Expat Schooling – International Schools vs. the Cost-Benefit of Local Schools

Expat Schooling – Now that the economy has begun its recovery, families who selected local schools abroad because of financial constraints – either imposed by corporate policy or their own finances – may once again have the option to enroll their children in local schools.

Interest in developing globally competent children has followed the practical shortage of funds available  for international schooling, and relocating parents moving to another country today may experience greater confusion in choosing between local and international schools– unable to predict what is best for the child in the short-and-long run. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.  This article will shed some light on this complex decision.

Understand the Alternatives:

International Schools

International schools originally were founded to serve expatriate populations. Many of the early international schools were founded as a result of a foreign state department or military presence in a country. In today’s global economy, demand from multinational corporations has vastly increased the number of international schools in destinations where these companies have a significant presence.  In some cases groups of companies joined together to start a school.

The common demand for international education led to founding an international school by a third party – sometimes a “not-for-profit” and other times a” for-profit” entity.

International school instruction may be offered in a language other than that of the host country. They also offer choices for families who prefer curriculum and/or school-leaving qualifications not available through the local school system. International schools were created in response to expatriate families’ desire to preserve their home culture as well as a concern for the ability of their children educated abroad to repatriate and resume entry into their home educational system. International schools also provide a built-in community for expatriates and therefore typically extracurricular activities and events are available every day of the week.

International schools can be defined by their curriculum: they either offer a national curriculum other than that of the host nation, and/or they teach a specifically international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate (IB).  Although international schools cater to international families for the most part, during the economic downturn, many international schools survived by accepting local students.  Therefore schools that boasted an international demographic composition until recently may now have limited space for international students as the local population is more stable than the former mobile population.  In cases where demographics have changed substantially, the character of the school may have changed as well.  It is wise for parents to inquire about the relative mix between local and international students if they are deliberately choosing an international school for its diverse offerings.

However there are some downsides to international schools too.  International schools tend to have a very transient population since assignments tend to last only 2 – 5 years.   As children make new friends, they will also lose friends as these families relocate or repatriate.  Also, children at international schools could have a cultural identity since they are not immersed in their host country and no longer part of their home country.

Local Schools

Local schools can be a very cost conscious solution, opposed to the expense of international schools.   Many countries have a very high quality education system, some even higher than the international schools in their area.  Language is the most common obstacle when a family evaluates local schools as an option for their children.  Integrating families into a local educational system where culture, goals, philosophies and teaching methods are new requires the family to be prepared.

Parents selecting local schools should be thinking about issues as mundane as the calendar of the school year (will they be able to coordinate their home leave), the length of school day (do they need childcare in the afternoons?), lunch (is the local custom expecting children to eat everything on their plate?), homework customs as well as parental involvement.

While financial considerations and an interest in fostering global competency have stimulated a new level of interest in local schools among internationally mobile families, even these parents can be quite uneasy about relocating with children unless and until they understand the local educational system and curriculum differences in their new country.  It’s also important to consider whether the child will be attending post secondary school in their previous home location or in their host location.  Sending a child to a local school may make the college application and repatriation back to their home country that much more difficult.

Six Tips When Considering Educational Options :

Here is a short checklist that companies and employees with children may consider when examining educational options before any overseas assignment, as well as before their eventual return home:

1. Allow time and provide assistance for families to review the curriculum of schools in the host country, and discuss it with teachers back home. Identifying specific areas where a child may be ahead or behind enables parents and schools to put in place supplemental programs to assist children in entry as well as re-entry.
2.  Provide opportunity for students to become proficient in reading and writing and speaking the local language well before the move; in fact, as soon as the move is confirmed is best.
3. Recommend that families bring along books, course outlines and any other available materials so that they can, if desired, maintain academic skills that children are missing while abroad.
4. Suggest that families learn the exit requirements for schools in their home country pre-departure on assignment.  These, in particular, will determine curriculum areas that a child may wish to continue to study while abroad. Consider supplemental or alternative education to ease the transition for children, particularly at key grade levels.  These may include tutoring, on-line courses, summer school, home schooling or boarding schools.
5.  If re-integrating at a particular grade will be totally incompatible, is it possible for the employee or the family to repatriate either a year earlier or later, as appropriate to facilitate the transition?
6.  Engage an education specialist who understands host curriculum discrepancies, as well as, the local culture; be sure to recommend individualized support so that students can be prepared before returning home.

There is no doubt that the experience of attending a local school and learning first-hand about a different culture is an outstanding experience.. Families who have overcome these obstacles and successfully educated their children in local schools attain fulfillment and thrive. Children truly learn new languages, cultures and curricular subjects and enjoy an unprecedented window into the customs of a different country.  As schools are a microcosm of the cultures they inhabit, children raised in local schools abroad can be our true ambassadors in the fast-paced global world of their generation.

By Susan Ginsberg, School Choice International

Tag: Expat Schooling