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Choosing an International School: Five Questions to Ask



As many of you have likely heard me say over the years, the word “international” has never been patented, and when used to describe a school, the term requires further definition.

 

International education, in all of its many forms and designed for all of its different audiences, has been on the rise over the last 20 years.  For an in-depth discussion, please see our earlier article.

 

For now, I’d like to focus on advice for families who might be choosing between international schooling options, wherever they are headed; the advice may also be helpful to HR and GM professionals who are expected to speak proficiently about all aspects of a relocation, from taxes to education!

 

Five questions to ask of the international schools you’re considering, in order to understand their version of “international” and what kind of student is a fit for them:

 

1.         What is the school’s student demographic?

Traditional international schools (those whose mission is to serve expat students) typically enroll a mix of local and expat students, and it’s helpful to understand the balance of the two; is the school 90% expat kids and only 10% local students? Or is the mix the opposite? Some international schools exist to serve primarily a local population interested in a non-local form of education, and such schools may not be a good fit for expat students.  So be sure that you understand who the school is for and if the school’s mission is a fit for your child.

 

2.        What curriculum does the school offer, and how is it international?

There are several well-known international curricula that are used around the world, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the International Primary Curriculum (IPC), just to name a couple.  If a school uses its own international curriculum, be sure to ask questions about who developed it and how student performance is assessed and benchmarked; and don’t be shy to ask for information on how the curriculum is recognized by other schools and even universities.

 

3.         What is the teacher demographic?

Once again, a question of balance. Traditional international schools typically employ a mix of local and expatriate teachers; expatriate teachers tend to be more expensive hires, so you may want to inquire as to the ratio of expat to local teachers and who teaches which subjects.  Often, expats are hired to teach the “core” subjects and local teachers are hired for some of the “specials” such as music or art or PE, but not always.   Additionally, it’s always good to ask what the required qualifications are for all of a school’s teachers, whether they’re local or not.

 

4.         Is the school accredited, and by whom?

This is an important question to ask of any school—public, private or international.  Depending on whether the school is a “national curriculum” school (e.g. it offers an American, British, German, French or Canadian curriculum), the accrediting body will vary, but it should be well recognized in its field.  Also be sure to distinguish between a school’s membership in a recognized international professional organization and actual accreditation.

 

 

5.        In the case of high schools or secondary schools:  how are students assessed and how well do they perform on third-party exams?

Many families choose an international school, especially at the secondary level, so that their children may complete a program that provides qualifications with which to apply to university anywhere in the world (and back in “home” country). This is one of the critical components of the IB Diploma Program, for example, and why so many globally mobile families are wedded to IB schools.   So, it’s important to understand how well an international school is preparing its older students for higher education and to be certain that a student will leave that school with an internationally recognized diploma.  Confident schools are usually eager to share exam results and college or university matriculation data, so don’t hesitate to ask for this information.

 

As you can imagine, there’s always more to add to a list like this and always more advice to give! I’m sure I’ll pick up this thread in yet another blog, at some point, and I hope that this is helpful in the meantime.


Warmly,

Elizabeth Sawyer, CEO








Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancyhas worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.


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