Questions to ask before choosing an international school
It’s natural as a parent to feel overwhelmed when it comes to selecting the best school for your child. When you boil it down, most of us want the same basic things for our children; safety, happiness, for them to have friends, do the right thing, to learn both about themselves and others around them and to have the best possible future after education. Of course, there is much more that can be added to that list; learn a new language, pick up a new sport, be proficient in creative arts – the list goes on. In the end, we settle for knowing that we as parents have made choices that ensure our children are happy, successful and ethical members of society.
The school your child goes to can have a massive impact on your children’s childhood and in shaping them for the future, so it’s hardly surprising the question of which school to choose weighs heavily on your minds. The good thing is that international education is known to be transformative for many people across backgrounds, cultures and offers newer ways of learning. International schools give access to exciting resources, perspectives and fresh opportunities to learn stories and explore complex global issues. So how do you know you’re making the right choice? What should you look out for when ensuring a school is ‘right’?
Here are a few examples of questions we encourage families to ask to find the right fit.
Single-sex or co-ed?
There is a lot of research to show that girls learn better in a girls-only environment whereas boys learn better around girls. Often the desire to go single-sex school is motivated by better academic results, fewer ‘distractions’ and more confidence in subject areas not typically linked to their gender. As girls and boys learn in different ways, a gender-specific approach can work really well for some. However similar to co-ed schools, single-sex schools vary from one to another especially across different countries. If you are considering single-sex schools, visit them and speak to them about their vision for their girls or boys and see if you agree with them.
How does teaching support learning?
Inquiry and exploration should form the basis of most of the learning activities. Teachers should be asking ‘Why’ questions, to encourage the children to start their journey to discovery. Aristotle asserted that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” Look for practices that help students develop positive habits for life. In addition to this, look for how the school manages outreach opportunities such as service projects and study abroad. Ideally, to ensure your child is ready for the global world, schools should ideally provide a range of languages, co-curricular activities and practicums such as internships or work-based learning. Another question to ask is, does the school support professional development, so teachers learn and apply ‘best practices’?
How are play and exploration incorporated in learning?
Marie Montessori once stated that “Play is the work of the child”. Children must have the room to explore the world through play, inventing games, observing nature and generally discovering how things work. Look for sufficient time for reflection, games, and free-play.
Does the school put sufficient emphasis on character development?
A good school would teach a student to apply themselves to tasks with determination, diligence, and integrity. In today’s world a competitive nature within the business environment is not unusual – often success and failure are determined based on your ability to tackle such situations. Being an all A student does not necessarily equate to being able to handle stress and complex situations that require emotional intelligence. Ultimately you want you child to grow into someone who is confident and make their mark in the world. “Soft skills” is a phrase often heard within working environments but one that is not emphasised enough within an education. Presentations, group work and debate are great ways to develop these.
Are teachers invested in the students?
Are the staff empathetic and sensitive? Are they open to new ideas and encourage personal growth? Most importantly, are they genuinely concerned about a student’s well-being and happiness? In order for students to fully invest in academic learning and material, they must feel like the staff care.
Do you agree with the school’s values and vision?
Although conversations at home are influential in a child’s life, the environment of the school they attend can be just as vital. Schools usually have a set of principles and creed that they base their educational methods on, including their discipline policy and pastoral care vision. In particular, this is important for international students as it gives a good understanding of how the school helps the students adapt to their new environment and make the transition less daunting.
Do they cater for any special needs your child may have?
Schools often have specially trained special education needs teachers that work alongside, or even in some cases instead of, mainstream classroom learning. If your child requires their support, it is a good idea to meet them personally. This is important as they will have the special one on one relationship with your son and daughter. As all parents know, there is a whole support infrastructure that goes into meeting special education needs, and it is good to speak to everyone involved so they are aware of all the details upfront.
These conversations should give you a feel of the school’s personality, generate a particular atmosphere which goes beyond the curriculum offered. In the end, it is a growing sense of trust – you should sense that the school is out to offer what would be best for your child.