How do we plan the education of our children given the unpredictable nature of an internationally mobile life? Diane Lemieux, co-author of The Mobile Life: a New Approach to Moving Anywhere, looks at tips for maximising the benefits of an international education.
Our goal in selecting schools for our children is two-fold. Firstly, we want to ensure that our children have a positive experience during their school years despite the disruptions caused by moving: we want to make sure that, after the inevitable settling-in phase, they enjoy being at school, make good friends and enjoy learning. Secondly, we want to make sure that, at the end of their school years, our children are able to get into whichever tertiary education institution, or job, in whichever country they choose.
The good news is that there are more schools around the world that cater to mobile families than ever before. These schools are aware of the impact that ‘being new’ can have on children and are geared to getting kids settled and active as quickly as possible. And as parents, there are primarily two things you can do to help your children maximise their experience: keep an eye on academic consistency and ensure smooth transitions between schools.
There are basically three types of school that may be available at your future location:
- National schools of the country you will live in. Academic curriculum and standards are set, and schools verified, by national authorities.
- National schools abroad, such as American, British, French or Korean schools. Curriculum and standards are sometimes established nationally, such as in the French system. In most cases, however, these schools are independent and private, meaning that they set their own curriculum and standards. Many of these schools are members of accreditation bodies (such as the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools or the Council of International Schools). For parents, these organisations make school results comparable at different class levels. For other schools, national public exam results (such as the GCSEs in the British system) can be used to judge the academic standards of the school.
- A growing number of schools (including those in the categories above) follow an international curriculum, the largest of which is the International Baccalaureate. Exams are set for all IB schools and graded centrally so that school standards are comparable worldwide.
Choosing a School
Given the schools that are available at your destination, your choice must take into account how long you will be at your destination – or, in other words, how often your children will need to change school, system and/or language. If you will potentially move more than once, it may be best to select a system that is widely available rather than a uniquely national one.
Furthermore, you can consider which option is best for each child in terms of their personality, their academic goals and abilities, their language-learning abilities and their social skills. How similar is the school system to the one they are currently in? How does it compare to the system you were in? How welcoming and supportive are they of new children?
Finally, it is useful to think about the curriculum and standard of academic excellence that are needed in order to get into the university or college of their choice. Is the diploma recognised and are the graduating standards adequate for higher education entrance requirements?
We do not always have the power to decide when we will be moving – employers think of their own schedules and requirements rather than school calendars. However, from the point of view of the children, allowing them to finish a school year, if at all possible, is a huge bonus for a smooth transition to the new school. Furthermore, there may be an academic impact if you move children at different stages in their school career. This will differ, depending on the system you are following. For example, teenagers will be disadvantaged in their final exams if they move during the two IB diploma years or the three years of the British GCSE programme.
It is also useful to identify schools at the new location as early as possible in the planning process of your move, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Schools may be over-subscribed, which will require dealing with waiting lists, identifying plan B schools and perhaps considering delaying the move until spaces open up.
Finally, both you and your children should be aware of the fact that the move is likely to have an impact on their grades in the first term at the new school: they are dealing with more than just what they are learning in class: they are also getting used to a new system, new teachers, a new peer group, new activities, a new bedroom in their new home… Taking the pressure off performance in the first term helps kids make the transition with more confidence.
The basis for ensuring smooth transitions is family stability. Remember that any change in the family environment is one more thing children need to adjust to. For example, children may get more, or less, attention from their parents because of job requirements; parents may subconsciously be less supportive as they deal with their own adjustment process. During the selection process, parents can help their children by giving them a role in the information gathering process (according to their age and ability). For instance, you can show them the school(s) online and discuss the similarities and differences with their current school with them. You can also help them discover the activities they will be able choose from so that they can start to imagine the benefits of their new school.
Although changing schools is not easy, mobile children learn first-hand a set of skills that are vital in the 21st century: flexibility, self-reliance and creative problem-solving; they become multi-culturally savvy, open-minded and adaptable. These are all qualities that are increasingly in demand in the global, ever-evolving job market. Parents can help ease the process by overseeing the transitions and consistency in their school environment.