For many expat parents preparing to move to a new country, schooling is a major concern. The array of options available can be dizzying, but the starting point lies in the decision between local public schools and private international schools. Both have their benefits and pitfalls, and it can be difficult to know what's best ahead of time.
To help make the decision easier, here are some of the pros and cons of sending your child to an international school.
Culture in international schools
+ PRO: Getting to know other expat families
Expat kids can benefit greatly from socialising with others who can empathise with the difficulties of adjusting to life in a new country. Most international schools have a good mix of students from a wide range of countries.
- CON: Little interaction with local culture
In an international school, it’s all too easy for the family to remain in an ‘expat bubble’ with little to no interaction with locals. In the long term, this can lead to a feeling of isolation, especially as expat families tend to come and go, while locals are less likely to move away.
Languages in international schools
+ PRO: Opportunity to be taught in home language
If your home country and destination country don't share a language, this can be a major issue. In state schools, children will usually have to contend with the alienating factor of being unable to understand the language, at least at first.
Younger children, around kindergarten-age, may have the capacity to pick up a language fairly easily, but older kids, especially teenagers, might struggle to adapt. So having the option of learning in their home language at an international school can be a huge help in adjusting to everyday life.
- CON: Less likely to become fluent in the local language
While many international schools will teach the main local language as an additional language, children are less likely to achieve fluency than those who are immersed in the language through full-time instruction in state schools.
Continuity in international schools
+ PRO: A less jarring adjustment
Moving to a new country is a life-changing experience, one that even adults often struggle to cope with. Placing your child in a school that understands these difficulties and offers a familiar curriculum in the language the family speaks at home can go a long way towards easing the adjustment.
Cost of international schools
- CON: International school fees can be extremely high
International schools are notorious for charging sky-high fees. Many of these schools are academically elite, with fees being justified by the high quality of education. Top-notch facilities and well-qualified teachers also push up the cost.
In addition, tuition fees are usually not inclusive of extras such as textbooks, school uniforms, on-campus lunches and excursions.
In the past, it was standard for parents to have these fees covered by their employer as part of their relocation package. Today, this is much less common, but it’s a good idea to propose a school-fee allowance during negotiations, as some companies might be open to this.
Curriculum in international schools
+ PRO: Most offer prestigious curricula accepted by universities around the world
Depending on which country you live in, the local curriculum might not be globally recognised by universities. For high school students approaching the time to submit university applications, their school-leaving certification becomes increasingly important.
Those who obtain a globally recognised qualification like the International Baccalaureate Diploma, the American High School Diploma, or the British A-Levels, are in a much better position to apply to any university they choose. Many international schools have an excellent track record for university acceptances worldwide.