Finding a school that is in sync with your child is difficult enough in your home country, but travelling across seas to foreign lands adds a whole new dimension to the decision.
This is where international schools come into play. Their reputation steams ahead of that of state schools, with smaller classes and culturally immersive curriculums.
“I think one the biggest takes from the experience was the persistent drilling that we should be critical and conscious, and question knowledge … the benefits already started to shine through, and I’m still very conscious of it today,” explains Jennifer Schellenberg, 23, a graduate of Kuala Lumpur International School.
International schools have a long history of excellent teaching and intellectual founders, including Charles Dickens, who helped establish The International School at Spring Grove. They were set up to educate the children of foreign diplomats, overseas personnel and the staff of non-governmental organisations (NGO).
not really but i was an expat child most of my life, worked in expat headhunting and now work in an international school full of expats lol
— Justine 🎀 (@juiceee) May 16, 2017
However, thanks to the rapid pace of globalisation and what it meant for mobility and accessibility between countries, the need and interest in an international school education have also spiked significantly in recent years.
In fact, recent data show the industry is big business, worth at least US$43.2 billion globally in fee incomes, according to the International School Consultancy (ISC) Research. The consultancy reports as of May 2017, there were 8,789 international schools around the world, catering to 4.79 million students – both from local and expat families – and 444,323 staff members.
— ExpatFinder.com (@ExpatFinder) June 20, 2017
The figures are the result of an increasing global demand for English-medium education and Western-style learning; in 2000, there were just under a million students enrolled in 2,500 international schools around the world – and most come from expatriate families.
The market is expected to grow at a healthy pace. The ISC Research predicts come 2021, the number of students at international schools worldwide will reach 6.3 million.
“Far from being seen as an option for elite and expatriate families only, many local families are investing in international schools to ensure their child has an English-speaking education with learning and qualifications that prepare them well for university,” said ISC Research director for International Schools Richard Gaskell.
But what are the benefits of studying at an international school?
For starters, an international school allows a child to go straight back into the curriculum they were learning prior to moving. This ensures there are no missed chunks of their education – chunks potentially crucial to a child’s social development and to the early years of his or her journey into the job market.
It’s also familiar and comforting to have that continuity in the learning process, which is something not to be passed up in a new place.
On top of that, studying in a foreign country allows the student to become immersed in a new culture. It could be argued studying in a state school will allow them to pick up a new language and understand a new culture quicker, but the child may first run the risk of feeling isolated, which could lead to regression in their education.
Many international schools have cultural appreciation classes, so the very fact its student cohort comprises many nationalities creates a heightened awareness of cultures the student may never have gained in a state school. This exposure can prove invaluable to a child in his or her formative years, something state-run schools could, in fact, learn from.
For Schellenberg, international schooling is all about “embracing globalisation”.
“Would I be where I am now (without international schooling)? Definitely not [sic]. I can say with certainty, I wouldn’t be so open and aware if I had not experienced the education I did,” she said.
The emphasis on cultural exchange in international schools is phenomenal, and as world markets become increasingly interconnected, it is now more desirable than ever to understand the dynamics of cultures different to your own.
Many students of international schools have also shown their environment also provides early preparation for further study and work. A recent survey by ACS International Schools, which has a presence in London and Doha, Qatar, shows international schools students leave with a better range of “soft” skills such as time management, critical analysis and independent thinking.
Additionally, the extracurricular activities on offer in many such schools allow for the child to gain access to skills that may elsewhere not be nurtured, maybe even discouraged. These can range from imagination games and creativity to mathematics and robotics. And when the child develops new and exciting skills, they grow more confident and learn how to communicate and work with other children.
Kara Tripney, a former student of the Dubai British School, says the people she met there allowed her to develop her personality.
“Everyone was unique and the school worked to ensure everyone was doing the best they could. I am still in touch with almost everyone from my classes,” says Tripney, 22.
Ultimately, international schools seem to have a paradoxical existence.
As globalisation continues to filter into every country in the world, and international markets leave no stone unturned, international schools teach a primarily Anglo-American curriculum, which seems to tie in with the story of globalisation. Yet, the education they offer is culturally conscious; anchored in a humanist philosophy, but peppered with cultural lessons on the country that school is based in.
What is key to note, however, is that the product of this is a citizen that is truly global, one who epitomises the belief that despite what separates global communities – borders, languages, economic systems – our world and our kind are but one.
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