Moving to a new country or city is an exciting adventure, but it comes with challenges, especially if you are relocating as a family. Chief among them is finding a suitable international school for your children. Naturally, you’ll want the best standard of future focused learning education possible, in a convenient location, not out of budget, and in a school where your child will be fully supported and settle quickly.
That is a lot to think about. It is no surprise many expatriate parents feel overwhelmed by the task. While we cannot make the all-important choice for you, we can provide useful information to guide you in the decision-making process. Here is what you need to know to ensure you select the right international school for your kids.
Above any other consideration, the most important is the curriculum and ethos of the school you choose. If these are not in-line with your expectations and perhaps the requirements of your home country, that may be a significant stumbling block. Most major international cities will have schools teaching in English, with additional classes in the local language. Other than that, some countries, like Germany and France, have international schools taught in the native tongue. As to curriculum, the usual four choices are the International Baccalaureate (IB) and curricula of the UK, Australia and America. Beyond that, take time to ask about the standard class size, student demographics (i.e. nationality), extracurricular activities, approach towards future-focused learning and general school ethos.
The reality is that for many expat families, the determining factor in their choice of an international school is cost. If budget is an essential consideration for you, keep in mind that ‘yearly fees’ do not tell the whole story. The full cost of sending your child to an international school will include many other additional fees as well, such a one-time enrolment fee and ad hoc fees for other services, such as meals, learning supplies, transportation, field trips, etc. Whether you’re paying out of pocket or having the cost paid by your employer, it’s important to do your homework and get the full price per year (and per child!) calculated before making your final decision.
If you are relocating to a major Asian international city like Bangkok, Jakarta, Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur, you must factor in the logistics of your chosen school. Choose poorly, and your children might find themselves on the school bus at 6:00 am every morning and not getting home till 6:00 pm every evening. Consider the following questions as early on as possible: how far is the school from your home? How long will the commute take in heavy traffic? Does the school offer a bus transfer service or is public transport available? What is the earliest you can drop-off and the latest you can pick-up children? Talk to other expats already sending children to your preferred school and see what they recommend with regards to living location.
And last, but certainly not least in importance, you will need to think about your child’s own needs. Your #1 goal might be getting the best possible education for your money; theirs is probably more focused on making friends, having fun and cool facilities. So don’t forget to get their input as well; involve them as much as possible in the decision-making process. If you can, take them along on school tours, having them ask questions and meet their potential teacher(s). Also, take into account their strengths and/or weaknesses, can the school provide the right kind of programs to help them if they love chess, modern dance or competitive swimming? And if your child has special needs or English is not their native tongue, can the school provide additional support.