To decide on something as important as your child’s education and well-being in a foreign country might be the toughest part about moving abroad.
Choosing a new school, pre-school, or kindergarten when moving to a new country has become increasingly difficult for parents. Each institution has its own unique philosophy and attributes and in some Asian cities, the choices are endless. Comparing what each place offers with the needs of your child is no simple task.
A good place to start is to check available options in your area and ask other parents of your own nationality or other expats which school they have chosen for their children and why. This may give you some indication of which schools are popular in your area and more importantly why before you make your own inquiry into each available option.
You can find a list of many associations and institutions for your nationality in your country of residence here.
Local vs International
The first thing you will have to decide on is whether you are looking for a local school or an international institution. In most countries in Asia, a local school is an option – although certainly a more challenging option for your child especially if they do not speak the local language. If your child is mixed Scandinavian – Asian this may, however, not be so frightening a prospect but it can still be a very different experience than your child has been used to in the past. Local schools offer a very local environment and teach after traditional local methods that are easier for younger children to adjust to because they have no previous school experience, but for older children, the cultural differences can be quite a shock and an important aspect to consider beforehand. Local schools, however, have an economic silver lining and are less costly compared to international schools.
Physical punishment has not been abolished in many Asian school systems, however, so talk to the school about how they administer physical punishment and ask if they can make an exception for your child if you are not comfortable with this.
If you go for an International school your child will be provided a curriculum that is not the national curriculum of the country it is located in. The most common national curricula used in international schools in Asia are the National Curriculum of England, or an American curriculum, or adapted versions of these. An international school also provides an environment that is more familiar to that of Nordic schools and often overall has a more westernized set of guidelines and teachings. The environment of most international schools in Asia will still be vastly different from that of your own because it consists of children from around the world and your child will be exposed to a greater volume and variety of cultural influences than those who grow up in one particular cultural setting.
Both the benefits and challenges of either a local school or an international school are important and very relevant aspects of life abroad. Children studying abroad often develop a very different attitude to many issues compared to their former friends back home and even you yourself. On one hand, integration is essential and if your child is going to be raised in a culture that’s not your own, it’s your duty as a parent to facilitate that. On the other hand, as parents, it can be hard when parts of our own culture are lost as our children embrace a country that becomes home to them in a way it never can be to us.
Once this is said, most expat families decide to go for the more familiar experience of an international school, at least through primary school up to grade 9, where other options may come into play. At this point, not only boarding schools in Scandinavia but also boarding schools in Asia may be considered.
Important factors to consider when choosing the right school
So now you have the table filled with brochures of different schools and wonder what to look for. Keep in mind your family needs, and trust yourself to balance these with your child’s needs and with your search for a good quality school. Here are a few suggestions to help you make up your mind:
First: How much does the school cost?
Before spending time looking through school courses, you need to make sure that you can afford to send your child to the school. Local schools tend to be very affordable but annual tuition fees among international schools in Asia can range from $1,800 to $24,000. International schools have between three to four terms per school year and normally fees are paid termly. Some International schools allow parents to pay tuition fees monthly but if this is a requirement from you, you need to check with the school first to see if that is allowed.
Annual tuition fees are not a sure indicator that the more expensive the school is, the better education and experience your child will have. Smaller schools with fewer facilities can sometimes be less costly but they can still be an excellent choice with a more close-knit community within the school.
Second: How far away is the school from your home?
Another important factor that may eliminate a few options for you easily is how far away the school is located. Bear in mind that in most big cities, it is the traveling time between your home and the school that matters and especially in larger cities, you will be challenged by some very heavy rush hour traffic. How long will it take for your child to get to school and home afterward? How will your child be going there? Coordination if you have several children under education, etc.
Third: What reputation does the school have?
Talk to people as much as possible. This is where your first intuition comes in handy and if many say the same it is probably true. Don’t listen to opinions expressed by people who have no children at the school themselves – parents are quick to seek confirmation of their own choice by adopting opinions about the competing schools.
The age of the school is no sure indication either. Nothing guarantees that the reputation of a hundred-year-old school is better than a one-year-old school.
Fourth: What are the school’s fundamental principles?
Repeated, unbiased research shows that all truly outstanding schools adhere to certain principles. While all are important, the two most important factors are:
a. The school has high expectations for all students. It means all students are expected & helped to meet high minimum goals; goals are raised for individual students as soon as they are ready to learn beyond grade level.
Avoid schools that make excuses for kids who are behind academically. If your child struggles, they may make excuses rather than help your child, too. Also, avoid schools that pretend none of their students struggle. All schools have more than a few students who face learning challenges at some point. You need to know in advance how the school will respond.
b. The school monitors progress and adjusts teaching. It means the school assesses individual student progress often and changes teaching approaches to ensure that every child locks onto learning. This is especially important if your child is learning a new language as he or she may have mastered math in your native language, but having difficulties with mathematic terms in another language. Choose a school that will keep your child’s levels up but will adjust teaching approaches to make sure the right language skills are taught at the same time.
Avoid schools that say, “Our grade-level work is tough enough for all students” and schools where everyone makes grade level, but few kids score far above grade level. Both academically gifted children and motivated “typical” kids miss out in a school that is focusing on grade level only.
Fifth: How are the courses at the school and do they match my child’s needs?
All children need a school that will appropriately challenge and nurture them to succeed in core academic subjects, but research shows you can significantly improve your child’s life and school performance by choosing and working with the right school, so you have plenty of reasons to give it your best effort.
The school’s courses and programs will most likely be listed in the school’s information packages. They will talk about British Curriculum and American Curriculum and – what most Scandinavians these days go for – the IB curriculum.
This is important if you relocate in the future so choose what fits best with the school system back home. Both the British Curriculum and the American Curriculum, however, are recognized and accepted worldwide.
Ask questions about the tests and exams which are offered and used as an evaluation method. Some international schools require a certain level of English language skills before accepting new students and it is, therefore, an important factor to look into if your child has little or no English language skills. Some international schools offer pre-language courses to help your child to an easier start and some international schools offer private tutoring to help your child excel faster once accepted into the school. If your child is already a secondary school student, ask how well the graduating students do in getting accepted into major universities both in your current country, back home, and elsewhere overseas.
You can also find out if the native language and culture of your child is taught as optional learning as your child needs to keep his or her ties to your cultural background. It is also important for you. If such optional learning is not offered, most Asian cities have local Scandinavian communities where native Nordic languages often are taught as an after-school activity.
Sixth: What other activities can the school offer your child?
Besides the fundamental course works, what kind of arts, sports, community service does the school offer? Are there proper facilities to support those activities?
It seems that schools almost compete with each other when it comes to sports, thus many schools will have gymnasiums and sports complexes, which are either new or remodeled. But maybe your child is more into other activities – computer programming, performing arts?
Most schools offer after-school/weekend programs as well as field trips and community services. You should be able to freely pick the activities that best suit your child. Engaging in after-school activities is also an excellent way for your child to make new friends faster.
Seventh: Does the school have qualified personnel?
This is not as obvious as you may think. The school is most likely private and qualifications for employment are not always as strict as for schools back home. What educational degree do they hold? How long have they been teaching at the school? What kind of teaching methods do they prefer? Are they involved in planning and evaluating the curriculum? Will they be giving special attention to each child’s problems or personal needs? And more importantly, what do they do to make sure new students are welcomed and able to settle in the smoothest way possible.
Eight: What do the current students think of the school?
If it’s possible, talk to some of the existing students. Are they happy there? Do they look motivated to learn? How will the school help your child get started? Do they assign so-called “buddies” (another student from the same country) for new students? Most schools have established student organizations to provide service to students at a personal level. Here, students can get help with studying, working, individual needs, and so on.
Ninth: How is the relationship between the school and the parents?
You will obviously not be able to monitor your child in school. The teacher will have to be your eyes and ears. You must be notified of your child’s functionality regardless of grade, and regardless of whether it includes bad behavior or progress your child has made. Make sure that you can get informed as often as possible especially in the beginning to make sure your child settles in well at school. You may also join a parents’ volunteer program if available. Some schools may offer activities for the whole family as well.
Your most important task after selecting a school – watch your child!
Moving to a new country, enrolling at a new school, and having a daily life in another language is an adjustment especially for children. It is therefore important that you make a habit of spending more time than you used to back home talking to your child about how school was today. What they did in class, and what they did outside. Let her or him tell you about their new friends.
All may initially sound fine and uncomplicated, but that may just be a honeymoon period. Your child will be filled with new impressions and new ways of doing things and therefore, this is the most important step of them all. If your child develops in any way you find disturbing or even develops signs of discomfort with going to school, you should think twice before you tell your child that “this is life – it is not always pleasant!”. Allow them to adjust, support them in their transition and understand that this may be hard for them. They might feel frustrated that they can not communicate as freely at school as they are used to in their native language so have patience with them. Help them establish friendships outside school by inviting classmates home for playdates as this also helps your child speak the language much faster.
The process of starting in a new school abroad can also be hard for parents so speak to other parents who have gone through the same and listen to their advice. Things might not happen as fast as you would like them too but trust the process. Accept that the transition takes time and remember that after a few months, most kids suddenly excel at life abroad.
The perfect recipe for choosing the ‘ideal’ school for your child does not exist. Many parents simply go by their own parental instincts. This is natural, and there is certainly nothing wrong with trusting your own instinct in the process. After all, you should feel comfortable and confident in leaving your child at the school gate in the mornings. Never mind how diligent you do your homework – and maybe the above list is a bit excessive – you will never be able to foresee if your child will thrive at the school.
However, the few professional tips and suggestions above should give you some ideas about what to look for when making up your mind. Keep in mind the important role you are taking in deciding the right choice for your child’s new school will contribute to your child’s progress toward a crucial foundation and an enjoyable schooling experience.