French Curriculum vs. International Baccalaureate: What You Need To Know

In our last article, we compared the International Baccalaureate programme against other curricula that are commonly used by international schools.

Today, we take a look at the particular differences between the IB, and another curriculum that is a growing option in the city, the French curriculum. Several French schools in Dubai have opened their doors to students, and you’d do well to learn as much as you can about your options.


The French curriculum and International Baccalaureate are opposite sides of the coin when it comes to the manner of instruction and educational style.

French Curriculum

The French curriculum emphasizes a rigid, instructor-centric approach to schooling. The teacher is considered the authority in the classroom, and students are expected to behave and stay quiet. Much of the learning is done in the classroom, with plenty of lectures and rigorous testing. There’s a lot of content to learn and memorise. There’s also a significant focus on rigidity with little room for maneuvering on customised education or tailoring to individual student needs.

Schooling takes place over the course of several cycles. The first cycle, of Basic Learning, takes place between 3-6 years old and reflects very basic primary education.

The second cycle, Fundamental Learning, takes place between 6-11 years of age. It teaches French reading and writing, mathematics, civic and moral education, artistic education, and investigating the world.

The third cycle, Consolidation, takes place over the ages of 11 to 15 years. It adds new knowledge and fields to the previous cycle, with history, experimental science, tech, and geography thrown into the mix. It also helps prepare students for lower Secondary.

The fourth and final cycle features a very diverse curriculum with many subjects. During this cycle, students are expected to choose their track, with specializations like Economics and Sciences.

Overall, the French curriculum is designed around academic rigour and excellence.

International Baccalaureate Curriculum

In contrast, the IB reflects a more freeform, student-centred approach to learning. The focus is on critical thinking and analytical skills rather than rote memorization and textbook learning. Every student’s performance is closely monitored, and in fact each student is a collaborator in their own education, not just a recipient. They’re free to ask for help from teachers, or adjust the pace of instruction in various ways. All of this is showcased in the IB Learner Profile, which describes the ideal IB student as reflective, open-minded, inquisitive, and other traits.

The IB takes place over three main programmes.

The first is the Primary Years Programme, or PYP. It promotes a very transdisciplinary curriculum where students learn six subjects but not independently – rather, every subject flows naturally into each other, and knowledge from one subject could be used to help advance knowledge in another.

In the Middle Years Programme, or PYP, students’ horizons are broadened to even more subjects. There’s also a certain component of community service that students are required to perform. This helps students learn about life outside the classroom, and is an important aspect of how the IB uses extracurricular activities to advance learning.

Finally, in the Diploma Programme, or DP, the interdisciplinary thinking is taught in full force, with six subject groups from which students choose their classes. They also have an extended essay of 4,000 words, taken from a list of approved subjects, as well as a theory of knowledge course. Finally, the Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) requirement provides students with growth in ways that extend the reach of education beyond the classroom, helping students become valuable members of society, expressing their creative juices, or achieving athletically.

Alongside the IB Diploma Programme is the IB Career-related Programme, an optional programme that shifts some focus towards career studies. Students learn professional skills, civic service responsibility and other service skills, language development in a suitable language, and a reflective project that discusses ethics in the future workplace.


Completing the French curriculum gives you the baccalauréat, which allows graduates expedited entry into French universities. French baccalauréat holders are exempt from the need to take a French language proficiency test.

Graduating from the International Baccalaureate Degree Programme provides degreeholders with big advantages in university acceptance rates, as well as academic performance in university. Studying at SISD also allows students to take bilingual degree programmes that have French proficiency certifications.


The French and IB programmes both have their own strengths and weaknesses, but both allow their graduates a good shot at studying in France.

As an IB World school with multilingual IB programmes, we can be considered a great alternative to French schools in Dubai, even if your goal is for your child to go to France for university. 129 universities recognize the IB in France, including the top schools in the country. And your child will gain all the benefits of the IB along with it.


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