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How to find the Right International School
20 September, 2011 14:10
An education can make all the difference for a child's future. But finding the right school in an expat situation can be especially difficult. You may not be familiar with the education system in your adopted country, know other families, or have a firm plan for your family's future. By deciding with your child what you want, educating yourself about the norms and researching your options, you can set your child off on the best possible foot.
What exactly is an International School?
International schools are private schools serving mostly expatriate children (diplomats, multinational corporation executives, NGO staff). There may be some local population, but the expensive tuition is often prohibitive. Schools usually follow a curriculum model from the US, UK, Canada or Australia/New Zealand. Many international schools also choose to run the International Baccalaureate program. Primary instruction may be any language (and multiple languages are usually taught), but it is usually in English, German, French, or Japanese.
Know the Academic School Year
If you can choose when to move, the academic school year should be a factor in determining a plan. There are positives to moving anytime into term, but you should be aware of the role that is going to play in your child's integration into their new life. School is the primary source of a child's social network, and can be an aid to your life as well. Meeting other families is a great way to expand your social circle.
Moving during the school break can allow your child's education not to be interrupted and for them to have free time to integrate, but without friends they may feel especially restless and bored. However, moving while school is in session does disrupt the school year, but allows for a routine to be established quickly and easier integration. Talk to your child and make the choice together.
In most countries, the academic year begins with the start of autumn and ends during the following summer. In Southern Hemisphere countries, this means that the academic year lasts from February or March to November or December. In the Northern Hemisphere countries, it lasts from August or September to May, June or July instead. The summer may or may not be part of the term system. For more on individual countries school terms, refer to EasyExpat's FAQ "When does school start?".
Define Your Ideal
While no situation is truly "perfect", it is important to envision what you your ideal is before finding out your options.
- What kind of set-up do you want? Boarding or a day school? on-profit, board governed schools or privately owned (usually for-profit) school?
- Is it important for the school to have a technical orientation, arts, international focus, or religious?
- Would my child be better suited to a small school environment, or would a large school be better?
- Do I want a school with several grade levels, such as a Kindergarten through secondary education?
- How important is student diversity?
- What distance are you willing to travel? What are the transportation options?
- Do you need additional services like after-school care, special education resources, or extracurricular like sports and social clubs?
- What preparation is necessary for continued education or trade skills? Are you interested in college preparation?
Look at what schools are available in your area to base your assessment on. The International School Search is an excellent tool that offers 4,200 International Schools in 165 countries.
Find Local Resources
No matter where you live, there are resources for education. Local authorities can connect new families with listings of facilities, and offer information on subsidies for child care and education.
As you go through the stages of applying for visas and registering, ask about organizations and agencies that can help guide you. If you are being transferred by your company, ask about these options when you are negotiating your package. Contact your local government about agencies offering advice and resources for incoming families.
You can also foster unofficial support systems with other expats. Make a point to meet people who have done what you are going through. Easy Expat's forum is a fantastic place to ask questions and you can find expats in teh area you are moving to through the Network. Expat blogs are another excellent resource for recommendations and advice.
Rankings can only tell so much about a school, but are an important indicator about a school's status and their ability to offer your child a brighter future. Try not to focus purely on results, but how the tests are run, and if their focus matches your own.
Brochures show the best of schools. You need to know what it's really like. The best way to do this is to visit the school with your child. Most schools have open days or evenings which showcase the school's assets. These often includes a tour, a meet and greet with the staff, and an overview of curriculum. Private viewings can also be arranged if you cannot make the open house.
While touring the school, keep in mind:
- The atmosphere. If you have already done your homework on what the school has to offer on paper, this is your chance to get a feel of what day-to-day life would be like for your child
- Technical Capabilities. Find out what the classrooms are equipped with including the computer facilities and tools available
- Social Network. This is your chance to check out the other parents considering the school and hopefully meet some of the parents that help the school operate. There may be a parent association and this can be a great opportunity to get to know them.
- Child's perception. What does your child think about the school? Though they may be initially hesitant, but listen to their thoughts for positives you might not have noticed, and for legitimate fears. It is going to be their school.
Once you have selected a school, the next step is to enroll and hope for the best. Despite your hard work, the school may not be the right fit. Being an expat is difficult, and is even more so when you get so little say in the process as an expat kid. But the more involved they can be in picking the school, the sooner they can become involved in their new expat life. And a happy expat kid, can help make a happy expat family.