depth and breadth of subject knowledge confidence, especially in applying knowledge and skills in new situations fluency to talk about their subject conceptually and show how different aspects link together a level of mastery of their subject to help them enter higher education. As well as encouraging students to develop higher order thinking skills within subject disciplines – problem solving, critical thinking, independent research, collaboration, presenting arguments – we believe students need to work effectively across disciplines.
Of course this ability is important not only for getting into university but for getting on in life. What’s more, it makes learning and teaching enjoyable and rewarding. And the transferable skills students develop in interdisciplinary programmes like Cambridge Global Perspectives™ reinforce their understanding and skills within subject disciplines.