The importance of not allowing students to specialise at age 16

When students turn 16, they may begin taking specific courses to prepare for entrance into university – all attention seems to focus on just choosing the right subjects to get into higher education. What about beyond higher education? At SISD, we like to think about what are the right and the most appropriate subjects, not only for university and employment success, but also for life, for pleasure, and hopefully to instill a lifelong love of learning!

At age 16, in some curriculums, students can drop critical subjects like Maths, English, Science and a foreign language, and then just focus on only the subjects they enjoy or are good at. In theory, this may sound like an interesting idea (especially to 16 year olds who don’t like Maths!), but ultimately allowing children to specialise too early can be damaging, not only to their career, but also to their life chances. In a global world, where the educational and language requirements are higher for everyone, employers are now looking for students who have mathematical and numeracy skills, who can speak foreign languages, who are more globally aware and can think critically and analytically.

As expressed by Sir Martin Taylor of Oxford University. “We know the analytical and problem-solving skills acquired by studying mathematics and science are greatly prized by many employers.

And this has been re-enforced by one of the great leaders and entrepreneurs of the world, Bill Gates, who said  “Basic knowledge of the sciences, math skills, and economics is key — a lot of careers in the future will be very demanding on those things. You don’t have to be an expert in coding or the periodic table, but having the ability to think the way these experts do will help you tremendously.”

SISD is an IB Continuum school, and offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme from age 3 to 18 years. The IB, as a qualification, is known to be a more holistic, rounded programme, and one that maintains the need for critical subjects (Maths, English, Science, Languages) to be taught until age 18.

With the absence of examinations, the IB programme approach extends beyond academic competencies and specifically prepares students for a globalised world. It develops students’ critical thinking, cultural awareness, and emotional and social intelligence. Rather than learning a specific curriculum, teachers design the curriculum based on the needs of students—who choose their subjects—and culture of the school. Recommended readings replace textbooks. Students are graded on oral skills, problem solving, and how well they’ve developed their knowledge base using a point system, where 24 points and above secures an IB Diploma; 45 points is a perfect score.

Programme curriculum

A level involves studying three subjects in depth, and while the A level programme prepares students for university entrance, students at 16 may not be prepared or ready to decide which subjects they want to focus on.

Within the IB, students can take courses across six subject groups, and the programme is specifically designed to maintain a balanced, rounded and holistic educational programme.

  • Language and literature
  • Language acquisition (second language)
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • The arts

The arts is optional and can be replaced with a course in one of the other groups (except math). Courses are offered at standard or advanced levels, and students must opt for 3 subjects at Higher Level, and 3 subjects at Standard Level.

While the IBDP assesses the basic skills of knowledge retention, understanding of key concepts, and applying standard methods, it also measures students’ abilities to analyse and present information, construct arguments, and solve problems creatively. It encourages intercultural skills and an international outlook.

With this framework, teachers can consider the culture of the class and student strengths. Learn more about the IBDP at SISD here.

Preparation for university and the workplace

The A level programme provides a specialised curriculum for students who may have an idea of what post-secondary programme or career they may want to pursue.

The IBDP provides students with a broader curriculum, giving students a wide and balanced range of skills. It also aligns with the educational systems across America, Australia, Europe, and South Africa.

Because of the critical thinking and analytical skills and the self-managed methods of study students learn, the IBDP is recognised as the best preparation for university-level studies around the world and is highly regarded by university admissions officers and employers alike.

Today’s workforce requires employees to be creative problem solvers, adaptable, resilient, good communicators, and have digital skills and futures literacy. These are all skills developed in the IB programme.

Read our past blog to compare the IB to other programmes.

For more information about our IB programme, contact our Admissions team at

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