When considering a child’s education in a foreign land most countries offer three alternatives: state schools, private schools and international schools. This article concentrates mainly on the potential benefits and drawbacks of international schools although some consideration is also given to the state school option.
Classes in international schools are usually taught in English and academic results are generally very good. The curriculum is most often British or American in style with the use of high school grades and SAT scores or International GCSEs at age 15/16 and A Levels or the International Baccalaureate at 17/18, the latter being recognized by universities worldwide. Subjects taught are also similar to those taught in the US or UK.
Almost all international schools are fee paying (although grants and scholarships may be available) and fees can be considerable. Average fees for a day school are around EUR 10,000 per year but it should be borne in mind that fees generally increase as the pupil grows older. For example, the average fees for children aged 12 or over are around EUR 20,000 per year. Furthermore, fees for boarding (as opposed to day) schools are much higher. In addition to yearly fees it may also be wise to consider the other expenses which are likely to be incurred when sending a child to an international school. These expenses might include a registration fee, purchase of a uniform, insurance, activity fees and transport.
Given the prohibitive cost, why do some expats choose international schools for their children’s education? Sometimes they are the only choice if foreigners are not permitted to attend local state schools (as is the case in the United Arab Emirates) or if the state schools are full. Many parents are also concerned about the effect learning a new language and adapting to a new culture are likely to have on both their child’s education and happiness. Typically young children take these challenges in their stride but older children may struggle or feel alienated. Another benefit of attending an international school is that it gives the parents a chance to meet other expats!
However, not all expats choose international schools and the state school option may in fact be preferable in some cases. Apart from the obvious cost savings a local state school is a superb place for a child to learn the new language and many expats find that their children are often fluent in the local lingo within a very short period of time. Speaking the language and adapting to a new culture are not only of immediate benefit but may also be useful in the longer term if the family decides to stay in the new country.
International schools can be found in or near most of the popular expat destinations. In other areas they may be more difficult to find. If possible try to choose a school affiliated with a respected international school association as they are more likely to meet minimum requirements as far as teaching or facilities are concerned.
Many international schools have waiting lists so it is always a good idea to enrol as soon as possible, a process which may involve entrance exams (most commonly in English and Maths).