Why choose an international school
Education is one of the most important considerations when relocating with children. For those who want their children to mix with a diverse group and attain a more internationally recognised set of qualifications, international schools are the best option.
However, there are many things to consider, as with any aspect of relocating to a new country. Here are some of the main features of international schools and what to expect.
Languages and beyond
International schools are often hailed as the best education option for expats, as they equip children with a comprehensive education as well as opportunities they would not have found at local schools.
In the majority of cases, lessons in international schools are taught in one language (predominantly English). For children from English-speaking countries, this can be less of a culture shock. For expats from non-English-speaking countries, a good command of colloquial English might help them in future. English has become the language of global media and business, with many international universities teaching courses in English. English is a widespread and globally spoken language. It is a transferrable skill and for children from non-English speaking countries, their opportunities will be expanded by being able to speak good English. It will also help them develop contacts and have a common ground language with their peers at school.
International schools usually also teach at least one other language – the native language of the country you’re living in. So in Japan, your child will receive Japanese lessons; in the UAE, Arabic lessons are the norm and so on. Often many other language lessons will be available in a single school, such as French, Spanish, Mandarin and many more. This does depend on the school though, so it is worth checking whether the international school in question provides language tuition to your children.
If the school you’re considering doesn’t offer the languages you would like your child to learn, or if you’re concerned about your child missing out on the opportunity to learn the language or languages of the country you have moved to, then organise after school activities or a language partner for your child with local children. This makes the language learning more enjoyable and less institutionalised. It is also an opportunity to make friends outside of school and learn more practical aspects of the language, such as colloquialisms.
It is important to encourage your child’s learning with this. You may even want to take some conversation classes yourself so that you can practice with your children.
In places such as Singapore and Dubai, which have significant expat communities, an international school offers children the opportunity to make friends from all over the world.
However, it’s important to note that not all international schools are as international as you may hope. My daughter has attended a couple of self-titled international schools in two countries that are basically considered an elite school for rich, local families. The pupils were mostly local and, because of this, tended to speak their language and exclude pupils whose language skills weren’t up to native level.
While a local school may suit children who will be in the country for several years or permanently, truly international schools are the better option for those who move around frequently. If your first language is English, or if your child has ambitions to work internationally, the education in English will ensure that they have a good basis for business, education and socialising.
Making global connections
Farah*, who attended an international school in Dubai, loved the opportunity to take the International Baccalaureate as well as meet students from different countries. “It was a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I was also able to attain a qualification that is accepted in any country I decide to settle in.” Farah has gone on to attend a university in the UK, and has kept the global contacts from her international school days.
International schools offer a diverse and varied educational experience, and your child can learn about different cultures and faiths they may not even have known existed before. This offers them the opportunity to become more open minded and culturally aware. Local children will also be attending international schools, so you needn’t worry about making local friends. If you plan to stay in the country for a long period of time, this will offer some stability and normality. However, if you are a family which moves frequently with employment, international schools will be full of children experiencing the same situation. This provides a strong common ground for many expat children. While they may be moving yearly, it will be reassuring that children from all around the world are in the same boat.
If you’re concerned about your child becoming homesick, see whether there are parents and children from your country of origin at the school. While you should encourage your child to make a wide and diverse group of friends, having one or two contacts from your home country to speak to now and again can be a comfort. You may find that your child is having too much fun making new friends from other countries to feel homesick!
Every child is different, and as a parent you will have to listen and observe to help your child adapt and enjoy their new environment. International schools will also offer the opportunity for many different sports and clubs, and this can be immense fun. Whether your child picks up a skill or sport they played at home, or take the opportunity to try and brand new one, they are sure to find something that will suit them.
No two expat families are the same, the same way that no two children are the same. While one family may thrive with an international school education, others may not. Contact other expats via forums before you go to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the schools you are considering. And then take what you’ve heard with a pinch of salt because your child will not be like another child.
School websites, inspections and grades can only tell you so much; the experiences of children at those schools and the opportunities available to them are a much better measure. You may find that in some places, the local schools are much better than international ones. However, the general consensus on this system is that they provide a diverse social experience as well as a comprehensive education. As always, checking before you move is your best option.
By taking a vested interest in your child’s education, you can help support them integrate and adapt to their new surroundings. It’s never easy getting used to a new country and education system, but with the right support children are incredibly adaptable.
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*Not her real name